Pop Goes Felix

Pam Photo Post: This photo interested me and I went to some trouble to acquire it. It is a bit mysterious. The photo is large, about 10″x12″ and the surface is a photo paper with a slight toothy gloss. On the side of the box the girl is seated on it reads C. Bennett Moore, No. 3. If you look carefully, you can see that the actual box is open and empty and the words have just been dropped in over the shadow from it.

Meanwhile, C. (Charles) Bennett Moore is evidently the name of the photographer. Mr. Bennett (1879-1939, although one online source has him die in 1936) was ultimately known best for hand painted versions of his own photographs of New Orleans. Born in Minnesota, he served in the Spanish American War before showing up in New Orleans and going to work for a photographer named Emil Rivoire, ultimately taking over his studio and renaming it for himself after Rivoire’s death. A contemporary of E.J. Bellocq, but with a sensibility which ran to architecture and portraiture, he did not achieved the same level of fame. (He should also not be confused with the younger civil rights photographer Charles Moore.)

I can’t say I am a fan of the painted photographs. Whatever interest or charm the photos might have had is sufficiently destroyed with what it would only be slightly unfair to refer to as ham-handed painting. There is evidently however some market for them, but we will just agree to disagree on that point. Meanwhile, and more to the point, Kim senses that my photo is a generation lost as well and I see what he means. That could just be a negative increased in size, or maybe it is wholly reproduced. It appears to be on photo paper, but a thick one, so I remain unsure. The size is also so strange. There is also a weird sense of manipulation to it – not just the added words but a soften quality to the image.

The seller of the photo speculated that the girls were actually young women dressed as girls and a close look confirms this. The seller goes on to further consider that they were likely vaudeville performers or even silent film actresses – I am more inclined to agree with the first than the second thought. One sports boyish garb with hat and dandy gingham tie, while the second is very girlish.

Mr. Moore might be advertising himself, albeit subtly, using this prop with his name neatly in script on the side. For me, it was of course this really splendid Felix jack-in-the-box that caught my attention. I love that toy! I was the kind of kid who never tired of my jack-in-the-box, musical as I remember. Hers has a sort of strap for handy transport. It appears the Felix just pops up – my childhood version was wound up by a handle. The stuffed dog on the leash is pretty nice too. That Felix though – a great toy which I have never (not yet anyway) had the opportunity to make my own. This brings me a bit closer.

So, I wonder – was this photo some sort of advertising for C. Bennett Moore? There is nothing written on the back, but a slip of paper included with the photo dates it to 1923 which seems like a reasonable guess-timate for the year, although I see nothing to support it. Was it used somehow in conjunction with these young women and their show? Once again, those details are most likely lost to the sands of time, but I am content since I am in it for the toys.

The Cat’s Concert

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little volume makes me imagine screechy cat voices lifted in song! This item is the direct product of collecting mania. Back in January I stumbled into purchasing the rather wonderful Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball (which you can find here) which lead directly to finding and buying another A.M. Lockyer and F.E. Weatherly collaboration, The Robber’s Squeak (featured here) a month later. After doing some research I discovered the existence of The Cat’s Concert which turned out to be quite pricey and not terribly available. I went into a stealth hunting mode and five months later I acquired this copy for a reasonable sum. Sadly, it has fewer illustrations than the others, but it is a little gem in its own way.

It is a fragile little book, so apologies that the inside pages cannot be scanned as I would not attempt to lay it open and flat and instead have just taken photos of them. We are treated to five tunes here: The Cat’s Concert, Sambo’s Song, Serenade, Pompey’s Trouble and Finale. As in the other books I have noted above, this one is illustrated by A.M. Lockyer and has words and music by F.E. Weatherly. These were all published in both New York and London according to the copyright information. This copy came from England. One of the seller’s has dated it at 1885 (?) as the book bears no date of publication. A publisher’s circular dated 1889 cites it as being an excellent little booklet for the nursery.

The cats on the front cover, above, appear to have very long feet. Strangely, as I look through the book, they appear to be wearing long, odd shoes – they wear them for Sambo’s Song, and even don clogs for Serenade. This tiny pamphlet is well worn with age, is about 5″x7″ in size. I do wonder at the practical application of it – hard to imagine anyone whipping it out in the nursery and playing a tune, even in the late 1880’s. Instead we will imagine that these cheerful cats entertained enough to keep this booklet in circulation over a period of time sufficient that copies remain today.

My favorite drawing is for Pompey’s Trouble, shown below. I like the sharp claws displayed by these fellows and the one on the far right could almost be a Louis Wain kit; he’s having a high old time! Pleasantly maniacal expressions on the faces of all three.

The lyrics on all of these tunes are less than memorable and racist – a mini-minstrel show for the nursery. (Collecting black cat material can lead you unknowing down this road.) The one called Sambo’s Song is the most cat related however and praises the cats for catching the mice in the farmer’s grain and seems to end in a clog dance:

Three fat Mice, Dey lay by de farmer’s grain; Dey stuff away all ob de day, An’ couldn’t get home a gain.
Den dese three cats, Came over de old barn floor….An’ I think you  see, Tween dem and’ me, De Mice go back no more.
O come along, Di_nah, come along Di_nah, do! ‘Tis de middle ob de night, and de moon is bright, we all ob us wait for you? With a wow, wow, wow! An a m’you, you, you! Did you ebber see a clog dance done?…

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Clearly the British were as capable of writing racists ditties as the Americans (Weatherly the author of music and words is British), but perhaps like me, Lockyer and the cats sold it for them.

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