Steiff

 

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I think it is fair to say that given any opportunity where I might ferret out a Pictorama worthy toy I am likely to achieve. After the first five minutes at yesterday’s East Coast Comic Con (Deitch Studio was fully represented and I did a somewhat real time post of our day which can be found here – for those of you who are wondering the cold I was fighting bloomed overnight, now complete with chesty baritone cough) I rapidly assessed it as not the kind of gathering that would produce much antique toy fodder. While I was generally right about that, I did find this little guy stuffed away on a shelf while Kim and I took a break wandering the con.

This little bear breaks several of the Pictorama essential guiding principles of toy purchase: he’s a teddy bear (I own very few and I have written about those here), made by the Steiff company, and a reproduction. Don’t get me wrong, teddy bears are wonderful and it is only because they are such a deep rabbit hole to go down that I generally have excluded them as potentially overwhelming my limited resources of space and funds. (Some early examples of Steiff bears have gone for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, but I could easily do a lot of damage at the hundreds of dollars level myself.) I have seen several that would indeed tempt me, but fortunately I generally don’t run across those rarified items and do not go looking for them.

If I did buy teddy bears many would actually probably be Steiff, as I have always felt that somehow the antique Steiff produced bears have an extraordinarily life-like and human look in their eye. They are unquestionably, beautifully made. For those of you who aren’t in the toy know, Steiff is sort of the gold standard of early stuffed toys, marked by a metal button and tag in the left ear of the toy. Started in Germany in 1880 by a Margarete Steiff, a seamstress who created a line of elephant pincushions which evolved into toys, Steiff evolved into a world renown toy maker. Margarete’s own story is an interesting one of perseverance as she was left paralyzed and never walked after an infantile illness.

With the help of her siblings and others Margarete attended school and ultimately bought a sewing machine, starting her own tailoring business which morphed into plush toys. A favorite nephew drew animals at the zoo for designs (hence the elephant and then the introduction of other animals) and his bear was turned into a plush toy, purchased in volume by an American company. It was this mohair fellow that was, in 1906, then christened the Teddy Bear in honor of Teddy Roosevelt. The toy company, whose motto was, Für Kinder ist nur das Beste gut genug! – for children, only the best is good enough! Well over a hundred years later the company still thrives today. (There is a strange and wonderful silent short from the teens where Steiff bears are animated into a Goldilocks and the Three Bears story – the toy bears are shot at the end by a Roosevelt-like character.)

So, now my Pictorama friends are wondering, why isn’t my collection chock a block full of Steiff cats? They did indeed make cats, including one model of my friend Felix, which has long eluded me as a very expensive item. Strangely, while I find the teddy bears very alluring and compelling, I have never been that charmed by their cats. A few small examples have wandered into my collection and I posted about them once before. (That post can be found here.) However, there is not much variation and somehow they lack an essential humanity (so to speak) of some of the bears.

Lastly, I rarely buy contemporary toys. The quality and sometimes patina of old toys is generally what interests me and I am rarely charmed by new toys. I have occasionally made exceptions however, for something especially well made or otherwise compelling. (I made an exception for a few toys by a company called Hansa which makes beautiful toys representing a vast variety of animals. I own a rooster and a beaver and my post about them can be found here – definitely an avenue of collecting that could easily swamp my resources!)

I have been aware of this line of reproduction Steiff bears. These were expensive toys when they were sold new and used fetch a generous amounts in resale too, as much as a few hundred dollars. I had never seen one in person and frankly I was amazed at how well the reproduction matches the quality and feeling of the original toys. Steiff was clearly aware that their reproduction was good enough to fool a casual observer and therefore it is well marked with its ear tag as a coll ed 1987 replica 1913.

According to the tag which Steiff used mohair and traditional (kapok) stuffing, pads of felt, as well as hand embroidery. As someone who handles antique toys daily, for me he truly has the look, feel and heft of an original toy – slightly prickly mohair and all. I am very impressed with all aspects of him. His arms and legs move independently, although his head does not turn. The label mentions a voice box which I find no evidence of – neither functionally, nor can I locate by feeling his body.

As I mentioned, he has his original tag with some history as well as his ear tag. Our fellow is identified as a Circus Bear. He was available in a selection of colors; green and yellow variations are available online, but a photo shows blue and red too. For the princely sum of $30 Kim purchased him for me yesterday and now he resides in the Pictorama collection, welcomed among his antique and largely feline brethren.

Comic Con: On the Road in NJ

From the car on leaving the west side this AM.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is an unusual and somewhat experimental post as I attempt to take you on the road with us to the East Coast Comic Con this morning. As I sit in our Manhattan apartment, pajama clad, sipping coffee and pounding a green smoothie, it is a bright sunny day. In less than two hours we will hop in a car (hired driver – we are a non-driving couple, something largely only found in New York City) and leave the island as a former boyfriend used to say. As a Jersey girl myself it is a trip to the Motherland, not that I have more than a passing acquaintance with Secaucus, but Jersey is Jersey.

