Pam’s Pictorama: An unexpected bonus of the unpacking earlier today, this card fell out of something and was rediscovered. I remember buying it, but absolutely no idea what it fell out of and why it had been put there. Written in a kid’s hand on the back is Otto Lannaff or maybe Lamnaff? And he outlined the cat’s head which can be seen through the card.
The story of Arctic Baking Powder, if there is one, seems largely lost in the mists of time. While I thought I was onto something when I found information about a man named William Ziegler, who made his fortune in baking powder and then funded an Arctic expedition, he did not in turn name his company Arctic. I was able to piece together the fact that Arctic Baking Powder had a number of entertaining cat cards and this was one in a series. (I also found an advertising card done for them that was earlier than these and it was a snore.) Below is another I found online that was sold on eBay previously which I find equally notable and charming.
The policeman cat, showing this nicely dressed rat clad in a short jacket and politely holding his hat an Arctic Baking Powder sign is very jolly indeed and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. What is he telling the rat? “This is good stuff Mr. Rat!” Meanwhile, police kitty is so much more serious than my ribald fellow – mine dancing and winking, a naughty fellow. I like his fang-y grin, cane in hand. Very natty outfit with bow tie and that fat striped tail. It is very hard to see, but in the upper left corner of my card it reads, I had a darling racket last night. I can’t say I know for sure what it means, but clearly – oolala Mr. Cat! Must be a kissing cousin to the kind of racket you are asked by your neighbors to stop making late at night. These could be the same artist, but I am on the fence about that.
So, baking powder. I, for one, used to confuse it with baking soda all the time and had to puzzle through which to buy to keep the cat’s litter box or refrigerator from smelling. There’s something old fashioned seeming about baking powder – although I would imagine it is used in baking as much now as ever. (I was once very fond of baking powder biscuits – a bit heavier than regular ones, but yummy and quick to make.) Baking soda comes in a box and, probably for the reason of some potential chemical interaction, baking powder comes in tin cans. (To digress a moment – I loved when bandaids came in tin boxes. I saved one before they all disappeared – sensed that they were on their way out although they lasted a long time. Always kept spare money in them. Why is there so little tin now?) So, bottom line, I don’t know what this hotsy-totsy kitty was doing with baking powder, but I want some. He must have sold a whole lot of baking powder in his day.
Pam’s Pictorama: Picking back up to the strange land of notions – a word I love and one you don’t hear much any more. In fact, notions, the sewing kind are actually hard to find these days. Even in my adult life we have gone from a sprinkling of such stores, I remember at least one on 86th Street near here, to none. Needles and thread can at best be located in back corners of drugstores and supermarkets in large multipacks of thread and needles. Gone are the days when you might go to a store that sells fabric and thread – and buttons – and match colors and get exactly what you need. This being Manhattan we have the fabric district and I suppose can take ourselves to that part of town and trying to find a place that would sell us our paltry and pedestrian sewing wares. It’s a little like getting into a race car when all you needed was a scooter however. I can’t speak for smaller towns – do you still have your notion and fabric stores? It is one of the few things that seems utterly impossible to purchase online – you can’t match thread that way and who the heck knows what size needles you need? I always just look at them and know.
I bought this needle package – that’s what it is – years ago at a flea market. It came complete with almost all of the needles still in place, in that lovely bright foil lining. It still has a needle threader – I did love figuring out how to use one of those! So simple, yet so useful – and not entirely self-evident I might add. These needles are indeed rust-proof, and what is the difference between hand sewing needles and sewing needles I wonder?
I do love that there was a time when putting space ships on packages of needles seemed appropriate – clearly a more entertaining time. Those two women sewing and smiling while that space ship shoots off of the earth and heavenward. We were all careening toward the future I guess. Who knew though, that it would be hard to buy a needle and thread when we got there?
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Photos of cat mascots on ships are becoming a sub-genre to my collection. Prior incarnations have included: Tom the Fire Boat Cat, Ahoy! Cats at Sea and Mascot – U.S.S. Custodian. I find them utterly irresistible, the beloved cats of the sea, and this ship clearly had a full menagerie on board! The U.S.S. New York seems to have a current incarnation of very recent vintage, so it is hard to know from what era this version hails – although the style of the photo postcard makes me think the 1920’s. The postcard is unused with no writing.
