For the Birds

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: First a disclaimer of sorts, not quite in keeping with my usual standards, this photo postcard turned out to be a reproduction – an old one, but a reproduction nonetheless. I remain a bit miffed at the eBay seller because it wasn’t made clear and showing the back of the card would have easily told the tale. Nonetheless, I do love the image because the truth is, I’m very fond of pigeons. Yep, the bird all the world seems to hate – rats with wings you hear New Yorkers say. I don’t go all the way to feeding them – they seem more than capable of finding food on their own – but I do like and even admire them.

I always think of my mom saying, “Pigeons don’t know that people think they are awful. As far as they are concerned, they are glorious flying creatures.” It’s true – from their perspective they are every bit as good as a sparrow or robin, if not a proud hawk or eagle! After all, why shouldn’t pigeons think big?

In my opinion there is a lot to be said about pigeons. Monogamous for life, successful urban denizens – they live cheerfully among us and for centuries have aided and interacted with humans. Kim told me a great story about how when as a small child his family first came to Manhattan and his parents pointed out that it was a wonderful place where birds walked among the people on the sidewalks! Glorious!

I like to watch pigeon couples in the city and am inclined to point out birds I think are especially attractive – there’s a wide range of pigeon design. I tend to be very fond of the ones with a lot of white and some black markings, but sometimes the mostly white ones with brown or gray markings are remarkable. Sometimes you see ones that are clearly very elderly too. There is a lovely couple who have nested outside my office at the Met. I can’t see the nest, but they frequently sit where I see them, together on a railing, in the early afternoon this time of the year.

As we all know, pigeons have a brilliant internal mapping system and of course pigeons like the one shown here have been used to carry messages during wars. As far as I can tell in translation, this refers to a message sent by pigeon (June 4, 1916) in France as Raynol made his last stand in battle. Saying that they are trapped and under chemical attack and that this is his last pigeon. The fastest pigeon flying speed was recorded at 92.5 mph! Go baby, go!

While I do not expect to win pigeon haters over with these brief thoughts, for those of you on the fence, you might take a moment and consider giving them a second look the next time you see a gathering of them.

For the French reading among us, I offer the back of the card:

pigeon back of card

Nippes Novelty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I sometimes feel that, while glorious in many ways, the advent of online auctions has sadly really devastated flea markets. As a result, the ability to wander through acres of other people’s stuff, milling happily through it for hours on end, is not available as it once was – and this means the happy coincidence of finding something you never knew you needed is less likely to occur. I try to have open ended searches that will be inclusive of all items I might be interested in, but it is always a challenge to look for what you don’t know might exist. However, recently I was searching an online auction that seemed to have extremely varied items and somehow I stumbled happily on these. After some fun with the technicalities of signing up for the auction site, I more or less forgot about it for a month until I was notified, much to my extreme pleasure, that I had won them! They came from an auction house devoted to toy soldiers, Old Toy Soldier Auctions of Pittsburgh – once again proving that although we may not be coming across unexpected bits at flea markets any longer, we certainly have access to venues we would not otherwise. I guess it evens out in the end!

These extremely interesting pieces were listed as Souvenirs made by Heyde. While tons of images of toy soldiers and toy soldier sales come up if you google Heyde – it takes a while to find out about them and the non-soldier toys made by them. I owe the description of the company I do have to an eBay seller named Ascot who is auctioning some of the other novelty items (including an alligator who stands on hind legs bearing an umbrella) as I write this. According to Ascot the novelties sold by the company were called Nippes and included a number of variations on this umbrella-animal theme all of them made of a pot metal similar to these. There are no company markings – some of his are marked German, but I don’t see that on these either. Heyde was, as you may have guessed, a German company. It was founded in 1872 by George Carl Adolf Heyde and was completely destroyed in 1945 during the bombing of Dresden. A brief history of toy soldiers offers that the small lead ones were too expensive to be popular at first, but eventually caught on with the wealthy and became a status toy of choice at the turn of the century.

From what I can see looking at Heyde non-soldier Nippes – the quality is a bit all over the place. Some of the execution is much more slapdash and others, like these, finely executed. They had a line of instrument playing cat band nodders which I would be mad for if a bit more care had been taken in their making.

I have no way of knowing if these figures were sold together and meant as a set or if they just ended up that way. They have a nice heft to them which is one of the things I miss in similar objects made later. These were novelties made to withstand time – and they have.

Eva-Marie and Mickey

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Taking a break from my beloved Felix-es and other kitties, we choose today to embrace mice – or at least a mouse. Eva-Marie had this charming photo taken in Berlin with this splendid Mickey. Nothing but her name on the back, no date. The back of the card has a studio mark that says only A. Wertheim Berlin Leipzger Strasser, which appears to have been an early mall/department store. I like the jaunty bows in her hair and the way she’s holding Mickey’s hands – he reaches almost up to her waist!  Eva-Marie is clearly enjoying herself. Who wouldn’t?

