Poor Mr. Canary!


Pam’s Pictorama: The parade of Victorian advertising continues with this card from the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. – a company which seems to have embraced cat card with great enthusiasm. I wrote about a rather famous series of advertising cards portraying a brief cat tale of love lost and found in my post of the same name. Leaving the topic of the efficacy of cats in advertising, instead I am taking a peek at the history of the smug expression of cats that inspired this popular phrase.

The phrase, cat that ate the canary (the Australian or UK version is evidently the cat that ate the cream) and usually used as smiling like the cat that ate the canary refers to a pleased, smug, self-satisfied and perhaps a tad guilty expression – like this fellow on the card and his toothy grin. Interestingly enough the phrase seems to have just emerged at about the time this card would probably have been issued, in the late 1880’s or early 1890’s when trade card advertising would be at its peak. In 1891 and 1892 several newspapers in the United States, UK and Australia published the same joke which appears to be the first reference:

Father:  That cat made an awful noise in the back garden last night.
Son:  Yes, sir.  I guess that since he ate the canary, he thinks he can sing.

In researching this phrase my favorite reference was a fellow blogger and their post can be found at Cat That Ate the Canary. My favorite part is their reference to a story of a cat in New Hampshire that ate five canaries, published in the Victoria Advocate in 1952. He was accidentally locked in a department store overnight in Keene, New Hampshire. Oh my. I show him below, he really does have a bit of a criminal look about him.


Cat that ate five canaries photo, Keene New Hampshire, 1952


As some of you know, I come from a lineage that not only loves cats, but also birds. My mother is extremely active in preserving water fowl and rescued and rehabilitated them for years as well. The cat eats bird thing has always been a sore point and luckily Cookie and Blackie do not have an opportunity to put their bird largess (or lack thereof) to the test. Still, those Sylvester and Tweety cartoons always nag at me a bit. Poor Sylvester, forever trying to get a meal out of that one, lousy, annoying little bird!

And for or those of you who need a refresher, this is the first appearance of Sylvester and Tweety together!



Powo! Cat Boxing


Pam’s Pictorama Post: This summer of cat advertising cards continues with this newest in the series by this popular artist. I do not know who this fellow or woman was, but he or she had a significant share of this trade. I love these! Each one seems a bit puzzling, but the group seems to form a loose narrative. Perhaps when I get enough of these together I will see the whole story.

This card barely left space for the ad at the bottom – I couldn’t find a reference to Lawson Baths, clearly printed on after the card was already made. The overgrown baby cat seems to be the one saying, Now Pa brace up and have some style. It is the same toothy cat as in the post Arctic Baking Powder and, probably, more recently the entry Westerman’s Shoe Bazaar.

It is perhaps politically incorrect of me to say, but I have always been a fan of cat boxing. I am not alone – film of cat boxing goes back at least to Thomas Edison – 1894 Boxing Cats. A quick look turned up the very delightful Cat Fight in Boxing Ring with Dog Audience – sort of a variation on the Dogville comedies, but as a commercial for Chevrolet. Kim says he remembers seeing cat boxing on the Ed Sullivan show. Of course of contemporary vintage there are many on Youtube, something along the lines of 1.83 million results at a quick look. A very popular favorite however is Cats Playing Patty-cake – I thought I would fall off my chair laughing the first time I saw it.

Cookie and Blackie indulge in this pastime occasionally. As brother and sister it seems it is natural to square off once in awhile, stand up on their hind legs and take a poke at each other for a few minutes – usually in slow motion. As cat fighting goes it is usually the least likely to get serious and many of these early filmed efforts are likely to have been staged – although I will say those cats really seem to be going at it in the Chevrolet commercial. It is mostly very theatrical, even here in the apartment. I don’t know why, but it does make me laugh when they do it. I will let you know if I manage to reach for the iPhone to tape them at it any time soon and we will make them internet stars!


Tommy Dodd

Pam’s Pictorama: The trade card bonanza continues with this card, which does not appear to actually advertise anything. The back is blank and looks like it spent some time glued onto an album page. This fellow, sporting his medal and with his somewhat human expression, would be a tad creepy if he showed up looking just like this at your house one day – and I like cats as you know. His origins are a bit obscure, although I guess a picture does form, so read on.

First, there is a tweet from the San Francisco public library of this card with the following post about the image on this card:  Tommy Dodd sends his #caturday greetings! This adorable cat won first prize at the International Cat Show, and then was featured on a trade card for a shoe store specializing in children’s shoes, on Stockton Street. In the San Francisco History Center’s trade card collection. Mine shows no evidence of San Francisco or children’s shoes, however these cards were clearly purchased by companies which printed their own message on the back or bottom. Still, um, somehow I doubt this was a real cat who one a prize at an international cat show – just a guess.

