Minnesota 1925-31

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: By now frequent readers probably know that there is a period and type of cat photo I am drawn to. I suspect that my aesthetic mystifies some folks, even Kim politely shakes his head over the occasional choice. There is something however, endlessly appealing to me about daily life in the time several decades before I appeared on the scene in the early 1960’s – of course generally around those photos which feature cats. These photos, usually taken in the front or backyard, range from the well-kempt but modest, to rundown and occasionally even well-heeled. Somehow though photos from this period of the early 20th century, though consistently unassuming and by definition amateur, speak of cozy home lives and pets beloved. This yard with this trim little house in the background is no exception. The chimney, coming off the sloping roof, draws our eye upward while the foreground of tamped down soil follows it down. (One suspects that a lawn would have been a luxury that these folks had no intention of indulging in at that time and location.) The back porch boasts something that might be an outdoor icebox (?) and something next to it that I cannot quite figure out, but storage for something perhaps? Everything is very tidy if worn.

These two women, one clearly dressed up in her cloche hat and good coat, while the other is older, in her house apron and looks as if she has just joined us from the kitchen for this quick photo, endeared themselves to me when decided to scoop up these kitties in order to have their picture taken. That good looking dog got in on the action as well, although turned away from the camera, as if he knows he isn’t the primary focus of attention for now but not to be forgotten. The black cat doesn’t even have Blackie’s tiny white star on his or her chest, from what we can see he is indeed coal black, fluffy and with big interested eyes looking out at us. (Sensible people not fearing this black cat.) He seems more patient about being held for this photo than his counterpart, the white and spotted cat, who is conveying some annoyance (and probably dropping white hairs all over that black coat) with the woman asking him to pose. These women could be mother and daughter, but that is not the impression I get. If I was going to venture I would say cousin or niece – perhaps even sisters who have a number of years between them. However, there is a strong resemblance around the nose.

The back of this photo is glued to the old, black paper of a photo album. Someone has written Minnesota 1925-1931 on the back, but that handwriting appears to be contemporary. Although I don’t know, my guess is that it was taken from an album where that information was indicated and the person selling the photos thoughtfully added it. Like several other photos I bought recently, at least one other from the same vendor, a small pile of unrelated photos (presumably from the same album) were included. I am unsure how to shoulder the inadvertent responsibility for these extra unwanted photos which has been visited upon me. The sadness of unclaimed family photos tormenting you is an occupational hazard for those of us who spend our time employed in acquiring old photos. But for the pleasure of being able to spend some time basking in the reflected glow of their long-ago homesteads, I will accept the responsibility to steward all these photos, as best I can during my time with them.

Backyard

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I saw and bought this to ultimately give to a Jack Russell owning new colleague at work. I liked this little guy sporting this sort of homemade looking doggie garb. It is keeping him warm on this snowy day and he also wears a collar. Dogs rarely get center stage here at Pictorama. However, I grew up with dogs, some of you have read those stories, to the same degree as cats so it isn’t like I don’t like them. I do. I am sure if I didn’t live in a tiny studio apartment I would probably live with at least one. And although I have generally lived with medium and large dogs, I have over time developed a soft spot for small ones too. Jack Russell Terriers in particular seem like the right kind of lively canine companions – the kind of dog that likes having a job and takes it seriously. Bred for fox hunting I understand they are high energy and smart. According to the back of the photo, this fellow is Mickey II (I have a friend who has named a seemingly endless line of Poodles Pierre) at 10 weeks, and the photo was printed on December 6, 1937.

He appears to be perched on some sort of wooden storage container – for garbage cans perhaps? For some reason as I look at this photo today I get a yen for having a backyard. There doesn’t seem to be anything especially glorious about this one, but I am not sure it matters. I think any patch of outside you call your own is a special thing and something we unconsciously yearn for sometimes in the city. When you are a kid you learn every inch of it. The designated safe space to be sent out to inhabit when your parents were tired of you inside, or for some other reason felt like you should be “outside playing” it often fell to you to figure out how to activate that space. We didn’t have yards with swings or other features – in retrospect other than the river running behind it, the yards were somewhat barren growing up. I can still remember what they looked like though – the trees that we played under (none of them were climbable) and the docks with their dead fish smells – seagulls having smashed oyster shells on them heightening the familiar stink of seaweed and crab shells in a trap. Still, you always knew that life was teeming in the water just below the surface and just lying on the dock and watching the sea world below was a failsafe activity. We lived on the river in both houses I grew up in, but the one I knew best had a floating dock and the water was calmer. By that time we knew how to swim and my parents worried less when we spent time by the water.

