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.)

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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

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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!