Researching the slang phrase Tommy Dodd turned up many meanings, some related and some clearly not. I list them here for your consideration in no particular order: odd or peculiar; a cemetery may be known as Tommy Dodd’s garden; thank Tommy Dodd for this or that; a phrase related to coin tossing (mid 19th century) as in tossing odds; penis; sodomite; a style of hat; a glass of beer or a walking stick. (The last three were from Australia.)

The coin tossing allusion is the one most frequently sited and referred to. It appears that there were numerous beer hall songs devoted to Tommy Dodd and below is the chorus to one I was able to find, as well as a link to the lyrics of the full song:

I’m always safe when I begin. Tommy Dodd, Tommy Dodd I Glasses round, cigars as well. Tommy Dodd. Tommy Dodd I Now, my boys, let’s all go in, Tommy Dodd, Tommy Doddl Head or tail, I’m safe to win, Hurrah for Tommy Dodd! (Lyrics for Tommy Dodd)

As is the case with many of these cards, there was a series that would have been collected – a nascent form of comics? I also turned up another in the series, as well as some companion dog cards shown below:


Other cards from the same series.


Westerman’s Shoe Bazaar


Pam’s Pictorama Post: This post kicks off a series of cat advertising I have indulged in recently so hang onto your hats! More than 100 years before cat videos people realized the entertainment value of cats and that they sure can sell. Trade cards like this one from the late 1800’s still exist in abundance so they must have been a primary way of advertising. I am not sure I have yet grasped how they were disseminated – this variety is small, the size of an early baseball card, and do not appear to have been sent via the mail. If they were handed out – where? On the street? I have to continue to look into this.

A search on Westerman’s Shoe Bazaar revealed an advertisement (without cats I might add) on page 8 of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from Thursday, November 27, 1890. They respectfully say, if you want something in the way of FOOTWEAR NICE or FETCHING in STYLE Westerman’s Shoe Bazaar was evidently the place for you. For the local St. Louis folks, you may wish to note that it was at 1232 South Broadway, French Market.

Now for this splendid card – grandma is an enormous, bespectacled, grinning (and fang-y) kitty – a real wolf in grandma’s clothing of a cat. At first I thought Grandma’s Pet was a brave if rooty tooty, little mouse fellow, but a closer look revealed that he too is a cat – tiny by comparison, with a striped tail, more or less identical to Grandma’s. He holds a little sword and a pair of spectacles, like hers, and a jaunty cap with a feather. Does he do her bidding, and if so what? I adore it, but I have no idea whatsoever what the meaning might be or the inspiration – let alone what it has to do with shoes. Unlike some of these cards, there is no information on the back.

Pictorama readers with a good memory will know that this is likely by the same artist who did the art for the card I posted in Arctic Baking Powder several weeks ago. I provide that card below for comparison and your enjoyment. As the collection grows, perhaps the mystery will unfold.



Mickey and Men

Kids and Dad w: toy

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The summer photo fun continues with this family snapshot. If I had to guess I would say the 30’s or 40’s although it has a timeless quality. There is no information on it and no evidence that it lived in an album. Since I collect such things, I do wonder about those photos which manage to find their way down the decades and end up with me (or another collector), as opposed to those which are lost or destroyed. It is easy to understand how the photo postcards got saved – especially those dandy ones posing with Felix. They were by their very nature special and probably had a place of honor in the family because they were fun and were kept by future generations – and eventually strangers. Snapshots like this one have a somewhat higher bar I think, but this is both a great photo and fun so it is easy to see how it was preserved. I think there is a part of me which collects them because the idea of all those homeless photos makes me sad.

I debated about the toy being a Felix or an off-model Mickey. Now that I have blown it up (it is a small, sort of 2.5″ x 3.5″) I can see that it is indeed a faux Mickey – maybe the kind given away as a prize at a carnival. He clearly has a place of pride squarely in the middle of this picture, Dad looking down at him. The two boys look so much alike they could almost be twins, but the one on the right is a bit older – and they look very much like the man holding them who we will assume is Dad. The small, comical hat on the older boy gives him a jaunty attitude, but the younger boy is the one holding Mickey. Meanwhile, Dad’s got them both, scooped up in his arms and they are enjoying a nice day in this pleasantly overgrown backyard.

The sun is just coming up on a beautiful, hot July Sunday morning here in New York City as I write this, and I suggest everyone grab a loved one and a toy and get a photo for the future today.

