Felix Tallies

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I purchased today’s item for purely aesthetic reasons – I like the design of this blocky, early Felix. His toothiness especially appeals to me and his orange nose and strange wings baffle me a bit. (On careful examination it is actually that he is sporting a very large bow.) He appears to be pointing into his mouth – feed the kitty! Felix is well drawn, but I find no copyright information on this and I suspect it is just an extremely good rip-off.

In addition to the bridge score the following is written on the back in tiny letters, Halloween Bridge party given by Ginny, Lillian, Lowthur & others. Oct. 19 – ’29. Five tricks. The player was Betty W. at table 1 couple 2. Their score totaled 1224 and I have no idea at all if that is good or bad. A very quick look at bridge scoring would lead me to believe it is good. This card was either kept and still exists almost 100 years later because of a high score or the charming Felix. (Most likely both?) However, I know less than nothing about the game of bridge and a quick look at it online made my head ache this early in the day.

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Among the small bits of information I have about bridge are that while it is still considered popular it was once wildly popular, and it was a social necessity to at least play adequately. (Those of us who watch films from the ’40’s or even read a certain kind of novel from that period know this.) I have also been informed that it is generally highly competitive and a poor partner or player will not be countenanced – despite whatever your relationship is to that person otherwise. However, I assume that it is a bit like tennis in that you would like to play with people slightly better than you so as to improve?

From what I read and have been told, I think your relationship to your bridge partner is at its best the ability to intuit each other. Part of me wonders if this lead to a lot of affairs among bridge partners – not to mention divorce amongst serious players whose spouses were not up to snuff or went off the game. Bridge is played competitively and for money by some I gather, although not a gambling game. A quick search tells me there are three public bridge clubs in Manhattan, but many, many private ones. I remember being told of two private clubs years ago by elderly friends who were devoted to the game. I can remember bridge columns published in the local newspaper when I was a kid.

We were not a bridge playing family – in fact aside from the occasional game of Parcheesie, Candyland, Go Fish or Monopoly as kids, we were not a game playing family at all. As the children of immigrants neither of my parents were raised in an atmosphere concerned with that layer of society. It is just as well, my limited exposure to games leads me to believe it is not a skill set that would be easily developed in me.

Meanwhile, Felix as an image and totem seems to have crossed over with the bridge craze, and although this is the only piece of Felix bridge ephemera I own, I feel as though I have seen other Felix bridge related items for sale over time. Perhaps other tally cards? Card holders? An internet search does not turn much up in this line, but Pictorama readers know I always have a weather eye cast.

Gentlemen with Cats and Chicken

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a break from the ramping up of holiday madness all around us and spending a little time with these fine fellows today. Men with cats has long been a favorite sub-genre of my card collecting. (A few earlier examples can be found here and here.) This card was never sent, but someone wrote what appears to be the name Robert Hersir. (On a whim I looked the name Hersir up and discovered it means Viking King.)

I like these guys, and not just because they were smart enough to immortalize their cats and chicken when having this photo taken. There’s something frank and fun about them – the rakish guy with his askew bow-tie in the middle especially. Hat thrown down in front of him, shiny button boots of a day gone by fashion thrust forward, young striped tabby cat in his arms, looking somewhat alarmed or at least admittedly peevish. He stares right out at us from his day, back in the early part of the last century.

My father would occasionally hold one of the cats in the manner of this man, and he would inform the cat that he or she was in “cat prison”. It is a term and strong arm approach I have sometimes adopted with my felines as well when grabbing them up and holding them hostage in this way. (Despite or even because of this, the cats adored my father. I can’t say mine seem to enjoy the experience as much.)

Our guy’s suit, like the kitty, is striped and the photographer gets credit too for the symmetry of the image and how well the image works. It appears to be a photo set when I examine it carefully, a much worn one though it must be said. It also leaves me wondering who takes their kitty and rooster to a photo studio? I can only imagine a world that was a slightly different (more interesting?) place back in that time. Oddly, this is not the first rooster booster pet photo in my collection. I wrote about roosters as pets in photos at least twice last year. (Those posts can be found here and here.)

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The chicken in question, held by a fairly natty fellow with a posy in his buttonhole, looks calmer than the cat. He is somewhat indistinct and it is a bit of a call on my part to say rooster rather than hen, but I believe it is a fellow fowl.

