Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Toy collecting is much like the rest of life, while you may head in one direction, opportunity may present itself in one you had not considered in another and take you there. My career has been entirely like that – who thinks about becoming a fundraiser when they grow up? I had not considered working for Jazz at Lincoln Center until suddenly here I am, almost three years later.
I don’t generally collect comic figures outside of the cats (Felix and Krazy) and Mickey (because you have to have mice if you have cats), but occasionally things present themselves that need buying. In this way I have a small enclave of Little Orphan Annie (those items can be found here, here and here, for starters) and a soft spot for Donald Duck I have never much explored in this blog. The occasional Pluto. Bonzo has proliferated, which might fall under the heading of if you have cats you need a few dogs too. However, I am perhaps light on the broader universe of characters.
When an acquaintance at Doyle Gallery told me that they were having a January toy sale I knew I would want to check it out for potential birthday fodder. It was a sale from the estate of a single collector and I felt like you could sense his or her eye in all of the choices in the collection which always interests me.
Kim and I had a delightful afternoon looking at a large collection of toys, primarily early mechanical banks and early mechanical toys. People were stationed to help us by taking the toys out and showing the action of each. These toys, while utterly delightful, are another area of collecting I have never gone down, but I can easily understand falling in love with them. I was especially enamored of this swan toy and this tiger toy below which I did bid on.
However, one of the reasons I started collecting in the area I do is because, compared to these toys, mine is a relatively affordable avenue. The toys above ultimately went for several thousand dollars each, considerably above my humble bids. There was also a lovely wooden Noah’s Ark, but I knew it was out of my league in every sense including space for it in the apartment. (Among the surviving animals shown below are insects which sort of cracked me up.)
However, there were two items which caught my attention, in part because they were very different than the rest of the sale, and today’s Olive Oyl was one of them. We all know Olive as Popeye’s paramour in Segar’s comic strip where Popeye makes his appearance in 1929. Olive had been around in the earlier Thimble Theater strip since its inception in 1919 where she was the youngest in the Oyl family, sister to Castor and Crude Oyl, and engaged to Harold Hamgravy; he who she eventually dumps in favor of Popeye, her true love. I have read some of those early Thimble Theater strips and would very much like to dig deep into them sometime. Olive starts her life modeled on the flappers of the day – a long, straight drink of water to the extreme and maintains her girlish figure, so to speak, throughout her life.
The toy collector whose collection was being auctioned had two Olive Oyl toys, indicating an interesting particular affection for her. The other item was a cast iron bank which could have been original or a reproduction and I didn’t care for it. But there was something about this Olive Oyl that I couldn’t resist. She appears to be a one of a kind but nicely made wooden toy. Her arms, feet and head are painted but her costume covers a simple wood and wire constructed body. Heavy wire connects her arms and legs enabling limited motion in each. Her head turns and her arms go up and down.
For me there is something especially engaging in her outfit although I can’t really tell you why. I think if asked, she would have preferred far more fashionable garb. There is something endearing and specific about her cowl neck sweater and the somewhat oversized pattern on her rickrack trimmed skirt, probably a bit longer than she was wearing them in the day. She has characteristically large (but not clownish) feet. For me this is a Depression era Olive at her best in every sense.
I assume there is a Popeye mate for her somewhere in the world, or at least there was. (Kim pointed out that he is a heck of a lot more ambitious to have to carve. He’s also come up with a story where Olive is carved by a man in prison for his girlfriend…) I have looked online to see if there’s any indication that this is not a singular piece. At a minimum the person who made it was skilled and my guess would be that this was not his or her only rodeo in this area.
If you are wondering, Olive joins a very slim collection of a single stuffed Popeye and Wimpy dolls. I bought them from a dealer in Canada many years ago and was disappointed to discover that they had lost much of their stuffing (sawdust) on their trip to New York. They are now so fragile that I am loathe to take them down from their high shelf and photograph them, but will try to find a way for Olive to join them. Excuse the dusty chaos – I was perched on the edge of the bed taking this earlier!