Aesop’s Fables: the Stationery

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is an item which fills me with a sort of jaw-dropping amazement. It is a single sheet of unused letterhead from the Aesop’s Fables Film company – so fragile that I worry that even framing it would hasten its demise and so riotously decorated it left little room for any actual correspondence. The idea of a single blank sheet fascinates me – it would be less mysterious if a letter had been saved, even a mundane one. Some smart person with foresight came across this sheet early on, appreciated the singular nature of this stationery, squirreled it away and somehow it was rescued – ultimately passing most recently into my hands.

I purchased this on eBay. Despite my fascination it was initially listed for such a princely sum that even I could not summon justification for purchasing it. Nonetheless, to even have seen it and known that it existed pleased me no end to start. Much to my surprise, the seller continued to re-list and lower the price until suddenly I thought – it’s mine! And here we are at last.

For Pictorama readers who might be new to the world of Aesop’s Fable cartoons I will provide a crash course. Launched on May 13, 1921, Paul Terry produced a series of popular animated short cartoons which was populated by a riotous cast of cats, mice, dogs and other animals in never-ending loops, usually with an outraged Farmer Alfalfa in the midst of it all, and each ending with a comic moral such as the one on this stationary, It’s a great mistake to drop the real thing for a fake! or the one cited on Wikipedia, Go around with a chip on your shoulder and someone will knock your block off. Paul Terry’s cartoons were evidently what a young Walt Disney aspired to when he started making cartoons.

With weekly cartoons being produced in the silent days, 449 titles are listed for the years between 1921 and 1929 when the move to sound and production slows a bit; 270 cartoons were produced in the final years from 1929 until 1933. However, Paul Terry leaves Aesop Fables in 1929 as well, to start the company which bore his name, Terry Tunes. The Aesop Fables cartoons continue to be produced by Van Beuren Studios until 1936. (As I write this Kim shares that Paul Terry took the Farmer Alfalfa character with him to Terry Tunes. He also tells me that Paul Terry eventually sold the company and became resident at a Westchester country club near where a young Kim Deitch was growing up – and that he even made a prank call to Terry once.)

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Paul Terry swiped from the internet, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

I adore these cartoons with their anonymous black cats chasing comic mice and in turn being pursued equally by cartoon dogs – with the occasional other chicken, cow or other farm animal thrown in. Long-standing Pictorama readers know that in conjunction with these cartoons, a line of stuffed toys were produced. These have always represented a gold standard for toy collecting to me and I am proud and pleased to own several. (Posts about that aspect of my collection can be found herehere and here, just for starters. A sample of the cartoons can be found at A Jealous Fisherman.) The production history of these toys is a bit obscured and I find pulling at this string of animation-cum-toy history endlessly fascinating.

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Which doll is this? Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As for the stationary itself, starting with the address it should be noted that the Palace Theatre still exists. A glorious vaudeville turned movie theater in its day, evidently the original facade lurks behind the billboards of today’s Times Square in some sort of mediated agreement between the landmark’s commission and developers. The original, or at least restored, splendor remains inside the theater as some online photos indicate as below. It is nice to think it was not gutted of its charms. Presumably the offices referred to on the stationary were above the theater and noted as the Annex.

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Palace theater interior – photo not from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

The Fable of The Dog and The Bone runs down one side, complete with illustration as shown below. (Signed by Paul Terry but Kim casts doubt that PT actually executed suggesting that, like Disney he may have routinely signed the drawings executed by his staff for this purpose.) The tale wraps with a moral, like the cartoons. I cannot help but wonder if there were other fables (and morals) on different versions of the stationery – how splendid would that be? Running along the bottom is a riotous parade of Aesop animals and the quote, Aesop’s Fables are to a show what pepper and salt are to a chop. It is a two color job meaning they spared no expense back when it would have added cost. As I started this post by speculating – not much room was left for actual correspondence. I have to assume that they had a second sheet produced that allowed for a typed sheet with somewhat more generous margins.

I am sure many mundanities were executed on these jolly sheets. Yet I do love the spirit of a company that would find expression right down to the stationary – and who wouldn’t find even a past-due notice more charming if executed and arriving on this paper?