Our third gentleman, who sports a sort of sweet smile, has an almost imperceptible black cat curled up in his lap. Like my kitty Blackie might have, this kitty has made himself comfortable for lap petting during the duration of the session. No stress for him. This man and cat are perched on a small bench of sorts while the guy with the rooster seems to be squatting, but it is hard to tell. All three men wear suits, the paper collared shirts of their day and ties.

I hardly need to mention that the painted backdrop is stained, peeling and generally tatty beyond imagination. The floor covering appears to be much in the same state. It suits these guys fine, but I can’t exactly imagine who came in next. Hard to imagine newly weds or vacationing duos lining up after, but it seems a fitting setting for these guys and their pets.

 

We Are Very Comfortable

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Much like yesterday’s toy post, full access to my stuff has allowed for the first photo postcard post in quite awhile. For all of that this is a fairly recent purchase from ebay and it just entertained me. Cats lined up, each a variation on a striped tabby design, displaying varying degrees of contentedness on some sort of fur declaring, We are very comfortable in Colo. 

I will start by noting that the only time I have seen a cat encounter real fur was decades ago when an elderly friend wore a fur coat (equally elderly) to my apartment. My cat Otto made it clear that shredding that coat was now her new found life’s ambition. Ultimately the coat had to be closed in another room, protected from her mania, but I have never forgotten her enthusiastic reaction.

The card appears to have been made in the early somewhat homemade process where a stencil was applied for the shape of the image and the lettering done by hand. I assume it was produced on a small scale – wouldn’t make sense for it to have been a one-off. It was never mailed, nor is there any writing on it. I guess this was for the vacationer who wasn’t willing to commit to having a great time or wishing you were here. Were they available for sale, a small stack of them, at a homely hotel somewhere there?

Today I am packing (warm clothing) for a quick trip to Milwaukee this week. I wrote about another trip to Madison recently (available here), and the opportunity to travel through parts of this country that I have never visited before is one of the aspects of my job, following the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to strategic points on their tours. This is our Big Band Holiday tour, a favorite everywhere it goes, which will wend its way to Manhattan in about a week. I am so pleased that almost a hundred friends will join us for the concert followed by a reception. (My first shot at this tour was on the road by bus with the band through the Southeast and you can read about it here.)

Colorado is a state I have never explored – only changed planes in Denver. I have agreed to speak at an event there in August so I will see Denver then. This kind of travel brings my father to mind. His job as a camera man for ABC News meant driving across the country, up and down and across constantly in the early years of his job. (Over time local news bureaus shared more of their own coverage with the national affiliate and there was less of this domestic travel and more international and confined to the East coast.)

Like Wynton and the orchestra Dad drove or rode, in his case equipment loaded into a car or SUV rather than a bus, three or four person crew crammed in. Dad did a lot of the driving, in retrospect I am not sure why except it didn’t bother him to drive; he probably preferred it. Long rides in cars, not to mention heavy camera equipment and his height, eventually contributed to a long-life struggle with back problems and in later years his car was littered with back cushions and devices. Dad liked to eat good food and he could suggest restaurants in locations all over the country, from Newark to Pittsburgh, to St. Louis. He remembered them all – and remembered those places where none could be found.

So today I will pack my bag; I suspect it is never as spare and economic as his. (But in fairness he wasn’t a woman who will host events over the entire course of his visit.) And I will wonder if there is a restaurant in Milwaukee that has been there for decades that I really should be trying.

 

Annie and Sandy Reunited

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Joyously I finally return to the world of toys as the chaos of our abode recedes at long last. Pictorama readers may remember that as part of a delightful birthday toy haul back in February of 2018 I purchased a hotsy totsy little Sandy doll. (Shown below and that post can be found here.) I concluded that post opining that there was a very nice Little Orphan Annie doll as well and I vowed to look into that. I had a weather eye out and at last this one found a home here at Pictorama earlier this week. It had been quite awhile since we made a toy acquisition and it was delightful when this box, slightly larger than expected showed up yesterday.

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Interestingly the history of oilcloth toys is not so easily found online, nor is the origin of these particular toys. For the information I did find I can thank Jeet Heer, Canadian author and comics scholar. His introduction to the Gasoline Alley volume covering the years 1925 and ’26 had the only information that satisfied my yen to know more this morning.

