Felix Sings Love Songs

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s postcard post begins with the last in a recent buy of postcards, which is only wave one as more are on the way. While I do not collect deeply in this illustrated postcard series produced in Great Britain, once in awhile one appeals and I grab it up if it isn’t too expensive. I have written about them once or twice before and one of those posts can be found here. Meanwhile, although the card I share today was evidently sanctioned and copyrighted, they produced the line below was perhaps rogue.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

As far as I can find these cards are referred to as the Milton Series and/or Bamforth cards. Milton series, although part of a handful of auction listings, doesn’t bring much info on Google, but Bamforth was a company started in 1870 by a portrait photographer, James Bamforth, in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. They morphed first into lantern slides and ultimately into early short films with a character named Winky as their best known. However, Bamforth is now best known for an almost endless line of saucy seaside cards in the words of Wikipedia. This card #4924 for those who knows what that means and the only copyright on the card is for Pat Sullivan.

Not part of the Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This card was mailed and the Great Yarmouth cancellation is hard to read, but I believe it is for 11 AM on an illegible day in 1928. The inscription in pencil says, Dear Hilda, Having fine time and weather Frank. It was mailed to Miss H. Chiletsworth, c/o Mrs. Harrison, 38 DeLaune Street, Kennington, London.

A lousy swipe from Google Maps, but I always check addresses and this is a rare occasion when the house is likely still the one the card was addressed and mailed to.

Felix is looking with sincerity at the viewer as he serenades us with his tune of nine lives. Sadly the title of the songbook is incomplete clutched in his hand, but I like the sort of watercolor wash coloring the fence and especially his toothy grin, pointy ears and whiskers. He is a jolly Felix songster.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

While researching the origin of cat’s having nine lives I found this nifty reference to Shakespeare, from Romeo and Juliet, A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays and for the last three he stays. Also in Romeo and Juliet, in Act 3 Scene 1, Tybalt asks, What wouldst thou have with me? and Mercutio replies, Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.

The site also suggests that the idea of nine lives goes back to the Egyptians and something about the sun god Ra taking the form of the Great Tom Cat during his visit to the underworld, engendered eight other gods and hence 9 lives in one. (See the Litter-Robot.com blog site for references! Also a plea to my brother Edward to supply any detail of interest here as this is his area of expertise.) They also outline that some cultures have different numbers of lives they suggest – such as seven in Spanish speaking cultures and six in Arabic legend.

Of course nine lives could also refer to reincarnation. I have just turned to Kim to be reminded if there was a cat reincarnation story in his most recent book, Reincarnation Stories. (Ah yes, I am a good wife and I have written about it here and here.) There is not, but I will say, there is one starting to scratch at my brain so hold that thought and see if maybe that is part of a future Kim Deitch project.

Scooting Along

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s Felix postcard came via the same source as yesterday’s – and I hope there will be more to come from this recent Felix El Dorado. I will report on that aspect when I know a bit more, but for now another interesting card.

This postcard appears to have been blackened by hand and probably traced from a master source. This is clear from looking closely at the brushy and uneven application of the ink and the ghost of a pencil line or two. The precise origin of this series (other than it appears to be British) is also a mystery and I have written about them before and own a few others. (The posts about the earlier drawn cards can be found here and here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

While at first it seemed somewhat improbably that postcards were being produced this way, consider the handmade origin of some of my treasured stuffed Felix toys. I once wrote a post on how many were produced by hand on the East End of London in a project to employ indigent women. (That post can be found here.) It helps to remember that postcards were the email of the early 20th century, mail delivery twice a day, and were used to make dates and for simple greetings and communications.

People here and in Britain must have kept well supplied to drop a note to this friend or that. Many of my cat photo postcards contain simple messages about having arrived safely at a location, missing family or reporting a visit with a friend or family. So while it still seems rather remarkable, this operation of hand production is the explanation I have settled on.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This card sports a Felix-y message, How I am coming in a fortnight’s time Ethel, PS not with a tail, Fred’ll keep that. It is addressed to Z. Honeysett, Woodview, Silverdale Road, Eastbourne. However, it is worth noting that there is no stamp or postmark, so perhaps this was included in a larger missive or package. The card has two pin holes from where it did time tacked up somewhere.

Meanwhile, Felix is zooming on his scooter which could fairly be said was one of his preferred methods of transportation. Here his tail is sort of ballast – that tail which fans of the cartoon know could come off and be used for many purposes. The tail is special indeed.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection. My version of the upright kitty toy I use as my avatar for this site.

