Mangold Felix – aka Uncle Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today’s recent acquisition is a bit of a head scratcher. I purchased him at a Bertoia auction recently. I was laying in bed late one night when I saw the email for the auction. I threw a bid on him and more or less forgot about it until I won and an email invoice showed up, a happy moment indeed.

From a Bertoia sale. Not in Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

I know I have seen this toy once or twice before, but the price must have been high or I was too late because I never remember bidding on him. While it is not a common toy; I did find one or two other examples online sold at auction previously. He is memorable though I think and you could almost think it was a hand-painted one of a kind. I have christened this jolly fellow Uncle Felix.

It appears to come from a pattern by a toy maker called Gunthermann (or Guntermann) which seems over the decades, to become something of the epitome of extraordinarily rare and expensive Felix items. I show the Felix merry-go-round below which fetches the price of a good used car at auction these days. (Someone prone to hyperbole on Pinterest called it the rarest toy ever.) Sadly it is unlikely to ever darken my door (I don’t play the lottery) nor am I even likely to see one in person although I would very much like to see it move. The maker is also responsible for a pull toy of Felix chasing mice (shown near top) which seems to always go for a mint as well.

Also sold by Bertoia Auction recently, the mysterious Felix merry-go-round toy! Sadly unlikely to ever be in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

There is no information about my fellow in particular and whatever the relationship between Gunthermann (a German toy company that goes back to the 1890’s) and Mangold is not readily obtainable. The names around the Felix walking toys of this type seems to be interchangeable, although this odd variant seems to go under the Mangold name. Please do enlighten me if you know the facts here.

My version of the Gunthermann walking Felix. Arms are not missing, they are pinned behind in the thinking position! Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Above is my own early (albeit beat-up) version of the Gunthermann walking Felix which I wrote about previously in a post found here. Also shown below is the more common version of the same toy pattern. The obvious question is, why did someone decide to disguise Felix in eyeglasses and a cheery black, red and white suit? How many could have been made and sold and why take a popular character make a very popular toy of him and then change it up? His red glasses taking the place of the black circles around Felix’s eyes. Mine wears a nifty white vest with painted buttons, white gloved hands and red trousers (with a pinstripe!) that end in black spats – his tail is painted white.

The more common Gunthermann Felix walking toy. Not in Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Uncle Felix does still work, his key winds and his legs do a splendid sort of hopping walk. (He seems too fragile though to try to film it so you will have to take my word for it.) His paint is worn and chipped (and suffered a bit in transit despite careful packing), but his full glory is easy for me to imagine and dream about.

The Big Butter and Egg Man!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s toy post represents the culmination of a toy chase which came to fruition in a very satisfying way recently. This really splendid toy was first spotted by Kim and I knew I wanted him – the chase was on.

Kim was the one who introduced me to the term, the big butter and egg man which was so evocative it quickly found a place in my personal lexicon. Big spender salesman traveling and from out of town. One dictionary puts it fairly succinctly as, A prosperous dairy farmer (other wealthy rural citizen), seen as coming into the big city and ostentatiously living it up.

From a film version of the play made in 1928.

The term was coined by George S. Kaufman as the name of a play which debuted in 1925 about a rich man who came to New York with plans to liberally and exuberantly spend his money on wine, women, and song according to Wikipedia. In ’26 Percy Venable cemented the popularity of the term when he penned a jazz tune under this moniker – and which in turn became a Louis Armstrong favorite and it immediately enters the annals of jazz slang. (The Armstrong version can be heard here as of the writing of this post and is a pretty joyful rendition if you have a moment.)

Some of the lyrics are below, talking about a gold digging woman who is looking for that particular sugar daddy:

Now she wants, a butter an egg man
From way out in the west
She wants somebody, who’s workin’ all day
So she’s got money, when she wants to play

Now pretty clothes, they’ll never be mine
But what she told me the other day
I hope she don’t change her mind
Now she wants, a butter an egg man
A great big butter and egg man
From way down south

Having done some justice to the origin of the expression, let’s consider this rather grand toy. He embodies his role perfectly and has a button which declares the butter and egg man on the front and across his back. His case offers, fresh country butter contained within and he has an impossibly large and endearing duck (more on this in a moment) clutched (with white gloves) in his other hand and who offers eggs laid to order.

He sports a bright yellow plaid double-breasted suit and tie, topped off striped trousers and wingtip shoes. His mustachioed expression says it all – he’s up for trouble and he’s got cash to burn. As mentioned above, he is a product of the Marx toy company, manufactured in the 1930’s. When wound his legs move furiously, but with somewhat less forward motion.

Once I spotted it, I held out for the toy complete with box because it too is great. As you can see below, he is faithfully rendered (although he is given a hat in these pics) and makes declarations such as, He walks! and He’s a salesman! I like the top and bottom with somewhat awkwardly drawn hands displaying his wares and assuring us that he is selling, Grade A Butter. He is is leaving the farm behind and is on his traveling route which will lead him to the big city where he’ll get into all kinds of trouble no doubt.

Butter and Egg Man Box in the Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The predecessor of this toy is a Joe Penner toy made with the exact same mold. For those or you not in the know, Penner was a slapstick comedian who had a meteoric rise from vaudeville to radio. He developed a catch phrase, Wanna buy a duck? for which he became best known. He died of a heart attack in his sleep at age 36 and was therefore saved the ultimately indignity of an inevitable career decline, which was likely where he was headed. (A quick but good sample of his work can be found on a brief Youtube clip here.)

This from Morphy’s auction, but great to really see them side-by-side!