My collection of Little Orphan Annie toys is a very limited one. When I purchased the toy below I had no idea it was Annie and Sandy – although I was crazy about it! I found that out later when I saw one that was in better condition and had the box identifying it. I wrote about it last year in a post that you can read here.

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The discussion around dating this Annie doll dominated Deitch Studio in a heated debate over breakfast this morning. Kim taking the position that this Annie design had to be later than the other one shown below in two similar variations. It was he who dug out the Gasoline Alley volume, after a quick tour of Little Orphan Annie volumes up to about 1935, and found the scant information I share with you.

 

Meanwhile, my thought had been that the nicer doll with the dress (mine) was earlier and that they discovered they could do it more cheaply without. Instead it seems it is a case of starting with a more primitive toy and getting grander. I am not a fan of the design on the left, but there is something charming about the one with the hat.

It would seem that this series of comic character toys are the brainchild of Eileen Benoliel, creator of a company called Live Long Toys. There wasn’t a lot of information readily available about the company or Ms. Benoliel (or Mrs. William A. Benoliel as she is also identified) except that the Chicago company was founded in 1923 and folds in the 1940’s. I am making the assumption she made these Little Orphan Annie toys as well although I guess the concept could have been stolen from her and marketed by someone else. These toys are unmarked, with the exception of Annie’s sash which reads Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray and under Patent Applied For.

There is not a lot of information about this company. I did find a reference to the company, via Google, in a book called Made to Play House: the Commercialization of American Girlhood 1830-1930. In essence this passage makes reference to how when companies started by women became successful that it was typical for their husbands to take control of them, rather than the women keeping control and growing it themselves. It is noted that Mr. Benoliel left his job in insurance, working for companies like Marshall Field and Sears, Roebuck, to manage the burgeoning company.

According to a snippet Jeet Heer includes in the introduction to this volume Ms. Benoliel began the craze with a Skeezix doll and then the other Gasoline Alley figures. The reprinted article from the 1924 Playthings magazine is shown from the book below as is the two-page spread from the book.

 

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Jeet also notes that the Skeezix doll (which I gathered aged over time but to what extent I cannot say) eventually had removable clothing, which means Mr. Deitch wins and clearly the dolls with the removable clothes were a later variation. The Sandy doll seems to have remained consistent with the original design going forward, although later ones seem have used the same template but is a tad more three-dimensional later.

I assume that these oilcloth toys came out of earlier, more homely, variations and that from them eventually come the premiums that you were required to sew yourself. I recently examined those via an acquisition of a Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat. (You can read that post here.) Oilcloth is sturdy and Annie is solidly made. There is evidence that she was much played with and beloved. As much as I like my toys in good condition, it is good to know they have been well used and loved too.

 

 

 

Siamese Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is the first photo post in quite awhile and it is with a nod to Kim who noticed it surfacing on my desk as the last of the kitchen detritus has finally been reinstalled or taken to a new life via Housing Works thrift store. The apartment has not instantly returned to normal (where did these stray boxes of books come from?) but the tide of possessions has gently shifted and the original strata of things is coming back into view, this photo I purchased earlier this fall among them. It was clearly made from a small negative on a roll of film of early vintage and likely contact printed. Visual information is missing and the crowd gathered to watch is largely unreadable. Still, it is a record of a time and a place – and a pretty great cat balloon.

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Felix stereocard.

 

Like the Felix balloon in my earlier post, Felix Floats (which can be found here, photo above) this two-headed cat balloon might have been made by Tony Sarg, famed early balloon maestro of the Thanksgiving Day parade. The balloon in today’s photo appears to be on a dolly of sorts to be moved into place. Sarg was a German American puppeteer by training but is best known for birthing his Seussian-like balloon creations for the early Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Since his assistants ultimately opened their own studios and other competing studios appeared (this eventually forced him into bankruptcy in 1939), and without a date, it is hard to say if this was a Sarg balloon or not. Nor can I say for sure that this was for the Macy’s parade as the photo seems to be taken in a staging location. I have never seen this particular balloon in other photos before. It is certainly in keeping with his style though, and if I was a betting woman (alas, I am not) I would say it is by him.