The simply named Puss, gray tuxedo, has his back to us – or perhaps is giving that adorable fluffy pup, Kaiser Stamps for Short, a look before starting something with him, like a bop on the nose. Lady, like her name is clearly elegant and above the fray, also turned away – and then there is the goat, Buck, who I really love. Whose idea was it to bring a goat on board? Buck and Kaiser are the only ones looking at the camera. Buck, like Lady, appears to wear a collar – a goat with a collar, does that happen often? He would seem to be a smallish goat from what we can see. I can’t help but wonder how hard it was to get them to all pose together.
In theory, I find goats charming. I say in theory because I have never attempted to get too close to one and I understand they can be temperamental. When I was in Tibet years ago I saw tiny, doglike goats, the size of Scotties, all over the place. Of course they were extremely sure footed and would run up and down the mountains, and we often saw small herds of them belonging to farmers. I believe that they make cheese from milking those tiny goats. The goats always seemed to be high spirited and romping around. Cute though they were I wasn’t risking injury by goat while hiking on the Tibetan plateau so I did keep my distance. (It should also be noted that in Tibet I found very few cats and many, happy dogs. The dogs hung out at the monasteries and the monks would feed them tsampa, made of barley flour and yak butter rolled together. Perhaps that diet is why there aren’t many cats.)
The notion of mascots is interesting – animals bringing luck and ships often sport them, hence my growing photo collection. I wonder where that tradition came from originally. I read that inanimate things were the first mascots, such as mastheads on ships. It then morphed into living animals. I happen to be of the general opinion that you need all the luck you can get on a ship. With four mascots the U.S.S. New York was taking no chances.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: So strange that I had never done a button post before and here is a second one in as many weeks! However, I have been keeping an eye on the antique cat button market for quite a while. There are some marvelous ones in brass that go for big money – maybe I will break down and buy one of those eventually. However, in the meanwhile, I scored this splendid little fellow just days before Kim surprised me with the Billiken button. (If you missed my Billiken Button post, it can be found here.)
While certainly not as flashy as the Billiken button (which somewhat defies the imagination when it comes to wearing) an item of clothing that sported a line of these cat buttons was one to be reckoned with too. I love the pearly quality – plastic ruled back in the early days of its use. (I examine celluloid in an early post, Fear of Celluloid, which features a cat that looks like an ivory carving) I wonder if they came in different colors – I can easily imagine green, blue and a really great yellow. I would be the queen of everything sporting that!
While eBay is always fascinating for the broadest possible view, an almost religious experience of buttons can be found in Manhattan at a tiny and wonderful store called Tender Buttons. On 62nd Street east of Lexington, just a few blocks up from Bloomingdales, sits this store which is both button museum and emporium. Back in 1988 Susan Orlean wrote a brief essay on the store and then owner for the New Yorker – Diana Epstein, who died ten years later. Ms. Epstein, a button collector and seller, had been a patron and fan of the store when she heard the original owner died and purchased it. It is still going strong so another button lover must have appeared and stepped in. I visited it with a fairly pedestrian need to replace buttons on an antique top. They were able to supply some lovely mother of pearl period buttons and, while the price was steep, I feel it was worth the price of admission to be able to dig through their stock a bit. (And yes, for those of you who are faithful readers, the store was a mere couple of blocks away from the toy hospital post mentioned previously here!)
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Seems that with the gift of this Billiken button from my husband I am, as I always knew, a lucky girl indeed! The wonderous Mr. Deitch surprised me with this acquisition a couple of weeks ago while he was burrowing deep into Billiken lore on a Facebook post. For those of you who missed that, it appears to have been inspired by a Billiken image on a cigar box – Kim was having a good time with cigar box pics a few weeks ago. Seems that research turned up the origin of the Billiken as a pretty good story – the creator Florence Pretz, art teacher and illustrator, brought it into existence it after seeing it in a dream. She christened him (it?) Billiken based on a poem, Mr. Moon: Song of the Little People, the appropriate passage below:
O Mr. Moon,
We’re all here!
We’re all here,
And the cost is clear!
Moon, Mr. Moon,
When you comin’ down?
Ms. Pretz did obtain a patent on Billiken, but where she made her mistake would appear to be in selling it to what became the Billiken Company of Chicago, which ultimately managed to merchandise him into a crazy cash cow nothing short of an international mania – his likeness was borne by toys, figurines, tobacco products, at least one football team, several early 20th century minor league baseball teams, and of course and evidently, clothing buttons. Strangely asian and eskimo cultures seem to be especially susceptible to his charms.
The other especially compelling fact about Billikens are that they are said to be the god of things as they ought to be. That’s a pretty interesting idea and I can see how it could be a double-edged sword as I consider it. Nevertheless, it is said to be good luck to purchase one – and even better luck to be given one. (Thank you Kim! I can use all the luck I can get.)