The Penner toy has charm although it is the rare case of my preferring a later version of a toy, another blog post (devoted to Joe Penner collectibles) notes that this earlier version was released in 1934. The Joe Penner version was a part of a line of toys developed by Marx depicting famous folks of the day. (I wrote about my Chaplin one in a post that can be found here.)

The notable difference between the Penner version and mine is that the earlier one sported a hat which bounced along in a jolly way as he walked and Joe also smokes a cigar. As noted above, the duck remained (his duck named Goo Goo) and so my butter and egg man appears to be selling duck eggs.

While the motion of the hat and the addition of the cigar are great, I prefer the Butter and Egg Man version. This Joe Penner version is not in the Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Over time the ever resourceful Marx company form morphs slightly to accommodate the likes of others such as this Popeye toy below. The major adjustment is the lost of the duck replaced by cases on both sides.

Popeye is not in Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Our fellow winds up admirably and we took him for a few runs, one of which is shown below featuring our laundry bag and Kim helping with the action. His action is worth seeing.

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.

Turkey Talk

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Toys today again with this terrific turkey. This item made a rare route to Pictorama a few weeks ago by way of Kim posting an image of it on Facebook which was so glorious I went in search of the toy. A quick search turned one up in good condition on Etsy and he landed here a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, a tiny bolt on one side of his tail went missing, either in transit or the seller neglected to mention it. Kim has done a short term repair with a tiny bit of wire from a twist tie off a loaf of whole wheat bread. Click below for our best effort on filming him – we got his tail to stay together sufficiently to get him moving on film, but I don’t think he has a ton of runs in him. Watch the video through, the full rise and spread action of his tail is what makes it great!

He is the earlier model of at least two that I found online (see further below),with greater definition and better action than the later one. There is something wonderfully Art Deco about the colors and design of his tail feathers that I especially like as well and what attracted me in the first place; his color is pretty glorious. Mr. Turkey is marked Made in the US Zone Germany on his tummy, which puts his manufacture in the mid-40’s to early 50’s. A Google search turns up an auction listing which mentions it was produced by Blomer and Schüler (or Bloomer and Schüler), a company founded for making parts in 1919, but which started making its own toys in 1930. It had an early hit with a Jumbo Elephant wind-up toy which is described as running. I have a weakness for elephant toys so I may need to investigate this more closely. Toys do lead to toys and a good wind-up toy is just the jolliest thing I can think of. (There is also a very hotsy totsy peacock too, but I must say, his mechanism looks even more fragile than Mr. Turkey’s.)

I didn’t see many of these on the internet, but would love to see him move!

The turkey’s action really does recall a come hither Tom Turkey trotting, showing off his glorious tail feathers to attract a girlfriend which makes me think he was designed by someone who knew turkeys. When living in England many years ago, I was surprised to discover that not only is turkey not indigenous to Britain, nor indeed Europe, but that they don’t have much of a taste for it and do not import it widely. (My Thanksgiving dinner that year was a Chinese recipe for orange chicken as a result. In retrospect, and knowing more about cooking now than I did then, just as well. I had the tiniest oven imaginable which would have taken three days to cook the smallest turkey.)

I will add that my surprise grew when I discovered that pumpkin isn’t eaten there, and they aren’t big on corn on the cob either. (Corn is grown there but is fed to farm animals. As a result, I don’t think they produce corn flour either.) Although admittedly my first hand information on the subject is now decades out of date. All this to say, I believe it was the American influence which designed this turkey as I do not believe at the time Germans were widely familiar with the mating habits of turkeys or eating them either, although the internet says they have caught up with a taste for turkey in recent decades.

From the collection of Deb Mostert via Pinterest – the image that started it all!

Although I do not eat fowl these days, nor have I for many decades, I was in charge of the family turkey on Thanksgiving for many years after my brief stint of professional cooking – my mother happily ceding this responsibility to me, my father never much of a turkey carving dad either. However, I cannot think about cooking a turkey without remembering a French chef I knew going on in honest bewilderment on the subject – not only at the American fondness for them, but the cultural necessity for serving it whole and carving it at the table. He pointed out, the thickness of a turkey’s legs demand significantly more cooking time than the thinner breast and wing meat and to think that there is a way of getting the legs done without drying out the breast was, in his opinion, a fool’s errand. He would have had you cook the bird whole, let it rest, carve the legs and put them back in the oven to finish cooking. I venture that cooking the bird stuffed, while slowing the whole venture considerably, helps ameliorate this issue, but his point was well taken and an easy solve if you aren’t married to carving a full bird at the Thanksgiving table. (The attenuated cooking time needed for the bird cooked stuffed also set him going – in all fairness, he was not only French but a restaurant chef which is another bird altogether. Clearly he wasn’t familiar with Norman Rockwell paintings on the subject!)

Later version by same company.

Given my early defection away from eating (and therefore cooking) red meat and fowl, I have never attempted to cook a turkey in a Manhattan apartment. Our ovens run small though, as do our kitchens, and I can tell you that New York is evidently littered with beautiful turkey roasting pans purchased each year without measuring the apartment oven in question. From the stories I hear from first time turkey chefs, they often find themselves with pans and even birds that do not fit our abbreviated oven sizes. I encourage first time city cooks to use a doubled up disposable pan on that first go, but to go easy on the turkey size too. We are so used to our ovens that we’ve forgotten how comparatively enormous a regular one is. I glory in how many things I can fit in my mom’s oven by comparison.

As we finally slam the door on 2020 with my turkey post, we at Pictorama and Deitch Studio are wishing all the best in the coming New Year. I look forward to seeing you all on the other side, at the dawn of ’21!