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Pam’s Pictorama Post: We at Pictorama and Deitch Studio interrupt this blog for an advertisement – and a Kim Deitch beaut no less, always a cause for celebration. I unveil for you my new Pictorama business card, appropriately drawn and penned by Mr. Deitch himself.

Yesterday I went looking for an early post and was reminded that the blog is now more than four years old, and with little exception, has published a minimum of two posts a week, Saturday and Sunday, every week since August 2014. Today’s post is number 499! Therefore, and considering we are on the cusp of Halloween (a black cat favorite holiday here at Pictorama) it seems like an auspicious time to post this.

Truthfully, I never did find what I was looking for yesterday, but was charmed anew by many of the photos and toys. As Kim once said, if he saw the stuff in his storage unit, he’d buy it all over again – I feel the same about my photos and the blog was originally conceived as a way of organizing them and easily sharing them. (I surpassed our ability to display the photos in our tiny apartment long ago, although the toys are generally on view and enjoyed daily.) Clearly I haven’t done so well on the organizing aspect or I would have found the post I was looking for – but I have had a lot more fun with the writing aspect of this than I originally considered.

Over time I have found myself talking about Pictorama to folks and decided that what I needed was a business card so they could find their way here more easily – although I do appear to be the only Pam’s Pictorama when Googled. However, increasing our readership is a part of our mandate – spreading entertaining early photos of cats, jolly antique toys and tales to as many folks as possible.

So I put in my request for a card with Mr. Deitch back in the spring, realizing that it would have to wait until after Reincarnation Stories, the new book, was completed and scanned. (No preferential treatment for the staff or wives here please know. We wait our turn.) As it happened, my card was deferred until after a Twink album cover – and even awaited a new story for the next book made its way into roughs before it was complete. I share it first with you, dear readers, today. And it was well worth waiting for – a big, jolly Halloween kitty, dancing kitties and Waldo behind the camera! Kitty is based on one of my earliest toy acquisitions of a stuffed Halloween cat, one that I found a purchased a matching partner to shortly after. I immortalized them in a Halloween post back in 2015 called Two of a Kind which can be found here. The card captures the spirit of Pictorama perfectly.

This week I will find my way to a printer and hopefully the next time you meet me in person I will be able to share one of these splendid cards with you. It is my plan to venture into the world well supplied with them henceforth.

 

 

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Sis Sèmper Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Translated from the Latin, roughly, Always Felix. You may remember that aways back I purchased some hand colored images of Felix, shown below, which are similar in that they seem to have both a pre-printed yet hand-painted and drawn quality, leaving me wondering if the outline was somehow printed and then then black of Felix and the colors hand executed later. Both those cards and this one are on a lightweight paper – so although postcard size questionable that they were meant to stand up in the mail to begin with, this one has a torn top edge like it came from a book of some kind. I have seen additional versions of the cards below since I purchased my lot, although I have not acquired more. (Have to leave something out there for the other Felix collectors, right?) Today’s feature, and those below are all, not surprisingly, products of Great Britain and were purchased from sellers there.

Unlike those below, today’s drawing has an embossed quality to the outline of Felix – it was definitely printed, and although at first I thought the black was filled in by hand I am not so sure. The paper stock has wrinkled a bit around the printing area as the pressure and ink filled the paper. Nothing is written on the back.

 

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Obviously, my acquisition featured today was drawn with even more imagination than these other freehand beauties. A portly, gap toothed rendition, there is only something vaguely Felix-y about the pose, legs and tail. However, he has declared himself Felix and he is claimed by someone who has signed this work of art K. Behrens, 5-3-24. If off-model Felix is quite jaunty, giving us the thumbs up sign.

This Felix puts a smile on my face, which was probably the only real goal of K. Behrens in creating it. Still, there is something scratching away in my brain about this odd little tributary of homegrown and hand crafted Felix-iana. Perhaps just imagining a world where handmade Felix dolls and pictures were abundant – an Eden-like vision of a Felix filled world for the early 21st century Felix collector to contemplate.

Kodak: Box Camera

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I purchased this photo on our brief anniversary junket to the East Village last week. It was the first I saw of several in a messy, meandering pile and it was by far the most outstanding. The photos were expensive and therefore I did not give into a compulsion to purchase them all and keep them together. However it was interesting that they very much appeared to be the survivors of a single roll of film, with this one as the lucky shot, both in composition and light. This photo, and all of the others, is mounted on a heavy paper, probably cut out of some sort of a photo album having been affixed at the time. There is a water stain running along the bottom of the paper, not shown here.

