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 and the Seashore

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I always like to say it is an especially wonderful day when one of these photo postcards finds its way home to the Pictorama collection! Long time readers know that my nascent collection of these photos inspired this blog as an activity while bed bound after foot surgery many years ago. I added toys from my collection and it grew like topsy from there. Still, nothing makes my pulse race like coming across one of these – by their very nature each is different of course. I am like a kid about these and I believe passionately that I should, quite simply, own all of them. (There are obviously many earlier posts about these. A couple can be seen here and here.) Woe be to the person who tries to get in my way!

That these cards exist at all is a sort of a miracle. On beaches across the United Kingdom and a handful of places in New Zealand and Australia, folks paid to pose with Felix dolls ranging from just large to that of a good size child. Somehow here in the United States, his place of origin, it never caught on and so it is the world of the internet that allowed me to amass my collection. They were however routinely saved as photo souvenirs. Most, like this one, were never mailed and remain more pristine as a result.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection
Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This particular card features these two women who are wonderfully fashionable. My internet friends, especially those in Britain who deal in vintage clothing, can probably date this pretty accurately from what they are wearing, but the late twenties or early thirties I would think. (Any thoughts wassailantiques.com?) I love that women would be dressed so nicely for a day of seaside enjoyment and it makes me think of boardwalks, cool drinks and salt air – cotton candy and saltwater taffy – and most of all my beach-y childhood. I always sort of like that in these photos people generally stomp around on the sand without worry for their shoes or clothes – men in suits, women in lovely cotton or linen dresses.

Collection of Pams-Pictorama.com

Part of one of those comfy beach chairs can be seen to one side and somehow they are perfectly designed for reading a book and napping. I always used to fall asleep at the beach, stretched out face down on a towel. Must have be the sound of the water and the warm sand. I always brought a book but usually didn’t read much. Can’t say the number of times I woke to find that I had parked myself too close to the water and suddenly the rising tide found its way to me and my possessions which were suddenly floating around me. The beach has always immediately relaxed me and I think my attachment to walking by the East River daily gives me a bit of that these days.

The East River on a recent morning.

This Felix is among the smaller, but not smallest of those who worked this beat. The women have gotten into the spirit of the photo, throwing their arms around his shoulders like an old friend. Felix has a natty bow and one leg off to the side gives him a sense of animation. He too is enjoying his role center stage.

The bobbed hair of these young women is another indicator of the years this image falls within. They feel very up to the moment for the fashion of the day, visibly pleased with the knowledge that they look good. The photographer has captured them nicely. With their ascending order of heads, they (along with Felix) form a good composition in the middle of the picture – Felix has one errant ear up which adds to his always roguish charm. The people in the background are all blurred, but they also add to the festive sense of the day in their different beach and swim garb. There are folks wading and swimming and it is a busy and glorious day. I think I would dearly love to join them.

More Mainzer

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s postcard post is devoted to the heir to the Louis Wain wacky anthropomorphic cat throne, Eugen Hartung. Hartung is sort of the Otto Messmer of cat postcards. Hartung is a Swiss artist (1897-1973) whose career blossomed in the United States after WWII somehow became know by his publisher’s name, Alfred Mainzer. Was it post-war anti-German sentiment? Was it conscious like Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer, or did it happen of it’s own accord? For whatever reason, Mainzer’s name is the one prominent on the back of these cards it is the name I knew them by until I started digging a bit for a blog awhile back. I wrote about one of these cards I purchased back in 2019 and recounted some of this history. (That post can be found here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

Much to my surprise, two handfuls of these cards found their way to me back in December. After retrieving a mysterious package that had been left for you in the parlance of our doorman’s communications, I discovered that a friend who lives on the other end of 86th Street (and who I haven’t seen in person given our pandemic times) had dropped off a packet of these cards for me. Evidently she had found them years ago when cleaning out her parent’s house and put them aside for me. In a recent apartment renovation she discovered them again and brought them over. When I emailed my thanks she said that she remembered thinking when she found them that I was the right home for them and she was glad she had finally united them with me.

Oddly enough though within the month, another handful of these cards showed up in a Christmas card for Kim. I want to say it was either Rick Altergott or Evan Dent who sent them along. I apologize for this slip of mind and not remembering better. I was struck by how odd it was that two bunches of these cards should find their way to me at the same time. If you’re reading please raise your hand so I can correct this and thank you properly!

These cards were still widely available when I was a little kid and I always liked them – purchasing them when I could although those particular ones are long disappeared. They have a texture to the paper, that I remember with tactile memory, and the deckle edge lives in memory too, somehow rooted in the 1960’s in my mind. It turns out that, on the other side of the country, a young adult Kim Deitch was purchasing them in Berkeley. All great minds think alike it seems. Little did either of us know that decades later Deitch Studio and Pam’s Pictorama would unite to be the blissful cat laden bower that it is today.

I have long wondered why, although extremely popular, Hartung’s cat cards have never risen to the level of Louis Wain. (I have written several times about the cat artist genius and some of those posts can be found here, here and here just for starters.) I think in part, although plenty chaotic and wacky, they lack the underlying maniacal frenzy of the Wain universe. They are beautifully choreographed compositions and there is a prettiness that Wain’s drawings don’t have. As Louis Wain himself began to descend into mental illness, the drawings had an increasing edge to them – until of course they become almost entirely abstract. At least this is my theory. Even at their most frenzied they are a bit polite and well bred in a way that Wain isn’t.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

I give you a selection of a two of my favorites out of the group, more to come. This Western scene above – a cat cowboy evidently breaking a bucking bronco goat – was a evidently a much beloved one. It has multiple push pin holes in the top edge where someone kept it on view. (None of these cards in either bunch were ever mailed.) A girl cat is using a home movie camera (circa the 1950’s or ’60’s) to film the action and she’s right in the midst of it, tail politely poking out beneath a short skirt. In the top right, one cowboy pushes another off his perch on the rails and a Siamese cat is amongst them for diversity. I once owned an Annie Oakley jacket like the one worn by the fleeing fellow in the lower right – was my favorite jacket for years and I wore it until it fell to pieces.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The next one is this family scene of kitty chaos. I think it is very funny that these cats are dog owners and it is the dogs that are causing today’s troubles. The cats are exceedingly genteel and the cafe scene is decidedly European. The spilled drinks appear to be hot chocolate (the children were drinking it) and the waiter’s spilling tray is full of petit fours. (The one young fellow, strategically under the tray, is preparing to snatch them up as they fall.)

Comically, two birds watch the action from the lower right – none of these well-bred felines pays them any mind. The cats are civilized and all the others are playing their animal roles. This card is heavily faded along the very top edge, but only a persnickety collector would have issue with this. It too has many pin prick holes, top and bottom, from being on view somewhere.

I end today by saying I would expect that at least a few more of these will find their way to the pages of Pictorama so cat card lovers stay tuned.