It is only just now starting to grow chillier here in the Northeast, a fall which is being discussed for being more like extended summer this year. However, the yellow light tugs me back to my childhood as it does every year. First the light of September which reminds me of back-to-school from my earliest years – at least those are the ones that come to mind. The school smells of those hallways new to my nose which for some reason still plays over in my mind. But the light of October and early November make me think of playing in our backyard, even more than the long days of summer when I surely spent more time outside. This time of the year reminds me of being about twelve years old and just old enough to feel like I should be outside doing things. Still young enough that making forts and hideaways among the trees appealed and that’s what I remember.

This guy in someone’s backyard in 1937 makes me nostalgic for a backyard this morning. A place where you were out in the world and you could imagine all sorts of adventures, but you knew you were nonetheless home safe.

 

L’il Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Another toy today – and celebrating the acquisition of a new and unusual Felix no less. This fellow hails, at least most recently, from the United States. I have never seen this variation previously.  I spotted him on eBay and, although the bidding was robust, I would have been willing to pay more than I did for him. It is unusual for me to find a design I have never seen, given how much time I devote to looking at them I have seen most I think.

Some of the aspects of this Felix that are not immediately evident are a solidly sewn thread at the back of his head, and printing on his little red ribbon. My theory is that this Felix was a carnival prize which hung from that thread, now torn. (See back view below.) I wish I could read his ribbon, but maddeningly I think one half of it has smudged over time. I think it actually reads Made in… He is about seven inches high. If this gentlemen was a carnival prize, unlike his British counterparts which exist in large numbers speaking to broad popularity, he was not one that was widely distributed. His arms move, his legs and tail were meant to stand him up tripod fashion, although he seems to need some help. It is a very simple design, although the moving arms, glass eyes and felt ears speak to some care and expense.

Felix back

However, this benign faced fellow does not seem to belong to the same clan as those somewhat malevolent toothy grinned Brits. The argument could easily be made that he actually isn’t Felix, but a generic toy cat, but in all the looking at Felix I have done I believed immediately that he was someone’s off-model rendition, cheaply churned out for a cheerful Felix obsessed public. This mild mannered fellow has already found his spot on a bookshelf in our living room – a space that is starting to absorb the toy overflow from our cramped bedroom. Needless to say, I would have been very happy indeed to have won him at a fair. I can see a thrilled, small me, gripping him in one hand, perhaps some cotton candy or a candied apple (love those!) in the other. However, given my skills at those kinds of games, maybe I would have spent as much as I did buying him anyway.

Squeaky Cat Head

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have made much of fragile toys in other posts – mostly those devoted to brittle, delicate celluloid or equally ancient plastic. Today I focus on another toy, recently purchased, that was probably originally intended to have a similarly short life-span. This cat head, just a bit smaller than an actual cat head (I proved this by holding it up to Cookie shortly after arrival) hails from 1925, and it is my guess that no one imagined that it would still be kicking around, rolling forward to our current day, more than 90 years later. It is in fact unlikely, although not impossible, that the small child this was purchased for is still among us while this presumably disposable toy is.

For me there is a solid classic design to it that makes it almost archetypal. It is easy to imagine it as a prop in a silent film – or clutched in my hand as a toddler in the late ’60’s, or even today if it was a tad bit less frail. When I spotted it I wanted it immediately. While we can assume that the paint has faded with age over time and there is a dent in the back, I think it appears pretty much the way it most likely always did. I assume, without knowing, that it most likely squeaked when pressed at one time, there is a silver button on the bottom. It no longer squeaks, but there is a date, 1925, on the bottom with some other bits of information about the maker I can just make out. It reads, US Patent Nov. 18 1924 Jan 6 1925 Katnips Inc. Providence RI. I looked, but could not find information about the bygone Katnips company.

I found a listing for another one for sale online and that person was proposing that it is actually a cat toy. He or she must have some outsize cats! My Cookie and Blackie have shown little interest in this item – except that when I opened the package an amazing smell burst out – that old, attic-y, dusty age odor. Kim once called this the smell of nostalgia. Cookie was entranced by this and took a wide-eyed snoot full of it. It set her whiskers twitching!

I cannot even imagine what flashes through a cat brain when dissecting a smell like this, but I have always imagined that it is colorful and wild. While I don’t find this smell unpleasant, it is still more interesting than good. It snaps me back to attics, some houses and even antique stores I have known. Given my collecting interests it isn’t an uncommon smell, although perhaps not as frequent as you might think. Meanwhile, here in New York City it isn’t unusual to pass a construction site where a very old building is being torn down and be smacked with a variation of that smell. Strange, but somehow time passed, years and the life of a building or a toy, gets encapsulated in a smell. It comes out of nowhere as you hurry along say East 86th Street, a 19th or early 20th century smell, living again for a moment in your brain. Like Cookie, I pause for a moment and inhale that dusty (probably asbestos filled) smell and consider, before returning to my hurried walk and the email on my cell phone.

