Tin Toy

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today tin is in and I am featuring this lovely, but very simple toy that Kim gave me for Christmas this year. It came from an auction and caught my eye. Pictorama readers may know that this falls well outside my usual area of collecting – nary a cat or even an animal to be seen, not a wind-up. Yet there is a sort of universal charm about this toy. If there was something akin to a toy archetype in my mind this toy might qualify.

Turn up the sound so you can hear it work – part of the charm!

The handle of the wood chopper turns and that causes the log to be sawed and the mill wheel to turn. The wear on this is a testament to the belovedness of the toy. The paint is gone on part of the roof from it’s proximity to the turning wheel, and also on the edges of the house where you tend to grasp it. There is something very satisfying and soothing about turning the wheel and watching the pieces move. The charm of the origin detail in the paint with shading and the texture of the house exterior and log – I think it was a very brightly painted toy in its day. There is something a bit amiss about the proportions – of house to log and mill, even assuming the “log” is indeed a tree.

My knowledge of this kind of tin toy is really about zero, but I assign it to the category of penny toys. These tin toys were the brain child of German manufacturing starting around 1885 these toys were designed to be accessible for purchase by working class families. In Great Britain they sold for the price of a penny – hence the term which has stayed with them. Although the manufacture of them continued longer, they were most popular from 1885 until about 1914 – I assume without knowing that the World War probably slowed production and export and killed the popularity for export. According to a brief entry in Wikipedia, countries of destination were considered in the making and marketing of these toys – British omnibuses, trains for the United States for example and we know they weren’t doing business with Germany much from 1914 on and for awhile.

In my mind penny toys are one notch smaller and less sophisticated in motion than this one, but I think that is my own prejudice on the subject. In reading about them online the term definitely seems to cover toys of this size and relative complexity and beyond.

This toy is marked with a tag it retains, DC Made in Germany and this was the mark of a company in Nuremberg, Germany called Distler – Johann Distler KG to be precise. The company was founded by Mr. Distler in 1895 making these sorts of penny toys in the early years, with a catalogue of about 500 items. An article I found in the Sheffield Telegraph mentions the company as having gotten on board with early licensed Disney toy production and cleaned up on early Mickey Mouse toys starting in 1928. (This seems early to me as the first cartoon appears in 1928.)

Mickey Mouse also from the Fabtintoy.com site.

At Johann’s death, in 1923 (meaning he completely missed the Mickey Mouse boom) the company was taken over by his partners and then ultimately sold in 1935. The company and name is ultimately sold again to a Belgian company where in particular their line of race cars is produced until the late 1960’s. (Much of this quick history of the company comes to me via the Bertoia Auction site – which is where I purchased this toy, although the history was note in the listing for it.)

Distler Felix from the Fabtintoy.com site – lust worthy!

Images for toys associated with the company does not immediately turn up any like mine – it is car heavy, even in the earlier toys. Notably there is a Felix, circa 1925, I would certainly like to get my hands on, shown here. (An early indication on prices show is that I might have to mortgage the apartment however!) My wind-up Felix, shown below, does declare that he was Made in Germany, but does not give a manufacturer’s name. I don’t believe he’s ever gotten his own post and maybe I will set my cap for that in the New Year.

Felix wind-up toy from the Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

It goes without saying that these toys, originally designed to be affordable and accessible are now sold for many multiples of their original sale price, somehow making the appellation a bit ironic for collectors like me. Nevertheless, I welcome this first example of this type into the Pictorama collection.

Boxing Day!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I’m not sure I remember a Pictorama post falling on Boxing Day, but here we find ourselves on a sunny if cold New York City day post-Christmas as we do our best to shove 2020 behind us. Kim and I were recently speaking of Boxing Day and I looked up its history. It started in the 1830’s in Britain and it was a day to be charitable – boxes were taken to the poor and were given to servants who got the day off as well. It spread to the British colonies and remains a holiday there whereas, as we know, traditionally the day after Christmas in this country is usually about shopping. Of course nothing is really usual about this year, and I cannot imagine stores teeming with post-Christmas folks under the current Covid circumstances.

Our own Christmas was celebrated with just us and the felines here on 86th Street, a Zoom call to New Jersey with my mom, cousin and friend Suzanne in the afternoon sadly substituting for an annual visit. In order to cheer us up I made a rather amazing bouillabaisse if I do say so myself – a sort of quick and cheaty one that has its origins with my grandmother, but I have manipulated a bit over time. (I managed six of the seven fishes – seven if you count the anchovy paste!) I served it with homemade corn muffins and a red pepper compound butter. Before I brag on myself too much I will admit that I forgot to consider dessert entirely and ran out to the store and acquired a frozen Dutch apple pie. Frankly it did the job just fine and I confess, diet be damned, I am looking forward to eating some for breakfast today. Yum.