The nascent photographer did hit it on the nose here, and as above not again even with the same street and woman what was likely moments later – nor with some folks at the beach at another time. In all fairness, remember that this would have been the earliest of the box cameras – loaded with a roll of film for 100 shots, the camera had not so much as a viewfinder, nor anyway of judging or controlling light – the shutter was moved by pulling a string! They were quite literally a point and shoot as the advertisements said. The whole camera with film was sent back to Kodak and the reloaded camera sent back to you while they processed your roll of film. The circular image tells us that this was the first of these models, patented in 1888. This circular model continued at least through 1890, but eventually morphed into a rectangular format.

While I have enumerated some of the shortcomings of this first entry into photography for the masses, I feel compelled to enumerate some of the gains – those which ultimately accelerate photography forward, culminating, in a sense, in moving pictures all in a span of a few decades. Up until the point of roll film and the box camera, photography required heavy cameras on tripods and mostly glass plates were still in use. The printing of them, executed by the photographer was technical, difficult, and required many chemicals.

This camera, an expensive acquisition costing a fearful $25 at the time, was the development that helped goose photography forward. In some ways I think of it as the iPhone picture taker of its day. (A decade later the Brownie was introduced and only cost a dollar and presumably that’s when photography for the masses really explodes.) What cell phone photography did to photography in the past decade, the box camera did for it at the close of the 19th century. The technology race that starts with daguerreotypes and ends in movies is one of my favorite stories – it seemed like developments in film couldn’t come out fast enough and epitomizes something especially great about the formation of this country at the dawn of the 20th century.

What struck me about this photo was that despite the period dress there was something fresh about it as if it was just snapped. It is a bright day and these women are in their lovely summer dresses, the sidewalk and the whole composition leads us back into space. It has a southern feel to me, something antebellum about the architecture of the houses behind the woman in white. And yet there’s also something about the light that makes me think of a resort at the shore as well. In some ways this photo encompasses the best glimpse of the past photos can offer. A sliver of time delivered to us from the now distant past.

Below are some other splendid examples I snatched off of the internet at a site called Mashable.

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Post Office

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I loved this image of a tiny post office and I think I would have been quite happy to visit it to do my regular postal business. We have to assume that they were serving a relatively small community at the time considering that tiny letterbox affixed to the front to capture those off hour missive mailings. If you look carefully at the sign above the door there is a faded sign which for all the world appears to offer Pork Dolls, but is I believe an older version of the Parkdale sign.

I expected this to be a small photo and instead it is a mid-century version of a photo postcard. There is a stamp (six cents) and cancellation on the back from the morning of May 27, 1968, but must have just been sold that way at the post office as an item since it isn’t addressed to anyone. The photo is a bit timeless, a woman we assume is our post mistress, with her cat, a good size striped kit, long tail and ears back. Parkdale turns out to have remained a fairly remote community and seems to be best known for a recreational park area there.

I don’t know why, but I always liked going to the post office as a child. It was always a thrill. We had two on our regular errand route and I was equally fascinated by both. My parents rented post office boxes at each, one in Sea Bright and the other in Rumson. They were quite different in feel, although probably constructed at about the same time. Each had those wonderfully elaborate, decorative cast iron set post boxes and were in large part responsible for my fascination I think.

The Sea Bright post office was light filled and airy, as befitted a beach community. As a result sun generally cascaded through the cheerful windows of each of those boxes, enabling you to quickly see if you had mail. Sometimes there would just be a chit which meant you had to go to the window for a package that was too large for your box. Of course I just loved the little doors that opened to a code my mom or dad had memorized. That post office existed much the same until hurricane Sandy nearly wiped out the town a few years ago. It was eliminated in the post-Sandy renovation it seems. It is shown below, courtesy of the internet, more or less as I remember it however.

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Meanwhile, the Rumson post office is a more substantial brick building and darker, although still with those wonderful decorative windowed post office boxes. It was the post office we frequented most. When I got older I had a friend whose father was a postman. He was ill tempered, or so it seemed, and I was somewhat afraid of him. I associated that post office with him, and therefore liked visiting this post office less over time as a result. The family lived in a gracious, old brick house almost next door however and even as a child the convenience of being so close to work struck me as very desirable. (I grew up to walk to work almost every day for the better part of 30 years at the Met so I internalized that well.) This post office survives in a somewhat expanded version of its original brick structure and appears to service the communities of both Rumson and Fair Haven.