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Detail from Aesop Fable stationary, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

 

 

Aesop’s Fable Doll Revealed: I’m Puffie!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Picking up where I left off last week, a Pictorama cliff hanger first (can be found here), today I present Puffie. Those of you who have followed me over the course of my collecting know that I have a keen weakness for these somewhat obscure dolls and the sight of one I do not own, let alone have not seen, makes me a bit daffy. Puffie is one such toy, coming in an original box no less, which set my collecting senses a-tingle – more like ablaze! Caution thrown to the wind I snatched him up recently on eBay.

In the zoology of Aesop’s Fable dolls, he appears to be more of a bear according to the illustrations, as shown on the box below. In my opinion he doesn’t resemble his drawn self especially however. Anyone have any thoughts to enlighten me on this?

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Aesop Fable box, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection: Puffie’s tag – wonder if Edgar’s name was actually Wright instead of Wight?

 

Oh joy! He has his tag! Attached to a bright red ribbon as shown above it reads, I’m “Puffie” See my pals in the Aesop’s Fables Films and in a child’s hand in pencil EDGAR WIGHT is neatly printed. Let me tell you, Edgar took very good care of his toys. Unlike my other Aesop’s Fable dolls, Puffie has his W.R. Woodard Co. stamps on the bottoms of both feet. He sports the stick-on black eyes, not pie-eyes in his case. His ears are brown, at first I thought they had faded to that color, but that isn’t the case when I look more closely. I very much like the detail of a line of red in his mouth. I love his little blue trousers with the one strap holding them up and his stubby tail sticks out the back.

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Faded but visible stamps on the bottom of both feet, W. R. Woodard Co.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection, Puffie from the back

 

It is remarkable for the first time to see one of these dolls pretty much as it must have looked when it arrived under a Christmas tree in 1929 or ’30, almost 90 years ago. You might think that given my prediction for preserved toys that I was the kind of child who took exceptionally good care of mine. I did not. I mean, it wasn’t like I was especially abusive, but it really would not have occurred to me to keep a toy’s box (maybe with rare exception) let alone tag. My toys were played with and if anything excessively loved, worn down along the edges from being dragged around with me and tucked into bed nightly. Still, for all of that, I am so very glad that somewhere all those years ago, Edgar Wight was very different from me.

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection – Puffie like new in his box!

 

W.R. Woodard Aesops Fable Doll, Part 1: Original Box, Puffy

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today I am pleased and even somewhat surprised to have this extraordinary tidbit to offer. On July 4 I was typing away at one of these blog posts when I decided to take a momentary procrastination break and look at incoming email. There was an eBay alert for Aesop Fable and much to my surprise, instead of an aging 8mm film print of one of the cartoons, there, pristine in their boxes no less, with tags were two Aesop’s Fable dolls for sale! Glory be! I almost fell out of my chair.

For those of you who have followed Pam’s Pictorama for a bit, you know I have a somewhat pathological interest in these dolls and collecting them. These dolls and a handful of other promotions. (I was most recently debating the merits of a handkerchief book at auction – a book of and about hankies embroidered with the various Aesop’s Fables characters on them. Fascinating, but really sort of odd. See below.) These are of course the products of the merchandising arm of cartoons of the same name, which are also much beloved by me.

These fine, if somewhat disparate, items are the product of the W. R. Woodard Company of Los Angeles, California. I have only found scant information about the company online, they were in existence for the lone year of 1929-1930. As toys go this tends to be high stakes collecting with the strange caveat that the dolls are not hugely well-known, and therefore can indeed languish until I, or one of my largely unknown compatriots, runs across it. Therefore, depending, one can be in an expensive dog fight over one, or they can lay unclaimed, sold cheaply.

Without a moment’s concern for my bank balance (toy blood lust takes this form), I seized on the one of these dolls I did not already have. Bam! I wasn’t going to have it snatched out from under me. When Kim came home from a quick trip to the drugstore I broke the news of my acquisition, which he took characteristically in stride. Less than a week later it arrived in all its glory. I made inquiries with the seller and she said all she knew was that it was part of a large buy she had made of an elderly woman’s things, being sold since she was moving into smaller, retirement home digs. The other doll, also in the box, Don, sold eleven days later.

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The box, shown above, is a bit longer and thinner than a shoebox. It is decorated with red line illustrations of the various Aesop’s Fable characters. It has a hole in on side that looks like someone took a big bite out of it, but we will assume it occurred in a less interesting and romantic fashion. Written in several places on the box in red is Genuine Aesop’s Fable Film Character. Stamped in black, VELVET DON periodically (yep, the seller gave me the wrong box. I thought it said DOLL at first, but it says DON.) Part of the pattern, shown below, is a mark that declares W R Woodard Co Los Angeles and also A Genuine Aesop’s Fable Film Character. There are renderings of the dolls including: Waffles, Don, Mike, Puffie, Al, Countess and Waffles. 