Christmas was a cold, stormy day here with a wind whipping around – I discovered just how bad when I made that run to the store. Jazz at Lincoln Center unexpectedly announced that they were giving us all two weeks off over the holiday and I am easing into a blissful state of extra sleep and pajama wearing – house cleaning will follow I hope, as I have ignored the state of it long enough and one should go into the New Year with a clear mind and house I suspect. All this to say, I have not yet enjoyed the aforementioned improved weather but look forward to some outdoor exercise in a bit – New Year’s resolutions are lurking just around the corner to be sure.

Our newest toy, identified as French and a Krazy Kat, but I believe was meant to be Felix.
Side view.

However, the aspect of Christmas which was traditional and in no way disappointing were the toys Santa, aka Kim, brought me! Two absolutely wonderful toys, the first featured today by way of Bertoia auctions shown above. (Of course I still enjoy receiving toys on Christmas – not a surprise to Pictorama readers I am sure.)

This extraordinary wind-up toy was identified as a French Krazy Kat with no additional information. He is entirely unmarked, stands at about 8 inches, with a metal body covered in a heavy felt suit. His head and hands are composition and you can see that he probably fell on his face a lot from the chipping on his nose – his one ear is also a bit nibbled down. Despite that he is in pretty extraordinary condition, and of course it should be noted that I believe he is a Felix not a Krazy Kat. It should also be noted that his wind-up key is permanently affixed to him, not removable.

This one-footed fellow is seen a bit more than the latest acquisition.

I have never seen a toy like him and would appreciate any information folks might have about his origins. His mechanism spring is a bit shot or over-wound and I have only achieved a few bits of a hopping, splayed leg gait out of him (he fell on his face immediatley) which is too bad because I have seen enough to know it must have been comical. He is smaller and more delicate than the more typical wind-up mohair Felix, one that seems to always lose one foot. My example shown above. I assume that because of his composition parts this fellow didn’t last and few of these seem to be knocking around. I wrote about the one above and another more or less one-of-a-kind wind-up Felix toys, shown below, in a post that can be found here. While I had never seen that one before I was certainly familiar with the wind-up function he was built on.

Another admittedly unusual Felix wind-up toy.

So, we start to close out 2020 with a house full of leftovers and a moment to catch our collective breath. For those of you who still have some cooking ambition in you, or need a New Year’s meal, I lay out the basics of my fish stew below. Enjoy!

****

Fish Stew or Quick Bouillabaisse Recipe:

Saute onions, garlic and chopped carrots with salt and pepper until they begin to brown, add additional veggies. I like a little potato to thicken, green beans and a bit of corn. (If you are using corn on the cob you can wait and drop the full ear into the soup to cook and cut the corn off after – that will add taste and additionally thicken soup. I used frozen corn this time.) Add in a bit of anchovy paste and a smidge of tomato paste.

Add in fresh fish of choice, about a pound of each – I used a bit of halibut (skinned) although any thicker white meat fish will do, and cut it into bite-size chunks, I added shrimp, and scallops and let cook. I like to add a lobster tail or some crab legs and it does well to add them in here too if they aren’t frozen which my lobster tail was this time. (Snow crab legs are great, but messy to eat later – this was a faux lobster tail belonging broadly to the lobster family with sharp sprine-y bits – ouch!, but I was able to take it out after it had cooked and add the fish meat back into the stew so no eating time mess.)

Deglaze the pot with a cup or so of wine or vermouth. The cheating part starts here (and I am pretty sure this is my addition to this recipe) with some canned fish options. I start with a can of clams, with their liquid included, and this time added a tin of smoked oysters. (I prefer mussels but oysters was all the market had to offer and they were just fine. This is a very forgiving recipe.)

Here’s the big cheat – add a bottle of clam juice AND a large container of Clamato juice (I have often wondered what other use Clamato juice has in life – do people drink it? Make cocktails with it?) Also add a large can of chopped tomatoes at this stage. This creates a substitute fish broth base. I added fresh chopped basil and wide leaf parsley. I like basil in it in particular, but again this is another place where you can be creative. I also added a bit of oregano and at this stage adjust your seasoning overall – I tend to have been adding a bit of salt and pepper with each addition of fish. Bring to a boil and then simmer for at least 40 minutes.

If pressed, you can happily eat this immediately, but the real trick is to cool it down and refrigerate it over night. A glorious change takes place and it is even more amazing! Great dish for company made the day before and then only needs to be heated before serving.