An Ode to the Toy Catalogue

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Pam’s Pictorama: The seasons of childhood were punctuated by the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. The spring one passed with little notice, the fall one was where we ordered our back-to-school clothes – but oh, that Christmas catalogue! It kicked off weeks of toy daydreams. Who doesn’t treasure their memories of the Christmas catalogue? The smell of fresh ink, the cheap paper (but full color and chock full of photos) which tended to stick together on first viewing. Oh, what would the next page reveal? Stuffed animals, Barbie’s latest home, vehicle and outfits. There would be stoves that cooked (yep, had the Easy Bake, loved it like mad), bikes, cars that could be driven. You name it and it was in that catalogue, or so it seemed. Your parents didn’t necessarily buy from Sears, but it was the child’s encyclopedia to what was new and interesting in toys and we studied it like some people study the Bible.

As an adult I assumed that it was a thrill that I would never really relive. I mean, I like say, the J. Crew catalogue well enough, but to say it is a thrill would be an exaggeration to say the least. Dozens of catalogues go in the recycling weekly, some without any notes.

And then, a number of years ago, several months after bidding on an online auction where I won my Mickey Jazzers (see my post Starting Small with Mice), the first Hake’s catalogue magically appeared. It is about the same heft and dimensions as the old Sears books I worshipped in the 1960’s and the paper even similar, same inky smell. Not since those halcyon days of prepubescence had I experienced the kind of thrill that this catalogue induced.

Unlike Sears and Roebuck whose history stretches back to 1893, Hake’s can only claim fifty or so years of business, evolving out of Ted Hake’s collecting and hawking business in the New York City of the late 1960’s. Here in my mailbox, utterly unsolicited no less, was something I had not even imagined – the grown-up toy collector’s version of the Sears Christmas catalogue! Much like the Christmas books, the Hake’s catalogue is likely to feature some items in the beloved areas I follow avidly – ancient Felix and Mickey toys for example – but just as interesting, one is likely to see things undreamt of – obscure but interesting political pins, every cereal premium from everyone’s childhood ever imagined and then some. Things you have always wondered about and here they are – photographed and explained in great detail. It shows up about twice a year. Amazing!

Since the Mickeys several of my most significant toy purchases have come from Hake’s auctions – my giant Dean’s Rag Mickey Mouse display model, one of my Aesop’s Fable dolls – but the catalogue itself brings great joy to the Butler-Deitch household when it arrives unannounced in our mailbox. I occasionally seem to fall off their list and need to check out the auctions online. There’s nothing more glorious than snuggling under the covers with the new Hake’s and interrupting Kim’s book reading, sharing the highlights with until eventually he gives up and looks at the catalogue with me. Who could ask for anything more?

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A World of Toys

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo, a small early snapshot, hails from Hungary, or at least that is where I purchased it from. I couldn’t help but admire this fellow with his toy-proud pose, his treasure piled up in front of him. It was that pose that caught my eye – I can think of several photos where I am as toy proud and here below is an especially maniacal one of me holding Donald and an Aesop’s Fable doll.

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In particular I like this kid’s elephant toy. (Although that alligator is sort of noteworthy too I think.) I am a sucker for elephants and it is amazing I have controlled myself for the most part. I am holding out for a Steiff elephant on wheels and always keep an eye out for one. However, years ago Kim found the elephant toy below, on a street where we were strolling. Kim very nicely painted eyes, tusks and toes on where there were none – although later we recognized traces of where the eyes were glued on previously. Now he, my only elephant toy to speak of, is a Kim Deitch special! Somewhat appropriately, here he is on Kim’s desk.

Girls and Kittens

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The purchase of this photo was one of those rare examples of good things coming to those who wait. I spied it, but just could not pay the premium price on it. Lucky for me it didn’t sell and the seller marked it down – and I scooped it up. It is a British press photo, although it also has a brief German tag on the back.  These read as follows:

FARMYARD PETS – FL/JN 17 10 32
Charming farm girls at a Hampshire farm, with their tiny pets, enjoying the morning sunshine. PHOTOPRESS
Copyright by PHOTOPRESS Phone: Central 5335 Johnson’s Court, Fleet St., London E.O.4

6×2 = KATZEN
Englische Farmgirls mit ihren Lieblingen.

Reprinted in a German paper perhaps? It was sold to me by someone in Britain however. These girls seem to be wearing uniforms for the equivalent of a Girl Scout or Girl Guides I guess they are there. I am sure someone could explain the jaunty beanie on the one – an indication of higher rank perhaps. I did a few not-so-memorable years in the Scouts myself, but I will save that for another time. Even then I preferred the earlier uniforms I saw in our outdated guide books. Not sure how I would have felt about these bloomer types however.