Felix Mugging

Felix on the beach w baby

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Some of you ongoing readers know that Pam’s Pictorama was originally conceived as a way of organizing my collection of photo postcard of people posing with giant Felix dolls. While I almost immediately switched course to incorporate all of my various collecting interests – toys, other photos and cat items – my collecting of these rarified beauties continues apace. That said, I generally only get one or two opportunities to purchase such cards each year. This one, as is the case with most, was never sent, and there is nothing written on it.

As summer hits its humid stride this year it seems like a fine moment to look back on a beach day long past. In the background we are treated to wonderful low wooden beach chairs and those fascinating little tents that people used to dress in. I have always been a fan of those – you see them in films occasionally and I have always wanted one or at least to be offered the use of one. You can just about make out what is probably mom and and older brother on the right hand side, blurry and behind them.

This Felix is a very fine looking fellow. I love that he sports a big bow and a careful look reveals whiskers on his face. Felix looks relatively new – in some of my other photos it is clear that the Felix doll in question has been dragged to the beach daily for numerous seasons and as a result he doesn’t stand quite right any longer, or he looks a bit ratty. Not this fellow. He and this youngster, who is wearing the least attractive sort of early children’s bathing attire-diaper thingy, are both pretty new on the summer scene; likely one of many to come for both of them. Perhaps his brother was up next for a photo and his still lurks somewhere out there, waiting for me to find it.

The Lore of the White Kitties

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: In the process of packing and unpacking toys recently, I realized that somehow along the line I had acquired a small coterie of white cats in contrast to my substantial (and well documented) collection of black cats. Three of these fellows are Steiff and two have no identification. The Steiff with the bell and red ribbon was purchased by Kim at a store in Cold Spring, New York, for me. The all white kitty on all fours, without stripes, came from a small shop in Dresden and I bought him while traveling there for the Met. (He kept me company on the remainder of the trip and made my ship’s cabin feel more like home.) I almost wrote that the others came off of eBay, but yet when I think about it I know they did not. The strange rule of Pam purchasing white cats seems to be that I do it in person and it is an impulse buy. Sadly I have no specific memory of the origin of the remaining cats. I do wish I could remember where I got the largest of them – he really is a splendid cat and I can see why I bought him.

White cats don’t quite hold the mystery  and intrigue that black cats do for me – however seems like a friendly group and like they probably get along together better than the black cats. (I have seen some elbowing for space among the black cats – just ask Kim.) Most of these live peacefully sprinkled among their black cat brethren and this is the first time I am putting them together.

White cats are prone to deafness – it seems strange that it would be a congenital defect that natural selection wouldn’t have done away with – and I have never met one of these. Meanwhile, they also frequently  have two different colored eyes, a pretty great look. The Turkish government has even declared white Angora cats with blue and amber eyes national treasures. This alone could convince someone like me to visit Turkey, and how sad that during the long Presidential election year neither candidate has offered us such a part of their platform.

It is worth noting that Felix has a girlfriend with white fur and a ribbon who I think of as White Kitty, although her name is in fact just Kitty – and she always seemed to be luring him into one kind of trouble or other such as a mountain of kittens, or her father with a shot gun as popular themes. Kitty was often drawn entirely differently – a realistic and not so doggy-human as Felix, as in the internet swipe of a postcard below. Although in the comics she sometimes looks like an all-white Felix in a dress. It is bizarre that in the strip below Felix also seems to have a (equally scheming) cousin who is also all white.


Felix and Kitty from a popular British postcard set by Pathe


Felix and Kitty from a daily


Homemade Mickey

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This is the first Mickey I ever purchased. I bought him at a antique toy fair in Atlantic City years ago. He was quite ratty even then and I didn’t pay much for him. At the time buying mice seemed odd to the cat purchaser in me, but he wasn’t expensive and he seemed to need a home, so he was the first mice among my cats. I continue to have a soft spot for him and the cats don’t seem to mind him.

I didn’t realize it at first, but he seems to be made from a pattern. As my regular readers know, I have recently opined on my lack of sewing acumen. Long story short, I’m lucky I can sew a button on, therefore I am rather awestruck by someone assembling toys from patterns, a skill I would love to acquire.

I gather the practice was very common and there were a number of ways you could get the patterns, through magazines or purchased from a sewing store. (You can see my lament of the long-lost fabric and notions store – Needled – a recent post.) I was deeply tempted by someone selling a pattern for a large Felix toy on eBay several years ago. The photo below is from her ad. I believe, strangely, that it is for knitting Felix – how is that possible? (While I can imagine a universe where I sew – in fact I even had fantasies about being good at sewing when I was younger – I cannot imagine a world where I knit. Those big plastic sticks produce nothing in my hands, let alone a giant Felix.)