These gents in clown suits are dragging kitty along by ropes on what appears to be a snow dappled day, attached to the rolling platform he (it?) is perched on. Like this year, I bet it was a cold one. I love the way the sort of cynical head is eyeing the smiling head with a smirk. It must have looked great floating down the streets of New York. The original route of the parade starting at 145th Street and Convent Avenue, down to Macy’s on 34th Street. In those days the parade lead to the unveiling of the holiday windows at the store – it must have all been quite delightful.

This is a particularly good description from the History.com site:

By noontime, the parade finally arrived at its end in front of Macy’s Herald Square store where 10,000 people cheered Santa as he descended from his sleigh. After being crowned “King of the Kiddies,” Kris Kringle scaled a ladder and sat on a gold throne mounted on top of the marquee above the store’s new 34th Street entrance near Seventh Avenue. With a bellow from his trumpet, Santa sounded the signal to unveil “The Fair Frolics of Wondertown,” the Christmastime window display designed by artist and puppeteer Tony Sarg. As soon as the police lowered their crowd-control lines, children rushed to the 75-foot-long window to see the miniature Mother Goose marionette characters on moving belts frolicking in their own parade in front of a castle-like façade.

A gold throne for Santa atop of the 34th Street entrance! Wowza! This kitty, probably in a subsequent year, would have added significantly to the visual fiesta I think.

I have never attended the parade despite living in the greater New York area and always having a yen for it as a child, (my father who was a cameraman for ABC news for his entire career and had covered it, freezing on the streets endlessly early, on had absolutely no stomach for it as an observer), but after moving to Manhattan as an adult I used to like to see the balloons getting blown up the night before over on the westside. I haven’t done it in years now and this year it poured rain which made me sad for those who were looking forward to it. Regardless, I would have been there if they were blowing up this two-headed cat balloon though, I assure you.

 

Doll House Drama

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I scrape through the remainder of the available adult fiction of Frances Hodgson Burnett I am beginning to turn to the juvenile works. The first I picked up was one I had never heard of called Racketty Packetty House. In researching it I discovered that while I may never have heard of it the book has not been moldering in obscurity – there are more editions than I can count available online – ancient, new and all between – and it would seem it has been continuously in print since its inception in 1906. It is what I think of as an early chapter book for children, too long for a single sitting, novella length.

As I have written in prior posts, our gal Frances was prolific beyond belief and she was clearly churning out her popular juveniles while writing the novels and keeping magazines supplied with stories. (And turning all of the above into plays and ultimately films! My posts on her at this point are too numerous to list and all could be found by searching my site with her name however they start here and I discuss the films a bit here.)

I guess I should warn anyone reading this as a review that there are what could be considered spoilers in it so you may want to come back when you are done reading the story.

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The book contains the ingredients of a children’s classic – anthropomorphic dolls and animals (I especially like that the family pets bring gifts and apologize for their youthful indiscretions of chewing on body parts and a mouse gentleman brings an offering of wood shavings for dinner one evening) with a princess and a few fairies thrown in for good measure. I read the electronic version (I downloaded it on something called Google Play) and was deprived of illustrations which impacted my experience of it. I think good illustrations could really help sell it and looking around online after the fact I believe this is true. (There are also some quite hideously illustrated volumes, with all due respect, mostly of more recent vintage.) I believe the illustrations I am sharing are from the original publication or at least a contemporaneous one in Hodgson Burnett’s lifetime. If the early editions were less expensive and I had more bookcase space I would want to pick one up.

 

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Ridiklis whose leg was chewed off by the dog and cat in their unbridled youth – friends now and they bring offerings such as string to the doll family.

 

The story is of two dollhouses in a nursery, a dilapidated old one and a shiny new one, the story told from the perspective of a watchful fairy as one is cast aside and shoved in the corner while the other takes center stage and the lives of the doll families within. The new dolls are snooty and look down their noses at the old, ragged dolls – these poor dolls however are jolly and know how to have a good time despite their indigence. The beautiful Lady Patsy doll shows up on the scene and she and Peter Piper (antic ringleader of the poor dolls) and she fall in love.

Funny how all Hodgson Burnett’s tropes are remade for this kid’s story! The poor but worthy (and jolly despite their poverty) find love and are ultimately elevated, financially, socially, in the end. (As I read online reviews this seems to be the primary gripe about her as an author – if you want realism you have gone to the wrong woman I say! I wrote about some of those tropes here and here.) Interesting to me is that she makes the human child owner of said dolls decidedly unlikable – she is a selfish nasty bit of business. Frances Hodgson Burnett did not shy away from portraying unpleasant children.

