Pam’s Pictorama Post: I guess today could be called a pin post which almost make it to a sub-genre of Pictorama consideration. Button and pin collecting is certainly a robust field of its own although I intersect with it only occasionally. (I wrote recently about a cardboard Felix one which can be found here, and another I found in some things of my sister’s which honored violinist Maud Powell which can be found here.)
Today’s acquisition was an item on ebay which snagged my attention. It honors the not-quite-Felix cat clock, officially named Kit-Cat, which has achieved considerable fame and status on its own. Founded in 1932 and entering into its 88th year the company that churns out these clocks has zigged and zagged, but remained in continuous existence. The age of my pin is unknown, I discovered a person on Etsy selling a pile of them, a pin at a time, from a bunch their mother had that date to the 1970’s. As that seller points out, the cat design changed from a two-paw to a four-paw-with-bow-tie one in the 1950’s so therefore this design is post-1950’s.
This listing also noted that on the rim of the pin it states, Cathi & Boy’s Favorite Toys, Seattle, WA and sure enough, I found that almost infinitesimal writing under magnified inspection, on the edge of mine. No idea what it means as the company moved to California in 1962.
The clock was designed by a Portland, Oregon, designer named Earl Arnault who wanted an item that would bring cheer to Depression era items. It originally sold in five and dimes for $3.95 – which to my mind seems high for that time. ($68 in today’s dollars to be exact.) And these fellows and gals will cost you today – in the range of $40 to more than $100 if you insist on rhinestones and such.
Ultimately it wasn’t messing with the design that almost killed this iconic cat, but the loss of manufacturing parts for the motors as clocks in general moved to digital and the move to batteries meant an engineering challenge of not only making the clock run, but controlling the swiveling eyes and ticking tail.
I grab the story below, which picks up in the 1980’s when the company has been purchased by Woody Young, after having been moved to California and renamed California Clock Company. This excerpt as told in an article on a site called Inc. (The article in full can be found here.)
The problem was that the electric motor in Kit-Cat had operated not just the clock but also the swiveling eyes and swinging tail. The battery ran just the clock. No swivel. No swing. Young tried to get a new battery engineered, but there were too many variables, such as weight, materials, and the location of the fulcrum to maximize limited power.
At an inventors’ conference in Pasadena, where he was speaking on intellectual property, Young went from booth to booth and recruited four individual attendees to attack one piece of the problem each. He combined their solutions and within 30 days had a working prototype. “I’d taken the problem around the world to vendors without success,” says Young. “But those inventors got the job done.”
One of my favorite asides of this article is that during the clocks 1940’s heyday, Lucille Ball used to buy them by the case for birthday and Christmas gifts. Rather grand, yes?
The Kit-Cat Klock site (kit-cat.com) offers not only a myriad variation on the cat clocks (eyelashes and gem encrusted or pearl wearing “girl” cats), but repair parts and a doctor care kit for clocks dating back to the 1970’s. The company slogan is Bringing Time to Life Since 1932. They run the fan club today as well which appears to offer a membership card rather than this pin.
In addition to the clocks and the repair items, they offer a somewhat notable range of related items. In addition to the requisite t-shirts, a rather nice lapel pin and socks, I recommend the tablecloth and the charm bracelet monthly subscription. Warning, that last one will cost you.
As for me, two of these clocks are currently in my possession, both in need of repair. One is a slightly earlier design than the other – a gift from a collecting friend. The contemporary one was a gift from Kim many years ago which I think is missing a small part where the tail hangs. I believe he purchased it for me off of ebay. It graced our kitchen wall for a number of years with roving eyes and wagging tail. (In that time it was brought to my attention that some people are afraid of them – not unlike a fear of clowns I guess?) Of course in researching this I decided that I really like the most simple, impossible to find earliest vintage design. Sigh.
In the process of reading this a discussion ensued about our ability to repair said clocks with the parts proffered or perhaps purchase a new one. We’ll see. That, dear readers, will have to wait to be resolved in a future post.