I am sorry to say that as an adult I find visiting the post office here, the one on 85th between Second and Third Avenues, more of a chore than a thrill. Perhaps because we do not have a PO Box? (These are also those charming old metal ones and perhaps if we availed ourselves of one I would like it better?) Our mail comes to our apartment building; packages are held by the doormen who recently began recording them in an electronic tracking system. So much for the romance of chits waiting in tiny windows – instead the thrill of an email announcement I guess. Kim visits the post office more than I do as he is frequently mailing off artwork, books, films etc. to folks. I cannot say he seems to enjoy it, although he takes a book to read in line patiently waiting. There is one agent who is a comic book fan who recognized him and that is about as close to small town postal intimacy as we have achieved here in Manhattan, to date anyway.

I was unable to find an address for a post office in Parkdale now. The closest one, also tiny, appears to be in a town called Swink. It is a small building with two other, unidentified commercial tenants, adobe facade. So I guess the folks in Parkdale head over to Swink now for their postal needs, the tiny building, their postmistress and cat long gone.

 

Time Flies

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It has been a rough year and one that has lead to some reflection as I hit our anniversary today. Kim and I aren’t big on ceremony around it; we generally recognize it without much fanfare – usually an exchange of small toys, a card, perhaps a day out together just knocking around as I think today will be as we look 18 years in the eye. Unlike today, October 14, 2000 was an unseasonably warm day. However, like this year, the prior weekend had produced a hurricane or at least tropical storm, leaving me relieved that we had changed our minds from a fanciful outdoor ceremony in Central Park over Columbus Day weekend which had been my original thought. It would have been a bit of a disaster. For the record, today is a crisp, chilly typical mid-October day in New York, although the trees have yet to change color since the cold snap is only recently upon us.

I am always the first to say I had a bad attitude about marriage for a long time. Frankly, if you weren’t going to have kids I couldn’t really see anything in it. It just seemed like another one of those society created conventions that people felt the need to go along with. I cheerfully crossed it off my list. I can’t speak for Kim, but I have to assume it hadn’t made it to the top of his list either since he is considerably older and hadn’t given it a try yet. He did bring it up early on in our relationship, but I suggested he stop talking about it.

Even when I began to contemplate it seriously it was also to accommodate society – ensuring that Kim had health insurance. My employer, the Metropolitan Museum, informed me that nothing short of marriage would do that. So marry we would. (I like to say that I loved Kim enough to want him to have health insurance – really, is there a better way to say I love you?) The other factor was that my sister was in the latter stages of fighting an almost decade long battle with breast cancer (one she would lose a year later), and I did have the revelation that if I wanted her to be at my wedding and well enough to enjoy it this wasn’t something I could put off indefinitely.

Perhaps it was all these things, but it came together one day I was sitting at my desk and an email newsletter I used to get from a Buddhist publishing company hit my inbox. There was an extensive quote from the Dalai Lama about not deferring happiness – in essence, that there is a tendency to defer even those things that will make us happy, and that we had to quite simply have to make space for them in our lives if we wished to pursue happiness.

I’m not sure I can do the full equation of why it suddenly hit me that this was exactly what I was doing about getting married – thinking we would do it eventually, in the vague future, maybe after this or that. The switch flipped and I changed my course immediately. Kim and I had been together for almost six years and had been living together in this studio apartment for almost all of them. As my sister Loren said when I told her about our impending nuptials, if we could live in one room together for this long we were most likely compatible.

Obviously I can only speak for myself, but I was surprised that being married really was different than living together. I felt it immediately. The wedding rings – a symbol I had somehow dreaded (feminist writings about them being like the ring in a cow’s nose ran in a loop through my head) – were somehow more like matching secret decoder rings we shared. In many ways, marriage was like forming a corporation – we became a team in a way I had not imagined. On the very rare occasion (I can only think of one) when we have a knockdown drag out fight, the marital bonds give important pause about the dissolution of the relationship. Most importantly it greatly amplified a feeling that I had of knowing I had a person on my team no matter what. We wholeheartedly accepted and embraced the role of champion of the other.