This 8 x 10 photo is crystal clear and it is hard to say who is cuter, the kittens or the young girls. The photographer had a great eye. The fence and the pattern it creates is a great composition somehow, although it literally cuts the image in half. Both girls and cats seem to be in fine form, although as cats will be, some of these kits are a bit more put out than others by their temporary imprisonment. Typically, I am drawn to the cute little all black fellow who looks right into the camera and wants action. The four striped ones (same litter those?) are all poised for an escape, or in the case of the one dead center, at least a whack at that black kitten. Only the white kitty seems relaxed and enjoying the moment.

Farm cats are a splendid, high spirited breed all their own and I have been fortunate to know several. Among my cats of days gone by Snoopy, Winkie, Otto and Roscoe were all farm born. Otto came from a corn farm in New Jersey and especially loved to roll around in a bit of corn silk in the kitchen in the summer – the smell clearly bringing back images of her early days. It might be my imagination, but I have always thought that barn cats were a bit smarter than other cats. But that could just be a form of cat prejudice rearing its head. Don’t tell my Brooklyn born Cookie and Blackie!

Cranky Valentine

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Pam’s Pictorama: For all of you who still have the sickly smarminess of Valentine’s Day stuck in your craw and eating your teeth, today’s post is a logical antidote to show you that you are not alone. There is evidently a long history of the vinegar Valentine.

I am not sure why, but decided I had to have this card. I generally don’t like to go negative on cards, I really hate pawing through contemporary cards that often just seem mean. This card charmed me nonetheless. The poem does entertain:

Your crabbed actions are enough to vex
The most ardent admirer of your sex,
And you care for nothing that we can see
Except your cat and your cup of tea.

How much more does a girl really need in life? The black Halloween style cat is fun and she is mannishly well drawn. It is a common card, and I have seen others on eBay subsequently. This one wasn’t sent and I do wonder who exactly one would send it to – and also that they were kept all these years by the recipients!

A recent article in the New York Times discussed the history of the so-called vinegar Valentine and its popularity in the late 19th century. On February 14, 1871 the Times wrote the following:

Of all the valentines published those designated ‘comic’ are the most popular. They are the hideous caricatures which are to be seen at this season in almost every stationer’s window, and are made to burlesque every trade and profession. They consist of a few black lines and a daub of color, to which are attached a few doggerel rhymes. They pervert the idea of the valentine; for, instead of being love missives, or tending to afford gratification, they are too often sent out of spite, to carry anger or annoyance to the receiver. Of these there have been sold nearly 12,000,000, and strange to say, they are mostly purchased by women. Why women find more use for them than men would be a difficult question to answer, but such is the case, and the circulars issued by the publishers will bear out the assertion.

I believe our card in question is of a higher quality than implied here, but it is also clearly a later model. The poison pen Valentine clearly continued to thrive into the early part of the 20th century. Oddly, it is the one area I don’t find so many negative cards today – birthdays for example, almost hard to find an acceptable one. But the needling Valentine seems to have seen its day, although I know some folks who would be glad to bring it back.

Be Mine! Or The Luckiest Girl in the World…

 

Pam’s Pictorama Valentine Special!

Last year’s Valentine post was a midweek special – Valentine Bonus Post – but this year Kim’s extraordinary entry is getting the marquee treatment it deserves! As many of you FB readers know, at my request years ago, Kim has made me a Valentine’s Day drawing every year we have been together. Since I was a fan before I was a girlfriend (and then wife) I can’t think of anything better – me featured in a Kim Deitch exclusive. And here is this year’s hot off the press.

For those of you who have been following the sketches for his new book you will realize that this drawing falls within the new story, fleshing it out a bit. Here’s a sketch from this part of the story:

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Kim has expanded our real estate holdings substantially, and in the Valentine I am in one of the many rooms in our building dedicated to dioramas scenes designed to feature my toy collection. (Oh joy! Oh bliss!) Here I am with a variety of life size Felix dolls, lined up for people to pose with – we all know it is one of my life’s ambitions to get my hands on one of those, let alone several as shown here. Cookie and Blackie are checking things out, and you can make out Waldo considering a room dedicated to his origin story as well.

By way of reminder, below is last year’s Valentine, which as you can see, ties in here as well. I am sporting my Queen of Catland outfit and Bonzo, my Donald Duck and Oskar are there – even then Waldo was working the Plot Robot and of course Cookie and Blackie are going wild – and we are looking back in time to when this photo was taken. Hmm, looks like Katherine Whaley, Rousseau and Mr. Varney in that Felix photo!

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Happy Ooloo to Me!