I hardly have to remark on the pearlized wonderfulness of this item. It fairly glows. It is actually beyond even my imagination to consider what an item of clothing might have looked like with a fewof these sewn on. Wowza!
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Just like something out of a Lilian Harvey film from 1930, this German photo of man, child and katze caught my eye recently. A bit of google search tells me that Vandenheuvel is a surname, although obviously also an advertisement here. It could perhaps, be the name of the man and girl. I like the little girl – she is at a gangly stage with her legs a bit out of proportion (tights bagging at the knees) to the rest of her, big smile and of course clutching her tuxedo cat; him, one ear cocked in vague irritation, tucked neatly under her arm. The man, smoking a pipe, with a smile more in his eyes than on his lips, looks like a nice man. While everything about them is a bit worn, there is a sense of ease if not actual prosperity about them.
A girl and her cat – a favorite theme of mine. While cats have been my friends and confidents since childhood they, like me and especially the childhood me, are also notoriously willful. It is very hard to get a cat to do something that wasn’t the cat’s own idea to begin with, as we all know. This includes getting them to sit still in a photo.
The way she is holding the cat is what my family refers to as cat prison. Obviously cat prison is a gotcha grip on a cat that guarantees the best result for holding onto said puss. The hold in the photo is one of the dependable ones and certainly one of the few that can be employed for photo taking – although in looking over some photos we’ve also been know to employ the method of flipping them over on their back like a baby. As a kid I used to carry our huge orange tabby Pumpkin around like the girl in the photo – which he allowed if not actually encouraged. (Pumpkin and I were close. He would have taken anyone else’s arm off.) My father coined the phrase cat prison – his preferred hold is on his lap with his two large hands holding the cat on his lap – nothing fancy for him. Usually employed in his case for brushing said kitty. It can be the only way to get a photo of some cats – but it is also the struggle of man against the determination of cat – a never ending battle.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This great little book was a thoughtful gift of our friends Tony and Sue Eastman who know of my love of all things black cat. An initial search of the author and artist, John Rosol, turned up surprisingly little. (I am very spoiled and have gotten used to information on even the most obscure topics turning up with ease, I admit.) To start with however, the comics in this book were all published in the Saturday Evening Post and all feature his cat, Tommy.
As per the dust cover, Tommy was a stray who strolled into Mr. Rosol’s Philadelphia studio and calmly seated himself on the drawing board. Rosol got Tommy’s idea immediately and went to work. In exchange for small steaks, liver, cream and catnip (no wonder he was a fat cat!) Tommy consented to stay for a while and be Caterer Rosol’s idea man…When he finally took his leave – destination unknown – he had trained Mr. Rosol so well that not even an expert can tell where Tommy left off and John began…P.S. Mr. Rosol hopes if this little books happens to come under the eye of Tommy, he will drop into the studio and turn off the light which is always burning for him. I, of course, teared up at the idea of the disappearance of Tommy. While my edition dates from 1944, the first printing appears to go back to 1934.
The cartoons are simple and cheerfully fun. The idea that he turned one cat into a consistent five identical twins brings certain very busy cats to mind. I have had several who had such a penchant for trouble that you would swear that there was more than one cat underfoot. (Cookie!) The gags are mostly of the kind assigned to cats – attempts to obtain fish and milk and to chase mice for food. Most notably the Tommy quints are patriotic during these WWII years and even turn their fat cat noses up at crab meat when they realize it was shipped from Japan, abandon their mouse chase when reminded to embrace a “meatless day”, round up dogs for service, and even help a female soldier who is afraid of mice.
A fellow blogger over at Comics Kingdom has the scoop on Rosol’s two brief syndicated strips, The Boy and the Cat (1939-1941) and Here and There (1941). Comics Kingdom offers some samples of Here and There and the black cat/s are tucked into these as well. In the style of earlier comics these are large single panel tableaus, with a different strip (about the cat) running occasionally up one side. This entry, combined with his obit, add the following facts: Rosol was trained as a commercial artist at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, which later became the Philadelphia College of Art. His full name was John Rolosowicz and he died at the age of 85, still living in Philadelphia. In addition to his comics which were syndicated to numerous papers across the country, and his work for the Saturday Evening Post, he also worked for Bazooka bubblegum. He published a children’s book The Cat’s Meow which I can find no evidence of online and evidently was working up until his death.
So I salute John Rosol, a cat loving cartoonist, barely saved from disappearing entirely from view by the internet and this popular volume.