An Anniversary Felix Redux

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Once in awhile I surprise myself and see something on eBay I decide I really want, bar the expense, in a way that I cannot quite explain. Now admittedly, really, who wouldn’t want this really spectacular item? Still, why I decide sometimes that I will go to the wall for something and other times just decide it will be too expensive and move on, I’m not sure. As it happens, it did not matter – as I am the luckiest wife in the world – Kim knew of my yearnings and bought this lovely item for me for our anniversary yesterday. (And to think I just bought him a book!) More on the anniversary in a bit below.

As savvy Pictorama readers may know, I own another version of this, purchased almost exactly a year ago, and crowed over in my post Felix Trinket Tray. I show that item here. As you can see, it is the exact same bottom, unpainted, with a somewhat ham handed Felix at the top. He is in the reverse position of the painted version just acquired.

unnamed-14

Felix the Cat Trinket Tray, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

That one never made it to my office, but I think this one will. I am an utter sucker for this version of Felix. It is as if he has come out of his thinking pose into an “Ah ha” resolution moment. He is the earlier, pointy design I like best. Little lead figures of this style exist and I almost wonder if they didn’t just stick one of those on. (And for all I know there are all sorts of non-Felix figures sprouting off atop these brass desk caddy bases.) I am thinking of the Pixieland Kew version of small painted lead toys, like soldiers. (There are versions by other companies with different Felix designs.) Here is one I pulled off the internet and it looks like a fit. I do not own one, but to my knowledge they are the same size as my man atop his perch. Meanwhile, I am quite sure I will be all the smarter at work for having him on my desk.

b361d4a3a4d1b819e6fdaff50e7b61c3--felix-the-cats.jpg

Pixieland Kew Felix, not in Pictorama collection

 

I am not sure I will ever entirely unravel the mysteries of the myriad way the British threw together these items during the height of the Felix fueled mayhem. I am just grateful for their sheer abundance which has resulted in a good survival rate ninety years later.

For those who are counting anniversaries, this year is #17 on the marriage side, although we tend to add another six for our time together prior to that. (I admit that I noted to myself that getting married in 2000 was a good idea because it would be easy to remember. Columbus Day is a marker too. Unlike Kim whose mind locks onto dates, mine has always been mushy and wandering on that score.) The anniversary of our first date comes up in a few weeks, over Veteran’s Day. I wrote about that way back at the beginning of Pictorama and just turned that post up here, Anniversary Special. In looking back I remembered that Kim helped me track down and buy this nice Snowy last year. (He was also blogged in the post, Snowy.) I am suddenly overwhelmed to realize that when I traveled to France last fall for the Met that my new job was not even a twinkle in my eye yet. Time does indeed fly, and you never know what anniversary you may be celebrating in a year.

soft-cuddly-toy-tintin-snowy-37cm-35132-2015

Snowy was last year’s anniversary gift!

More Felix Sing-a-long!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Happily somehow things always return to Felix here at Pictorama. I like to think that indefinitely, every so often, I will stumble across yet another unexpected example of the British fascination with Felix which extended to ditties like this one – Felix gracing the cover and doing the big sell. (However, as noted in my post Musical Meow! which features French sheet music, currently adorning the walls of my office, illustrates that the Brits were not alone in this mania abroad.) I have a few other sheet music posts that include Felix illustrated tunes, Felix – Here He Is Again , Musical Meow! and Musical Interlude and they are, if you pardon the pun, like cat nip to me. On this one he is doing my favorite Felix trick where his tail flies off on its own, in this case to form a ? – a hotsy-totsy Felix best!

In researching the note at the bottom, Dedicated to FELIX THE FILM CAT/Appearing exclusively in Pathe’s ‘Eve & Everybody’s Film Review’ I hit pay dirt on Felix lore. In the interesting short article that can be found in its entirety at British Universities Film and Video Council site about Eve & Everybody’s Review I found out Felix details that tied together things in a way I didn’t know. Pic and Eve (as it became known) was a series founded in 1921 and running until ’33 aimed at women – hobbies, unusual careers, fashion, etc. under the slogan fashion, fun and fancy. It mostly drew on stock footage for its shorts, but also featured shorts of cartoons. This is the series that was used to launch the Felix cartoons in Great Britain to great acclaim, and became the machine that helped churn out much of the British Felix merchandise treasured by the likes of me close to a hundred years later- sheet music, pins, and china figurines. (Krazy Kat had his turn as well, but does not appear to capture the imagination of the Brits the way Felix did.) It was the distributor of Felix cartoons until 1926 when the Ideal company began to distribute them in their entirety as free-standing entities.