Here in the pandemic period of the 21st century, I have adopted an image of Felix as my Zoom and social media avatar. He has graced my Instagram and Twitter accounts, although Pictorama has a sporty wind-up cat of less distinction which I did had not acquired when I started the blog. (Pleased to say that I am now happily in possession of this item and featured him above. He was given a post which can be read here.) I do not own the zippy version of Felix on a scooter that I use – it is a rather rarefied Italian (I think) variation that I have only seen for sale a few times and at unattainable prices. I have a somewhat non-functional version that charms me by sitting on the shelf nonetheless.

My somewhat broken down version of the scooter Felix. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

It should be noted, however, that the version that my avatar version wears has very zooty polka dot trousers and enjoys a spring for a tail. This does make him very desirable in my opinion and I find his off-model face rather charming as well. (I wonder what it says on his tummy?)

(Sadly) not in my collection.

When Zoom came into our lives abruptly in March of 2020 I replaced the generic “snowman” with Felix figuring I would give everyone a giggle. It did although some folks didn’t seem to know Felix or at least recognize him. Strangely you do become identified with your avatar quickly and it was almost surprising when someone new on a call would ask about him. (Having said that, I actually try to do at least part of my meetings, especially with colleagues, on camera to humanize the activity somewhat.)

After my Memorial Day fall my face was swollen and bruised and I decided to spare everyone and myself the sight of me on camera for a bit. During this time I received a request to change my avatar for a work related event where I had declined to go on camera and I switched to a photo taken a few years ago when I started my job at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I have yet to change it back again, although it is my plan because looking at this slightly earlier version of myself doesn’t suit my mindset after 15 months of working at home. Perhaps the little upright cat deserves some air time, although somehow the idea of zipping along as Felix has special appeal.

Felix Trumps All

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As a devoted collector of Felix related objects I focus largely on the off-model, the unlicensed and often more singular, odd objects. These rarified bits often go for substantial money and as often as not I do not manage to acquire them. Sometimes fate allows one to fall into my hands and I put this one in that category.

Felix was popular with bridge players and I have seen other such interesting items related to the game, bid on and lost them previously. This Felix has a distinctly British look to him although he came to me from a US dealer. The design leads me to think he was made by Pixyland Kew (in the 1920’s they would have been Pixyland and Kew before they merged) as he has that look. As you can see, it appears they plunked this ready-made little fellow onto this base. (I wrote about my Felix Pixyland Kew figures once before and the history of that company. That post can be found here and another can be found here. Lastly, I have also done a post about the Felix Bridge tally card below which can be found here.)

From the Pams-Pictorama.com Collection and a December 2018 post also on Bridge!

I am not a Bridge player and it is frankly mysterious to me in all its facets. I gather that it was born out of the centuries old game of Whist which of course one reads about in early novels. Wikipedia tells me that the roots of that card game are in Italy and France. Bridge seems to have been a variation started by the British. (I feel like this country’s passion for it must have overtaken Britain’s at some point, but that is speculation.) Even Wikipedia’s simple description of the way it is played makes my head whirl. Kim says that the inmates of the asylum/rest home he worked at attempted to teach it to him. Their efforts did not take root, but Kim has a passing acquaintance with it as a result.

Another object made with a Pixyland Kew Felix. In the Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

I have never attempted to learn Bridge. I must confess that I am not a good game player in general, nor an especially able one when I am persuaded to try. I know I always had the wrong instincts in Monopoly as a kid and would try different, failing strategies such as purchasing as much of the affordable property as possible, or another time putting all my hopes on one Boardwalk or Park Place. I tried holding onto my cash and other times spending my money. It must be said that I would be surprised if I won a single game against my sister Loren over all those years of childhood. In some ways it amazes me that I have generally succeeded in life given the early indications of my lack of financial prowess playing Monopoly.

Pixyland Kew Felix from the Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Bridge does seem to have some fascinating accessories and Felix is among those. I will always have a soft spot for an enterprise with good stuff. In this way I have always had at least a passing interest in Bridge. In the twenties and thirties Felix was at the height of his popularity and Bridge may have been as well, so it isn’t surprising that these two came together in some interesting items. (A post about popular everyday items sporting Felix can be found here and a glorious Valentine drawing Kim devoted to it can be seen below and the post found here.)