Felix from a pattern available online

The seamstress behind my Mickey did a pretty superb job. The seams are very professional and the hand stitching attaching his hands and feet is neat and even. He appears to have had his eye moved on one side at some point, leaving a sort of beauty mark, but I think she or he had it properly stitched in originally. He was constructed of a soft black velvet which has worn away, but his arms, head, ears and tail are properly and perfectly put together.

It is tempting to think about – assembling my own toys with vintage patterns. However, I think I am smart enough to know it would all turn to chaos and dross in my hands so I think I will stick with buying.

How to Put on a Circus

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My memory of exactly where I scored this book has dimmed. It may have been in a used bookstore in Cananda, but I am just not sure. I do know that the moment I picked it up I knew it was splendid and I wanted it. If the penciled price on the inside is what I paid, it cost me $15. The book evidently originally belonged to Harry Dippold who wrote his name in beautiful script in pencil on the inner cover. The copyright, the single printing listed, is 1923. It was written, illustrated and photographed by Fred Hacker and Prescott W. Eames. How to Put on an Amateur Circus is exactly what the title promises – a 112 page step-by-step and blow-by-blow description of everything from how to build costumes, construct tents, make tickets, apply clown make-up, keep the books and even what the Ringmaster should say to the audience! They have left nothing up to chance, a veritable bible of starting your very own circus.

It did not surprise me to discover that the company responsible for this book is Dennison’s – the crepe paper and party decoration company, famed for their wonderful over-the-top Halloween Bogie books. (For a full discourse on Dennison’s you might try my post by the same name found here – Dennison’s.) While these folks had a vested financial interest in encouraging the use of crepe paper, the extraordinary imagination that went into their marketing books is stunning.

For me, the highlight of this book are the photos of and instructions for executing a wide-variety of imaginative animal costumes. (I sometimes wonder if all of Julie Taymor’s inspiration for her puppet costumes came from books like this.) As you can see from the photos below, photographs of the finished product were given, as were diagrams for making the costumes and even ones for how to operate them. The instructions are detailed, if arduous and requiring plenty of elbow grease – operating them couldn’t have been easy either. A google search turns up period references to this and other Dennison volumes like it – I found comments on the difficulty of executing the costumes, but it wasn’t uncommon for them to be used and identified as such in all sorts of amateur and semi-amateur productions.

Tantalizing, at the back of the book, are other Dennison books you could buy. These include the following titles: How to Chalk Talk, (must have been popular because there is also Chalk Talk Stunts), Impromptu Magic, with Patter, The High School Stunt Show and Carnival, Here’s for a Good Time (…a large and diversified collection of parties for the advanced teen ages and adults, chronologically arranged to cover every month of the year), and finally, Burlesque Debates – despite the title these were not racy, but comical. I have never been able to find another volume in the series for sale, but I treasure mine and occasionally dream of starting my own, amateur circus. Come on guys, it’s summer – let’s put on a show!


Picture Perfect


Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Buried deep in the pages of this blog, this photo decorates my brief auto-bio and it has long been one of the favorites in my collection for years. I thought I would pull it out over this July 4th weekend. (If I can’t be on a boardwalk we can at least look at one!) These two fellows are in spiffy, if slightly bizarre, attire – speaking at least for the guy with the striped tie and ill-fitting tweed jacket. The gent with the pipe seems to be giving the photographer a dubious look, What the hell are you doing? While his friend is giving us a bit of a smile.

This card came from England and I have always imagined this is Brighton or the Isle of Wright. Like almost all of these cards, it was never mailed. When I first saw it I thought that maybe the guys were sort of scamming by getting the photo with Felix, but not paying for it. However, clearly they appear to be taken by surprise. My guess is that, perhaps on slow days, the photographer would take candid photos and offer them to the people for purchase later – someone did this to me years ago when I got off a plane in Peru. (Sadly it was a positively wretched photo – probably due to the 10 or so hours of flying I had just completed – and I really did not want it. The process and method of finding me later fascinated me however and I admired their industriousness.)

My favorite part of this photo though is, not surprisingly, Felix. He has a sort of brother can you spare a dime? look about him, and he is sort of looking over his shoulder. (As some of you know, it is my life’s ambition to own one of these giant Felix-es, several would of course be even better…) PHOTOGRAPHS is written across the doorway to the building and must lead to the studio. I would love to see inside. And oh, on a beautiful summer day, to stroll the and pause to have your photo taken with a giant Felix the Cat doll!