Kim is a guest signing books and on a panel for this comic con and I am tagging along to spend the day basking in the glow of being Mrs. Kim Deitch. Unfortunately, I have a nascent chest cold blossoming. Hopefully it will not impede me for a day of poking around comics. There’s a rumor that there may even be toys. For now I am tossing down some coffee and scrounging around the kitchen for a fulsome breakfast for the road. Prepare for some comics geeking out today.

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Paul Karasik, Peter Bagge, Kim and The Pam of Pictorama

I have some experience with Comic Cons by now. If they are here in NY I will often trek over toward the end to help Kim pack up and have a fast look around. I usually arrive to find a line of, mostly, men and boys lined up with books in hand, from the well worn to the just purchased. On many occasions I man the box of original art for sale, keeping an eye on it and also plying our wares. I am bad cop when it comes to selling, driving harder bargains and reluctant to drop prices.

It is safe to say that when I hooked up with my hubby I had not considered the question of fans. Now, please understand, I consider myself the Queen of the Kim Deitch fans so I certainly understood that such a thing existed, however as a girlfriend or spouse it is something to consider when a sort of ongoing line of female fans appears online, at cons or even occasionally in your home. I consider myself pretty easy going, but I also have never seen a reason not to stake my claim and make myself known. I’ll let things go to a point but then, like a big old pussy cat who is sitting and quietly watching, I slam my fat cat paw down.

I remember being at San Diego, the big Comic Con, and wandering off to find us lunch while Kim hung at his table. I returned, hard won sandwiches in hand, to find a hoyden woman in what I can only describe as a wench costume, in my chair, making eyes at Mr. Deitch. Needless to say, I asserted my spousal rights and sent her in her way.

San Diego May have been my first big out of town con experience. Although I may have had passing experience with occasional costume clad people, nothing like the high-end costumes – from anime to Star Wars – that I experienced there! Of course, film and other media have jumped on the Comic Con bandwagon so these are now with increasing frequency multi-media extravaganzas.

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Kim and I hanging at the pre-start of the con

Okay, our ride got us to the Meadowlands way early and we joined the queue outside. Chilly and mindful of this chest cold I quietly muscled us inside. We curled up to watch the con come to life!

Below is a parade of costumes spied from my perch today.

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Felix in the Palm of Your Hand

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As a determined and fairly thorough collector of Felix the Cat items, variations on these dexterity puzzles have come and gone over the years without my taking the plunge – or at least never landing one. I am always a sucker for this question mark tail pose myself and I have always liked Felix a bit squared off as he appeared in his earliest cartoons and reproductions. (He gets rounder and rounder over the decades until he is looking like Mickey Mouse by the 1940’s or early ’50’s – this seems to be an issue with cartoon characters as they age – they round off over time, a sort of gelding in my mind. I will write about this at greater length some time – I have theories!) He is also toothy in his early incarnation and I like the fiercer, cattier version of him best.

Here is is shown in quite a mood indeed. A (presumably) empty bottle labeled scotch whiskey at his feet with these sort of exclamation lines radiating out from his head. Felix is ready to take on all comers! Not so much angry as just very wound up. The scraggly mouse figure next to him exclaims, What O! Felix has the Kruschen Feeling! At the bottom is also marked Germany. There is no further information on the back.

Our friends over at Google inform me that Kruschen Feeling was an advertising campaign for Kruschen Salts, a popular packaged remedy of the day. This series of ads boasted visuals such as elderly gents leaping around and exclaiming something along the lines of – if this isn’t you it should be! The product and the company still exist today. In case you are wondering the salts in question are ingested.

The whole thing sounds a bit wretched to me, but evidently they turned the trick for Felix. This image and saying was also used in a series of game cards that were made with Felix. The version I have and have written about were more like premiums that came with chocolate and I wrote about them here. These were made of a flimsy not-quite-cardboard paper. As below, the top two are mine and then there was a boxed set you could purchase and those images are taken from the internet, the box from a Hake’s auction. These same images were also repurposed for a series of popular postcards that remain widely available but pricey.

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Box for Felix card game, not in Pictorama collection.

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Felix playing cards, not in Pictorama collection.

 

It is not clear to me that this item was a premium to advertise the products, although I admit it is certainly a possibility. Weirdly the feeling I get is that it was a popular phrase of the day and aptly described the early ill tempered version of Felix and they adopted it. I sort of like the scrubby mouse as a sort of alter ego for Felix. He does chase mice in the cartoons – presumably with the intention of eating them. This one is remarkably undefined – ears, tail and whiskers readable, as are five fingers on each hand (unlike the four fingered look that most animated and cartoon characters sport) and even toes, but no face. There was no fear that the Mickey Mouse crowd would get their backs up with this fellow, if that was a concern.