Pam’s Pictorama: Back in December of ’14 I wrote Blame It on the Blog 2 where I displayed and discussed the perfectly excellent Bonzo Kim had purchased me as a Christmas gift. That acquisition had in part come out of an earlier post devoted to Bonzo (Going to the Dogs – Bonzo) where I had discovered the Chad Valley Bonzo toys. Well, we can blame it on the blog again, because while I was researching those toys – and stumbling onto the lovely Bonzos made by Chad Valley, I found a very rarified toy indeed – Ooloo the Cat!

It seems that cartoon Ooloo, designed by the same artist George Studdy, knocked Bonzo right off center stage at Sketch Magazine where his full page strips and sight gag drawings had been featured on a regular basis. Bonzo had been working the Sketch Magazine gig since 1921, but his appearances had fallen off by 1927. On January 2, 1929, Ooloo made her first appearance in the mag and knocked Bonzo right out of the box. Bonzo made only occasional appearances after that and I read that an appearance five months later in May of that year may have been Bonzo’s last in the magazine. Below is her first, fluffy premiere in Sketch.

However, Bonzo got his revenge fully in the long afterlife of marketing. Bonzo seems to have launched items in his image, both licensed and clearly off-model, that rival Felix and Mickey Mouse both in breadth and sheer number. His longevity, considering the limited reissue of and interest in the actual strips, is extraordinary and reaches not only throughout Europe and the United States, but seems to reach as far as Japan. His ubiquitous, sleepy, dog face image plays out over Valentines, figurines, lamps, a band, toys – you name it! I have personally speculated on the possible influence of his image on the Japanese character Norakuro (featured here Norakuro – the Japanese Felix and also in an early post here, Pam’s Toy Post) but have never established a link.

Ooloo, by comparison, is little known today and sadly toys did not proliferate. As above, I discovered this outstanding Chad Valley Ooloo when researching the toys for the other post. They are indeed rare however and frankly I had little hope of ever acquiring one of these fine specimens. Therefore, I was over the moon when this one appeared on eBay just before my birthday this year! Kim generously stepped in and Ooloo, thanks to the considerate quick packing and shipping of the seller, arrived within days of my birthday. (As a bonus, the seller turned out to be the same wonderful woman in Belgium who sold me Bonzo! A shout out to Regine who certainly has an extraordinary collection of toys.) As I always say, I am one lucky toy collecting woman. Yay!

Ooloo is a truly outstanding addition to this woman’s toy cat collection and a very finely made toy. In the photos I have tried to show some of the touches and details that make this an especially wonderful toy: the bits of color in the ears and around the nose – the tiny stitches under the eyes. Ooloo retains her whiskers and these interesting thread bits on one paw that seem to be claws – I thought they were just pulls in the fabric in the photo but have determined that they were meant to be there. It is a thoughtfully made toy indeed.

Below is an image of an Ooloo perfume bottle, one of the few fairly available Ooloo pieces of merchandise. There may be one or two other toys out there – and be assured I will be ferreting them all out for your pleasure – and mine!

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Kayser Black Cat Wine

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Frankly this was another case of not reading the listing carefully. I had envisioned this to be less than a quarter of it’s almost 30 inches! I had a clear image of a Mossbacher tin cup I own, and had somehow put these things together. Interesting how the collecting mind works.

Having said that – what cat collector could resist this great black cat advertising image? It is a wine company and they, obviously, sell Black Cat Wine. I assume that a (very large) bottle of wine was tucked in this glorious tin as a gift offering. The lucky cat collector indeed who invited that person over for dinner.

In my search for information about why a black cat was used by the company, I only turned up a bit of advertising from New York Magazine, dated December 20, 1971. It tells this story: Mrs. Kayser has burned the breakfast toast black and Mr. Kayser roars, “The toast is black!” Meanwhile, son Julius the wine maker, nose buried in the Traben Trarbach Gazette, absently passes his father a glass of black-cat-in-the-cellar or Schwarze Katz and we are to assume the black cat logo was born. Or Madison Avenue execs of the 1970’s wanted us to believe. Hmmm, anyway, that’s as close as I could come.

I am not sure what use I will put this item to, although this apartment can always use a place to stash this or that and a black cat tin will always be welcome.

Post Script: I rarely get an opportunity for such an interesting update so quickly, but a FB friend, Ryek Hvek, gave me the key to more interesting information. According to him, the wine was named when a black cat jumped onto one of three barrels of wine and assumed the pose while a customer was choosing among the barrels. He also directed me to the images below – a statue of the cat in question in Zell, erected about 80 years ago, and one of the black plastic cat figures that came on the bottle of wine. (My brother in-law says that his mom, Marie, a well-known cat lover, used to be partial to it.) Lastly, also a cat stamp from the town in keeping with the theme. Let’s all book a trip to Germany to worship at the altar of the cat statue and drink wine – I’m up for it!