I believe the wonderful outsized Mickey to be made by Britain’s Dean’s Rag Book Company – a toy company I have written about several times in the past. (Among those posts you can check out Pluto and Flip and Froggy.) I shared some of my small scale “Mickey Jazzers” below. These were featured in Starting Small With Mice, an early post and are tiny kissin’ cousins of the big fella here.

dean's mice

I am the proud owner of a store display Dean’s Mickey, which is about as tall as Eva-Marie here, but more about that in a future post. One great Mickey at a time!

A special shout out to my friend Zach Sigall who was the one who found this photo and gave me the nod on it. Thanks Zach!

A Man and His Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: A jaunty photo of a workman and his tuxedo cat here. I have a particular soft spot for photos of men with cats – they are, in my mind, a sort of genre of their own. (Previous posts include Men and Cats and Men in Hats with Cats.) Women and children often grab cats up and hold them up next their face – look how cute our kitty is! My cats hate it when I pick them up and kiss their faces – like small kids they wriggle and wrinkle their faces in disdain and embarrassment. Oh the damaged dignity! Meanwhile, men tend to give them some space. The cat is held respectfully, stands with them or in front of them – or as in this case, on his shoulder. Very nice!

Several cats ago, my cat Otto used to stand on my shoulder. She (yep, Otto was a girl) liked to use her shoulder perch as a launching pad to get some place way high up – like the top shelf at the vet’s office. When Kim arrived on the scene she (who adored him) coerced him into a routine where she would jump from his shoulder to a high shelf in the bedroom closet. She would meow with triumph and pleasure!

In a previous apartment Otto occasionally sat on a bookcase shelf near the front door and leaped onto the shoulder of unsuspecting incoming guests. I remember one occasion when she did this to my friend Francis and scared the wits out of him. He was wearing a cashmere overcoat I feared for – there was another memorable incident with an elderly friend and a fur coat. (Clearly Otto figured she had bagged big game.) She was a great little tuxedo, not unlike this good looking specimen here.  Otto was the first cat of my adult life; smart and full of adventure, a superb little cat friend.

Let Sleeping Cats Lie

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This fellow caught my attention recently. He looks so nicely settled into this pillow with that little tuft of hair sticking out at the back, over his hind leg. He’s giving us quite a look, under his slightly furrowed brow and almost closed eyes. The ability of cats to deeply enjoy (and employ!) sleep is one of their most well recognized traits. I don’t know about you, but when I am leaving for work on a cold and dreary day, the sight of my kitties settling in for a day-long snooze on the still warm blankets fills me with envy! While our bed is a cat free-for-all even that territory is generally carefully divided. Day-time sleeping allows for a different (more liberal) distribution than nighttime, which seems to break down to Blackie further up the bed, either between me and Kim or behind my knees. Cookie has a pillow at the foot of the bed (a relic from my foot surgery) that she generally claims at night. It is Blackie’s responsibility, evidently, to wake us in the morning. He never got the hang of the time change this year and persists in thinking that 4:30 AM is the right time for the first pass at us.

Beyond the bed, sleeping spots are won and then carefully guarded and occasionally fought over. The top of the couch, near the windows is generally ruled over by Blackie, while Cookie has possession of the chairs – and best of all, a spot on a cushion near Kim where he works. Oh my – she is the Queen of Everything seated there and fiercely defends it against any possible intervention by Blackie; who is indeed jealous. Have a look at her just the other day below.

Cookie as the Queen of Everything

My mother has pointed out that when a cat in the family dies, the cats all shift their sleeping spots to new ones. Not that they take over that cat’s spot, but for some reason the disruption seems to demand a whole rethinking of spots and who belongs where. A bit of cat etiquette and ritual we are unlikely to ever understand.

Push Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This was a book I took out of the library only once as a child, but never forgot. My memory of the copy I saw did not have the slip jacket cover, nor an illustrated cover at all. Somehow I stumbled on it, undoubtably the title, and dragged it home with me. The illustrations were magnificent and those are what I remembered.

If we fast forward to years later, Kim and I were comparing notes on the illustrator Garth Williams. We both love his illustrations – for me A Cricket in Times Square topped even Charlotte’s Web for memorable illustrations cherished from childhood. This book, Push Kitty, nagged at the back of my mind although I do not believe I remember that the illustrations were by Garth Williams, only that they were in that style and had been great. By then the miracle of the internet was well upon us. Sure enough, between eBay and a used book site (one later absorbed whole by Amazon) I had a few copies to choose from. To my joy, I quickly became the owner of this deaccessioned library copy. Kim’s recent Facebook posts about Gustaf Tanggren and a book he remembered fondly (but like me, never owned) called Cowboys and Indians made me think about pulling this one out. There is a lot to be said about Garth Williams that I will save for a future post, but it should be noted that Push Kitty was originally published in 1968 which means it was only a few years old when I would have seen it, probably in the early seventies.

When I read it again I realized why I had loved it so much as a child! In addition to the illustrations, the story, written by Jan Wahl, is about a little girl who dresses up her kitty (much to his obvious displeasure) and drives him around town, showing him off in a baby carriage. Since I too liked to try to dress my wriggling cat Snoopy (who was very dignified; in retrospect it must have really, deeply displeased him) in doll clothes and try to persuade him to stay in a small, tin baby carriage, I clearly identified with the story.