This toy has seen many years and miles in pockets and undoubtedly in the grimy mitts of small children. It looks a tad more fragile than it actually feels and I immediately started trying to place the three balls. (It is hard to see, one needs to land in his mouth, one in his left eye and one at the bottom of the question mark.) It is harder than it may look. So far I have failed to nail it, but I have all the time I need to figure it out.

Ellington is Essential

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is a quick post today as I am dashing off to Rose Hall (the House of Swing) where I spend much of my time since taking up my post at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Having recently hit the two year mark, now it is hard to remember that there was a time when the labyrinth of our backstage confounded me. But this post isn’t so much a reflection on that as how I will spend my day today. This weekend in May belongs to a competition of fifteen of the finest high school jazz bands the nation has to offer fighting for the title of the best in the US.

Among the somewhat myriad educational programs we run, this one is called Essentially Ellington. Born out of the realization that most of the arrangements for Duke Ellington’s music were lost, Wynton Marsalis began a journey of recreating them (a band member actually does this each year) and distributing them for free to high schools all over the country. Many of these high school jazz bands then compete regionally for the opportunity to be one of the bands chosen to come to Manhattan to show their stuff and compete for the national title which happens over a three day period in May – this year culminating today in the finale of the 24th year of the program.

The first year I attended I thought – man, a whole day of high school jazz bands – I wonder if they are paying me enough? I was very quick to realize how very wrong I was. These kids are amazing – think Olympics of jazz band competition. I’m telling you – people would pay to hear most of these kids play.

Although it is a competition they are generous with their praise for each other – great solos are met with thundering applause and approving cheers, each school’s performance given an enthusiastic standing ovation when it completes its rounds. Last year when a young female trumpet player hit what is sort of the triple crown – winning the composition award, top achiever award and her band taking best in the competition – the approval of her peers just about brought down the house. Additionally, the ovation of the kids for their band directors at the end of the festival went on for seven minutes – there is love to spread around in that hall on Saturday night.

Since I am a fundraiser I know the details and demographics well. Half of the schools that compete nationally are what are called Title 1 schools which is the designation of those which are financially disadvantaged. Understanding the lack of resources at those schools, and even with the assistance we can offer (financial as well as providing some on the ground educators to train band directors and do some clinics with the bands locally at the schools), it is nothing short of a miracle what these chronically under-resourced schools achieved in order to arrive here this weekend.

While all the students are all of a high caliber, there is nothing like the moment when one of them takes a solo and suddenly the judges all sit up a bit and start to smile. As jazz musicians themselves they can’t help responding to the music. Yesterday during a trumpet solo by a young man from Rio Americano high school in Sacramento began his solo, I too found myself sitting forward in my seat and when the group from Snoqualmie, Washington took the stage next we were all blown away by a young woman who took her turn soloing, singing and playing the trumpet. Memorable.

By the end of the weekend new friendships will have been forged among the students – and for some of them, especially those who pursue a career in music, those are the seeds of cohorts that will inform the professional relationships of a lifetime. Many of the band directors will send love from the stage to wives who are chronically deprived of husbands on Mother’s Day again and again over the years. (The competition is webcast on our jazz.org site and many of the competing schools are watching it and cheering their school in auditoriums back home although a variety of parents and teachers travel with the kids as chaperones.) My colleagues from all parts of the organization, from the Chief Financial Officer to assists, will each be responsible for one of the bands throughout the competition. Seeing them in the civvies for long days and evenings in the hall is part of the drill.

It is all as American as apple pie, if also somewhat exhausting. As one fan said of the festival, there’s something about it that is very democratic, and for this and other reasons we will all find ourselves wiping a tear here and there over the course of the three days. So it’s 7:00 AM and I have to get to midtown. Let the finale begin!

The Big Wind-up: Part 2, the Funny Face Man

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: The toy procession continues today with the crowning glory of my birthday gifts which eluded the star role here until today. (Earlier posts about the magnificent birthday haul and our trip to my friend at The Antique Toy Shop can be found here and here.) Kim and I spied this fellow early in our birthday visit and Kim indulged me by purchasing him. Much to my surprise, he even came with his original box, shown below, carefully wrapped in plastic. I’m always a bit hinky about owning these original boxes as I am a nervous custodian of them (see my post about the Aesop Fable doll and it’s box here) but nonetheless it is interesting to be able to study.