Ironically in a way I have become a great fan of marriage, yet I can’t help the nagging qualification that I consider it a small miracle I found someone as splendidly suited to me as Kim. I do believe that when I considered marriage in the abstract I never allowed myself to imagine that I would find someone as endlessly interesting as I find Kim. (Essentially, if I had known I was going to get to marry Kim Deitch I may have had a better attitude about the whole thing.) I have been gloriously lucky enough to find someone with whom the never-ending conversation of married life remains always fascinating. Yes, marriage like anything worthwhile is undeniably hard work, but I easily consider it one of the best decisions I ever made. Happy anniversary Kim!

In It for the Toys: Part 2, Doggie

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post:  Last week I wrote about the thrill of a new celluloid toy purchase. (In It for the Toys: Part 1 can be found here in case you weren’t paying attention last week.) I bemoaned the fact that the toy is no longer functional. Long before stuffed Felix the cat dolls were a twinkle in my eye, my adult fascination with toys began with a small number of antique toys, wind up and battery operated, some that just make me laugh with sheer joy! Why wouldn’t you want to own that? It remains a mystery to me why anyone today would sell a wind-up toy without showing its movement – for me it is almost always the movement that will sell it.

I believe was in fact looking for a toy that would cheer when I stumbled across this little fellow on eBay and he fit the bill. Complete with his box he was a bargain; he isn’t especially rare although admittedly finding him complete with his candy, essential to the effect really, is a bit harder and you really do need the candy. The video he was sold with had loud annoying music, but nevertheless did the trick. While well preserved with his box, he does not appear to be new old stock. There are small signs of use and the balls that are the candy are not in their original wrapper. I am pleased to say he was fairly easily acquired, and does not disappoint.

The mechanism is very straightforward, much like a cycle in animation, he endlessly tosses “candy” in his mouth which falls out the bottom, through the can and back into position to be tossed again. Splendid! To seem him in action in a brief snippet I filmed you can go here.

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Candy Loving Canine box, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Instructive box illustration

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As always, the box offers additional charm, the text on the front Mechanical Candy Loving Canine, ALWAYS HUNGRY NEVER SATISFIED, with a fair cartoon rendering of the dog toy with a cat and dog looking on with amazement – Gosh how much can he eat? When will he stop? And then what appears to be for all the world, a mole popping up out of the ground in the bottom right corner. The mole shown on two sides with the dog too, the other sides are instructional about the use of the toy – in case you couldn’t figure it out. This little fellow was made in Japan, as is probably to be expected of a tin toy of this era. If you believe as I do, that toys bring joy, then hopefully this little fellow brightens up your day today.

In it for the Toys: Part 1

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: My interest in toy collecting actually did not begin with cats. My first toy purchases were battery operating and wind-up toys. Some of these were purchased for my then boyfriend, Kevin, as gifts and ultimately one or two for myself. I have written a little bit about this period of collecting in my post Happy Life Toy (can be found here), which consisted of haunting a now long-gone toy store called Darrow’s on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. My early fascination with those toys was all about their movement – funny drinking bartending men or tin monkey; a car with Japanese tourists taking photos. A great toy was entirely defined for me by its movement, some of which I would just delight in at times.

I knew that today’s toy was no longer functional when I purchased it, but somehow even just visualizing the movement captured my imagination. It is a wind-up toy. This little girl in her attire of the late ’30’s early 40’s, a somewhat grown-up outfit as well, is hitting the road, her beret over one eye, her bindle over her shoulder, and her dog following on a leash. The arm with the bindle would have gone up and down, and the dog (who has a charmingly piggish appearance) is a “nodder” and his head would have bounced up and down as they rolled forward. I am sorry to say that the action does not kick in even if you roll it forward manually.

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Meanwhile, I have also written about a wariness around collecting celluloid toys, those made of the early fragile plastic which disintegrates before your eyes when exposed to heat or light, which can also shatter or dent easily. Somehow I have always felt that my life is a bit rough and tumble for collecting in this category – that it should be the province of those with glass doored cabinets and the like. Paying a substantial amount of money for something this fragile makes me a bit nuts. Still, the occasional piece slips in under the wire and today’s post is one. There is no maker’s mark I can find on it, and I have never seen it or a similar toy before. She does bear a Made in Japan sticker, jauntily applied to her bottom as shown below, it is also embossed on her back.

Kim and I agree that there’s something harking to Little Orphan Annie about her – or maybe it comes to mind because Kim is reading his way through those strips right now. However, it cannot be denied that she is a plucky little girl, off to take on the world with her faithful dog friend, just like Annie.

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