This sheet music appeared on my computer screen during an early morning, pre-work, search on eBay. It was for immediate purchase and it was mine before my morning coffee had even had a chance to kick in. Mornings here at the combined Pictorama and Deitch Studio environs goes something like this – at about 4:30 Blackie begins to stir (some of us believe that it is at Cookie’s insistence, but since I try to sleep through this I cannot verify it) and we attempt to hold him at bay until at least 5:00. Kim gets up; I roll over for anywhere from another 15 to 45 minutes of sleep. Tummies full, the cats are already working on their daytime napping by the time I pour myself some cold coffee from the fridge and sit down with it, a green smoothie (made the day before) and some fresh berries in front of the computer. Kim is already hard at work as I read the paper online (interesting bits aloud), check the limited social media that interests me (laugh at funny animal videos and photos mostly) and give a fast check to the most interesting searches I follow on eBay. On a lucky day last week this was the first thing I saw and bang! It was mine.

Enough about me however. This is a splendid piece of sheet music I have never seen previously. There is no date associated with it. It was previously owned by the H. Austin Storry, Ltd. Pinaoforte & … Warehouse, 14 & 16 Palmerston, Southsea…as per the stamp at the bottom right and from what I can make out of it. Hard to beat the name of this tune, Who threw the water on the Tom Cat’s back?  The author is A. Emmett Adams, is best known for The Bells of St. Mary’s, a hit of 1917. Without knowing for sure, we’ll assume that this Felix ditty is a jauntier song. I could not find a transcription of this being played, but surely anything that advertises itself as Me-ow! Splash! A Melody with a ‘Smack’ must be sort of jolly. The lyrics, in part, go like this:

Felix loved a Tabby Cat
How she used to purr!
All the cats for miles around were sure he’d marry her!
One night he proposed and just as Tabby answered Yes!
Someone dampened their spirits in a rude way more or less;

Chorus:
Who threw the water on the Tom Cat’s back when he spoke to his lady friend?
Who broke the water jug at two o’clock,
Followed at three by the kitchen clock?
Bang! went a pair of boots, crash went a  piece of soap
Right on his best girl’s head.
So she bolted down the mews,
Leaving Felix musing there are other cats instead.
The final verse:
As I try to sleep at night,
When the world is still
Cats sing oratorious beneath my window sill!
Do I get up? I should worry

I just lie in bed!
Somone’s gone mad round the corner 
So I think instead…
Chorus

All this and they threw in two fox trots at the back, When you and I were dancing and Love in the Summertime. Quite a bargain I say and while I paid quite a bit more than 2 pence, I am very happy with my buy as well.

 

Firehouse Kitties

20171008-00003

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: While firemen are frequently depicted rescuing our feline friends from trees, and Dalmatians get all the credit for being the canine kingpins of firehouse life, it is a fact that many cats actually rule the roost at our local firehouses. I grew up with a volunteer fire department, an impressively splendid thing in its own right with our local men training and risking their lives to rescue folks and put out fires. There was a firehouse of course, but to my knowledge no resident animals. However, here in Manhattan I assume traditional resident firedogs probably exist, but are not known to me. Our firehouses seem especially well suited to independently minded cats who require nominal care, and have the added bonus of tending to the rodent population.

From the firehouse cats stories I have read (and which abound on the internet, should you be interested) cats generally seem to find their way to the fold after being rescued, either from fires or other sticky situations. I assume it was probably ever thus and that this photo of our fire fighting friends from the early 20th century probably acquired their two cats the same way. If you ask me, these two scrappy kits look like they are ready to get off laps and mix it up a little, especially the one on the left. I was hoping that these photos would have a little more information in person, but sadly they remain a bit duped looking and I wonder if it wasn’t actually a primitive reprint process of the day – allowing everyone to have copies of the group photos.

I assumed that these two photos were of the same firemen, casual and formal portraits, but no. If you look carefully they are not the same men – the mustaches were the first give away. Still, I present even our cat-less firemen since these photos have remained together all this time, seems fair to keep them paired here. They are early photo postcards, highly solarized over time. Both have 1904 written in pencil on the back in the same hand, there is no other information.

It probably will not surprise any of my Pictorama readers that I keep gentle tabs and a tally of cats in my greater Yorkville, New York neighborhood. One of my regrets about no longer walking across the Eastside to work every morning to work is that I no longer maintain my regular nodding acquaintance with a number of cat friends along the way. One such feline lives in the Yorkville firehouse on 85th between Lexington and Third. This fellow with marmalade spots does not generally come out to mingle, but I have spotted him, clearly in charge, keeping an eye on the interior of the firehouse and presumably its inhabitants. I did a quick search today and his name is Carlow and I uncovered an interview he gave at Interview with Carlow the Cat. I have tried to get a good photo of him for years and have failed. However, thanks to the internet and my fellow blogger, here he is shown below.

980x.jpg