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Our tin friend, who by tacit agreement online appears to depict the silent film comedy star Harold Lloyd, was produced by Marx toys. Back in January of this year I opined a bit on the history of Marx toys – founded in 1919 and meandered all the way to about 1980 – as one of the lead makers of early 20th century toys. Their mission was to produce quality toys for less money than other companies, and the vast amount of their early toys that remain with us almost 100 years later is a tribute to their conscientiousness and success of their mission.

Our man was one of an early line of walkers (tin figures that hippity hoppety walk when wound up) depicting a variety of popular characters of the time – some of these now mostly forgotten. Among the ones I found were: Popeye, Amos & Andy, Mortimer Snerd, Pinocchio, Charlie McCarthy, and B.O. Plenty of Dick Tracy fame.

I find it interesting that all the other examples I can find name the actual character on the box, unlike this one which does not name Harold Lloyd, but instead calls this toy the Funny Face Man. Was copyright not forthcoming in this case? In addition, I note that this particular character was repurposed for several others with a slight litho painting change. This figure repainted does turns, at a minimum, as a black face entertainer and a policeman as far as I can tell. Even beyond those doppelgangers, the tin parts were produced to satisfy many characters – for example Amos & Andy have the same bottom as Harold – with the faces changed a bit and the litho design slightly altered to suit. A cost effective presto-chango.

Harold’s charm is largely in his wind-up motion and his side to side walk, eyes rolling, as shown in my very homemade video below. Later versions of walkers did not wind up, but instead were designed to toddle down an incline. This mechanism lasts into my childhood and plastic versions, still depicting popular characters of the time like Donald Duck. I remember finding them fascinating.

 

I have a soft spot for Harold Lloyd. Although I grew up with silent film comedy, I came to Harold late in the game. In my childhood my father had supplied a diet of W.C. Fields and Buster Keaton, but I was left to discover both Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd on my own in adulthood. As I remember, Chaplin came to me via the production of a boxed set and documentary series (The Unknown Chaplin) in the 1980’s. Harold Lloyd was a bit later for me and many of those films were viewed at our great New York movie theater institution Film Forum in my young adulthood here. Great discoveries, both.

As an aside, their comedic talents notwithstanding, I have always thought that both Chaplin and Lloyd were extremely handsome men. However it is their comedy that draws me into all those films again every time I see them. (As recently as a few weeks ago, TCM sucked me into a Chaplin I have probably now seen a dozen times.) And now I have my very own Harold, sitting high on a shelf amongst the Felix-es, where I hope the kitties cannot take a swat at him.

 

Big Wind-up: Part One, Meow

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post:  As previously bemoaned in this space last week, our scanner here at Deitch Studio died with a tick, tick groan as it ground to a halt halfway through the back cover of Kim’s new book, Reincarnation Stories. (Yes, here’s the pre-order link on Amazon here – never miss a chance to plug the family product I say! It has a not insignificant dose of Pam Butler in it and comes out in October.) But now we have an excuse to happily explore and exploit a small cache of wind-up toys that have crossed the threshold here recently. Let the wind-up toy parade begin.

Today’s wind-up kitty is one I have in fact chased hither and yon for a number of years. It should be noted that he was the runner up as my avatar on this site, Twitter, and Instagram, but the rare Italian version of Felix on a scooter (which I am unlikely to ever own as it tends to go for a vast sum of money) won out instead. Still, there is for me an undeniable goofy charm to this rotund kitty with his jolly tin bottom half. I have bid on him via eBay and on numerous other sites and always lost to a more ambitious buyer for significant sums of money.

Last week I was trolling eBay and found a listing with a photo that was almost impossible to see it was so dark and indistinct, yet I knew that cat immediately. Even with all of that there were several buyers who also knew however in the end I bought him for much less than expected. Although he has some dents in his celluloid head that I was not able to discern in the photo, he was a welcome sight when he turned up last week.

On close inspection I found a mostly indiscernible tag on his underside which identifies him as being made in Occupied Japan which dates him from between 1947 and 1952. Made with the US export market in mind toys from that era tend to have a slightly skewed American sensibility. His dented celluloid head is a reminder of how fragile that stuff is, but it doesn’t lessen his appeal for me.

I share an image from the internet of him in perfect condition, with his box, and most notably he is holding a bell in his hand (paw) which is missing from mine. (There is a slit in the upturned paw it would have hung from and it is easy to see how it went missing on many over the past 70 years or so. The bell would be fun though as he races around in circles.) The internet also has examples with his tin bottom in blue and a bit less appealing, a mouse-headed version I didn’t care for at all – a bit terrifying. Part of this fellow’s charm for me is his up-turned tail, a bit like a third leg, and his cartoon-like gloved hands.

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An internet swipe – this one in finer shape and complete with box.

 

He still winds well and I close with an action shot for you – a hot four seconds – below. It looks messy, but it rights itself when you click and shows you his action. I do believe that wind-up toys are meant to be seen in motion and offer my modest attempt.