Kitty starts out all fluff and sweet adorableness, Kitty White is his name, and gets more and more annoyed as he is taken about and shown off. He returns to a fluff ball cuteness as he races away once the doll clothes have been removed at the end. Williams does a splendid job of drawing a cat frowning and in all his moods!

Presented below is a sampling of illustrations from the book.

Push Kitty 1   Push Kitty 2

Push Kitty 3   Push Kitty 4

A Girl and Her Cat

Scan(6) copy

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Here’s a little girl who is looking pretty pleased with herself and her cat – who is also giving us a high step, tail in the air greeting. The little girls is dressed nicely – even sporting a bracelet on her right arm; her dress decorated with a little print hanky. Surprisingly though – because this seems to be her cat and they appear to be delighted with each other- the cat is quite dirty. I didn’t realize it until I received the actual photo. I have seen strays with cleaner whites than this fellow. He or she is a good looking puss, but my, those feet and a major smudge of dirt on the hind leg – won’t do. Most cats won’t allow themselves to be such a mess. Perhaps the photo is documenting his return from some mischief.

Sometimes there is a little fellow that does not learn to clean himself. My cat Pumpkin was one of those. I don’t know if he was taken from his mom too early or if he was a born slob, but that little guy just let old food accumulate on his nose – dreadful! He was orange so it didn’t show as badly as it does on this nice black and whiter. Anyway, we tried cleaning him ourselves and hoped he would follow suit – but no. So finally, in desperation, my mother closed our cat sensible, no-nonsense cat Snoopy (who actually bore a resemblance to this cat) and Pumpkin in the bathroom together overnight. Sure enough, Pumpkin was clean the next morning and he, reluctantly, began keeping himself in a less disreputable fashion from that point on.

Floating Dock

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Continuing on in a theme of summers gone by, here is another offering. Unlike my post Alice Smalley this one is undated and without an label. It is not a photo postcard either – instead a small photo on the thick paper stock of the 40’s and 50’s with the rough, decorative edges that photos sometimes had in those days. This one of a woman and another fine tabby, a bit older but clearly just as scrappy. The woman here is a bit dressed up (that’s quite a skirt with polka dots no less – one doesn’t see polka dots as often as you once did – why is that?) perched here with sandals which I can tell you, probably weren’t that steady on that dock. It is another beautiful mountain spot. My only complaint is that this one is a bit dark.

This photo has special appeal for me because I grew up with a dock much like this at the end of our property. We moored a small sailboat off it and generally had a rowboat tied up next to the dock for the purpose of getting to the sailboat. The rowboat required bailing after each rain and that was a job that fell to my sister Loren and I for the most part. I admit that Loren was a bit better about it than me – and there is the time that she quietly untied the row boat while I was bailing – leaving me without oars and drifting off! Needless to say I was madder than a wet cat when I got a hold of her.

It probably is not surprising that the dock was a never-ending source of fascination, especially during long summer days. There were crab traps hung from it, but we would use nets to grab up crabs and fish too. Mostly we enjoyed low tide which allowed a closer examination of the bottom of the inlet of the river we lived on – named Polly’s Pond, although not really a pond in any technical sense. It’s historic name was Oyster Bay – no oysters there when I was growing up, but recently I understand that they have had success in seeding those beds and reintroducing them. For me, it will remain a mystical place of crabs and fish and long days laying out and getting tan, shared with my sister and brother and a number of curious kitties, always attracted to the possibility of excitement in the form of fish and rodents, perhaps a bit of protein hunted on the fly.

Alice Smalley

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I went for this photo in a big way. I am not sure why exactly, there was competition, but I had to have it – there is something very idyllic about it. To begin with, the spot is gorgeous – the back of the card reveals that it is a state forest camp in Eagle’s Mere, PA – and the woman and cat are sort of archetypal. She is in her saddle shoes and is with that sprightly little tabby. He looks like he probably grew into a heck of a fellow.

Meanwhile, I gather Alice did not approve at all. The card is addressed to Miss Amelia Sonna, 121 Main Street, Boise, Idaho. It says as follows, in careful print: Taken On Our Vaction Trip. At a state Forest camp near Eagle’s Mere, Penna. Over the 4th. I think this is a swell photo – but Alice claims the hair + costume makes it ‘terrible’ – How do you like ‘Figaro’, our motoring cat? Love Henry S. It was mailed on July 27, 1940 from Washington, D.C. at 11:30 PM.  Well, I disagree with Alice about the hair and costume and I absolutely love Figaro, the motoring cat! This is one of those photos that leaves me wondering about these folks and what became of them.  A quick search on Henry or Alice Smalley in period Washington, DC does not turn up anything. Eagle’s Mere remains a rather stunning park area with many hiking trails (and a museum of early trains) on a lake in Sullivan County, PA. It gives me a yen for hiking in Pennsylvania, something I have not done for a very long time. I have never been so far west, but used to go to the area near the Delaware water gap with my friend Christine Butler (no relation!) for photos and hiking. Heavenly.

Anyway, as summer 2015 gets underway, there is something soothing and timeless about this photo. A reminder to go outside, enjoy – and take some pictures. Make sure to print them!