I was stunned to find that the enclosed doll was in pristine condition, but more about him in our next post!

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Aesop’s Fables handkerchief book, not in my collection (yet) from the Creighton University site

Foxy Squirrel?

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Al the Squirrel Aesop Fable doll from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictoram Toy Post: Oh joy and bliss! My first of several post-birthday posts is devoted to this utterly magnificent birthday gift from Kim, the most unusual of the Aesop Fable dolls in some ways. This toy came to me via a lovely toy dealer in Belgium, Regine Beghin, who has been the source of several holiday and birthday acquisitions in recent years. I will hope that my travels eventually land me nearby so I can say hello in person one day. (That does of course have the potential to be a very expensive trip indeed.)

Unlike his brethren, this is the only one of the dolls I know of with a very different body type, a strangely long skinny neck and puffy tail. As seen in this publicity photo below, the others are largely interchangeable bodies, different heads, clothes and expressions. So now comes the big question – what animal exactly does my new friend portray and what is his name? Looking at my prior research, presented in my post Mine, all mine…at long last – a personal favorite post – I listed the names for those characters as identified on the back of the photo, but realize this fellow remained nameless!

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Photo from the Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Google remains stubbornly inadequate on information about these Aesop Fable toys. In fact, it has gotten to where Google images on the subject are mostly my toys and posts! I reached out, deep into the toy network, and tapped a friend who I consider the Kingpin of Toy Lore. Mel agreed that he had always thought this was a fox (Max Fox perhaps?), but in examining the Aesop Fable hankies book – he owns his own copy, but some of you know this was recently the subject of some covetousness on eBay by yours truly – all the characters are laid out and identified. It would appear, as shown below, that this fellow isn’t a fox (or a wolf) after all – he is evidently Al Squirrel! (This and some much more can be seen at melbirnkrant.com.)

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Collection of Mel Birnkrant – melbirnkrant.com

 

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Collection of Mel Birnkrant – melbirnkrant.com

 

I must say, on the face of it a squirrel seems like a strange animal to attempt immortalized as a cartoon character. I kind of like the fact that they gave him such a straightforward name – Al. Upon reflection, perhaps a wolf or a fox carries negative cartoon connotations. (Think Three Little Pigs for starters.) Squirrels, on the other hand, are industrious, hard working little fellows. I suppose more likable – although the image above is anything but, holding a dead rabbit and a ditty about shooting a bee. Hmmm. Bottom, line, he is clearly a bit of a stretch aesthetically – more foxy than squirrelly  however.

I will note that this little fellow of mine seems to have replacement eyes (as above all of the dolls with open eyes have flat black pasted on ones, mostly but not all pie-eyed) and as a toy collector I should care about that, but his eyes are very fitting and I admit to liking them very much despite being later replacements. Otherwise his is in very good shape overall.

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Detail, Al the Squirrel Aesop Fable doll, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

In the process of writing this post I realized something else – in the above photo the Countess, the character at the far right, has different feet than all the others. I own two (yes, two – for the most recent acquisition see the post about that variation on a theme Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) Countess dolls and neither has those strange feet. Additionally, in what I now think of as true Aesop Fable tradition, my friend mentioned above also noted that his “hankie book” had a different cover than the one on eBay.

Finally, to muddy the waters further, below I share a photo of a partial doll I have, given to me by my friend Zach Sigall a few years ago. This was clearly another variation on the Wolf, Fox, Squirrel figure and is substantially different than our friend Al. Although his tail is missing, he doesn’t have the skinny neck and there’s no indication he had the fat tail. Unlike the other dolls his eyes are painted on and could not come off at all – other dolls seem to have eyes that are very firmly attached, but applied on. If we are using the hankie book as a reference or guide this fellow does not seem to have a match – perhaps there is a Max Fox after all.

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Mystery doll fragment, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

I remain totally enthralled and fascinated by what appears to be the mix and match mysterious nature of this enterprise. I cannot help but wonder if, like the East End shop I wrote about that churned out many of the more off-model Felix toys I enjoy today, this was not also a fairly small company that just randomly combined pieces to assemble these toys. Meanwhile, as for me, that means that I can dream about there being almost endless variation on each of these toys I can hope to some day find!