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.