However, the real reason I decided to write about this story today is that I cannot help but feel that this story planted the seeds for two other significant children’s stories. One I have written about previously and is called The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden. (That post can be found here.) Godden’s book, a similar chapter book for about the same age group, is a classic in its own right. There is a striking similarity in the lives of the dolls and the in-fighting and rivalry between them. That book has a horrific fire in it and the image remained stamped on my memory for years! (Another hugely prolific author, she wrote the book the film Black Narcissus was based on.) The threat of fire hangs heavily over this story as the Racketty Packetty home is perpetually being threatened with being burned as trash and is only saved on several occasions by the hard working fairies.

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This leads me to the second and more famous story I am fairly certain found genesis in this book, The Velveteen Rabbit. Several key elements make me feel that Margery Williams had this story in the back of her mind when she published it in 1922. First there is the old much-beloved toy versus the new toy/s story-line which is integral to both books. Then there is the rather specific plot device of scarlet fever – in the case of the velveteen rabbit it is how the rabbit meets his corporeal end after helping to nurse the boy through the illness, and in this volume it is the wealthy dolls which all fall ill with it after the irresponsible child in charge gives them all scarlet fever and does not trouble herself to make them recover. They are in turn nursed by the poor dolls and become friends after that. Margery Williams throws in a fairy at the end to help out as well.

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From The Velveteen Rabbit, original illustration by William Nicholson

 

Unlike these two latter stories, Hodgson Burnett stops short of the indelible horror of the toys being burned as is the denouement of the other two books. (An image of the celluloid doll catching fire in the Godden book may have inspired my overall fear of the frailty of celluloid which I once penned a post about here. I didn’t read The Velveteen Rabbit until I was an adult but am quite sure it also would have scarred me for life.) Instead her toys are rescued by a visiting princess – a very Burnett ending indeed.

Luchs Messbecher Beer

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Returning to the world of fascinating objects today, I offer this item which has graced the top of my refrigerator more or less as long as I can remember. It was purchased at a street fair for a few dollars in the early years of the 1990’s and has been charged first with holding loose change and in more recent years, the card we now use for laundry. It has long held a special perch on the top of the refrigerator where its cheerful striped pattern and black cat face greet us daily.

In retrospect it is not surprising that a street fair in Yorkville would produce such an item. To some degree it has mystified me – a tin beaker with beer advertising on the outside and what appears to be dry and wet measure indications on the inside. At a casual glance you might think these were cocktail recipes, but closer inspection makes that seem unlikely since indicators are for things like butter, sugar and cocoa.

Research reveals that this was a ubiquitous implement in German and German American kitchens. Evidently traditional German cooking measure is done by weight and therefore this cup expedited simple measuring, a shortcut for daily baking needs which otherwise would require taking out a scale. Strangely, for something so popular and therefore still widely available, some relatively simple questions are not easily answered. Why and how did a beer company end up producing this household device staple and what years was it produced? I have found no answers to these questions, nor have I found out much about the beer company which made it.

When I purchased it I thought it was pre-War German and while there is some speculation dating it there among online sellers, I am less convinced of that now. Dates by some sites are given as late as the 1950’s. My feeling is the 1940’s seems likely. There are shinier examples online, as below, and even a sort of zippy red version.

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Emptied from its depths I disgorged: various loose change (38 cents in US pennies, a 5 Kuna coin from Croatia, and 60 cents in Canadian change); 3 NYC subway tokens of the last variety before they did away with them (the ones with house-shaped holes in the middle); the aforementioned laundry card and doppelganger laundry cards that might or might not work any longer, and may or may not have money on them; an elderly purple vial of Rhus Toxicodendron (homeopathic remedy made from the poison ivy plant); a device that is to be used to unscrew/tightening the screws of the futon frame we sleep on (I’d frankly forgotten this entirely and gone out and purchased another several years ago); and lastly a box of straight edge razors. I went through a phase of using these razors for all sorts of things which, in retrospect, seems cavalier or even a bit dangerous now. I was using them for drawings and I got used to having them around I guess.

The new refrigerator is higher and more narrow than those of years past and some large pans have already been assigned to that venue. However, I think I can find just enough space to fit the Messbecher beaker back in its place of honor.