My Felix Heaven, by Kim Deitch. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Working with a large number of reasonably affluent Manhattanites of a certain age over many years, I knew at least second hand, about how avidly Bridge is pursued. I heard of different clubs and associations, each with their own identity, and of course occasionally about the skill (or lack thereof) of individuals who were mutually known to us. Sadly I feel like that group has largely passed, leaving me wondering how Bridge is faring these days, even before the pandemic. The Covid shutdown must have meant a long interruption – although I gather it can and is played via Zoom and Facetime so maybe clubs moved online. I am sure the social aspect of it suffered however which seems to be an important factor for players.

Felix is in dubious shape, his head is no longer permanently affixed and his paint is chipped. He has mitten shaped hand-paws and he appears to lean on an orange brick wall of sorts. His Felix emblem is a fancy font and he has a jaunty look in general. There is a hole in his shoulder which indicates something is missing from there. His paper indicator (what these displays mean is very much beyond me) is entirely intact. He is pretty great overall in my estimation however. While I am somewhat concerned about his condition, I remind myself that Felix is retiring to a quiet shelf where his imperfections should not matter much. His message these days might be quasi-political one day and a heart for Valentine’s Day the next. Meanwhile he is the newest denizen of Pams-Pictorama and beloved new resident here at Deitch Studio.

Spark Plug: Our One Ring Circus

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Thorough Pictorama readers may remember back in March of 2018 (March 24, almost exactly three years ago!) when I posted about the photo below in the post It’s Clint Flynn – on Spark Plug (which can be found here).

At that time I confessed my rather specific interest in this mini-genre of photos which depict people on various homemade versions of Spark Plug, the horse character of the Barney Google comic strip fame, which made its debut in 1919. (In my mind these are like an addendum to people posing with Felix – collecting those photos being part of my life’s work.) In 1925, the year today’s photo was snapped, Barney Google and Spark Plug would have been hitting their stride fame-wise.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

When I say mini-genre of photos I do not exaggerate as I have only seen three in my life (although I am convinced that there are many more to be found which I plan to uncover and of course acquire.) I was able to purchase two of the three known to me. It was the first one, at a Hake’s auction I believe, that got away which started me on my hunt for further ones. (Strangely, like some of my Felix photos, I believe that first one hailed from Australia. Australia in the 1920’s must have been a crazy, great place.)

All three photos I have encountered sold for a significant price. The card I share today started at a price even I wouldn’t pay for it and eventually came down as I had expressed interest and gather I was the only taker. In part, I think this card suffered a bit because it was hard to be certain at first that it is an original photo postcard, not a reproduction, which it is.

Back of card. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Unlike most outstandingly great photo postcards I have encountered, this one was mailed. Luckily it didn’t suffer noticibly on its journey. I show the back below and you will note the postmark, March 23, 1925! (I am loving all the coinciding of March dates today. March must be Spark Plug photo month, right down through the decades.) It was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Chalfont, Muncie Ind. 720 W. Ponders Street. (The street address is added like an afterthought which I don’t believe I have ever seen.) The sender, unnamed, writes (somewhat cryptically), Golden Banders. Come and see our 1 ring circus it is free Thurs. We. is the date. Please come early don’t be late. March 26. 7.30.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

On the front of the card 1 Ring Circus and a $ have been painted neatly onto the neg and printed. I’m not sure what the $ is referring to, tucked as it is between these two splendidly attired and painted clowns, adorned with pointy caps, each of them accessorized with a feather duster.

The woman, less sporty in her dress, but fully in the spirit of the thing, seems to be an assistant of sorts; she is holding Spark Plug’s head a bit possessively, although maybe she is also keeping him steady. (I really like her shoes – I own a pair like those that I am quite partial to.) The tot fortunate enough to be perch atop him is in a Buster Brown suit, with bow tie, and looks pretty smug and pleased with himself – who can blame him? Hotsy totsy!

Unlike the sturdy fellow in my earlier photo, this Spark Plug is a wonder of casual construction. I think he may have real plungers for feet and lower extremities and something mysterious above that connecting it all. (Interestingly plungers are frequently used to depict Spark Plug’s feet, he is not drawn that way in the strip where he just has enormous, clunky hooves.) His body appears to be an ambitious combination of wood and cardboard if I had to guess.

An interesting question is whether or not Spark Plug has back legs here – I do not see them. (Do you?) It seems like maybe white hat clown is holding him up? Not sure how that works – perhaps the clown jiggles you up and down? The solution behind this mystery is hidden now. Whoa! Steady there fellow I say!