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!

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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.

Hand-some

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: While this blog is aptly named Pam’s Pictorama it is never jollier here at Pictorama than the days I get to post about a new toy. As I have repeatedly reminded my ongoing readership, this apartment is small and to some degree I try to minimize acquisition so we aren’t crushed by actual mountains of objects and books (albeit really cool stuff) like the proverbial Collier Brothers. Having said that, realistically, thrilling three dimensional objects like this puppet, are added judiciously to the Pictorama collection ongoing.

This is the second puppet to join my collection. The first was featured in an early post, Handy Felix. The new puppet is larger and clearly produced by an entirely different maker, the earlier one possibly a product of the East London Toy Factory, Ltd., a post that has garnered much interest. However, like virtually every single toy I own he is without label or marking of any kind.

I have no idea of this fellow hails from Great Britain or the United States (or elsewhere I suppose). There is something about his appearance that makes me think that he was made in the United States, but it has been pointed out that occasionally I apply a certain amount of imagination to my figuring on these issues.

Unlike the other puppet, this one was not an uncontested find, but neither did I pay a really substantial amount for him. (No, really!) He fell strictly into the category of never having seen it before and better snatch it up while and if I can. As it the case with my other puppet, this fellow is well worn and much loved, his insides a bit of an aging mess which makes me reluctant to speculate on his former usability. His days of puppet shows are largely over, and he will live in comfortable retirement on my shelf, a cohort of two for now.

I do not remember having or playing with puppets as a child, nor do I remember Loren or Edward having any. If I am wrong they have not remained in my memory, which is indeed faulty as are most. This does seem strange to me in retrospect – a fellow like this would have made quite a companion for a small Pam child, toy collector to be. Perhaps the puppets of the 1960’s and early ’70’s were just not up to the job.

Vacation Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: No news that when I see one of these Felix tintypes I go to the extremes to acquire it. Somehow the idea that tintypes and Felix existed at the same time entertains the heck out of me – although, by any measure it was getting late in the game for tintypes. Echo Point at Katoomba in Australia, not the only location for such fabulous photo fun of the day, however the evidence many decades later appears to be that it was one of the prime locations. Recently I have proudly displayed other such acquisitions of this type in posts including Another Aussie Felix and one of unknown origin in Felix Featured on Tin. I own several others I have yet to write about.

These three women and Felix look right at home together – them in their summer garb, complete with hats. Felix relaxing like a member of the family. I especially like the jolly striped awning over them. I am guessing that this is mother and daughters – perhaps even grandmother? Some information is sadly lost in this photo as is often the case with these tintypes which seem to suffer most of all from sloppy, on location workmanship. The older woman’s face is the real victim here and the information just isn’t there if you try to drill down on it.

This photo inspires me to think a bit about vacation today however, and Kim and I have been discussing it too. As most of you know, I started a new job a few months ago so I am limited in vacation time this summer. I usually try to take two weeks in the summer and do a serious recharge of my battery. Kim, who as many of you also know, is a maniacally super charged work-aholic also looks forward to this downtime. This year I am piecing together what leave time I have acquired and am running it into Labor Day to extend it as much as I can.

I have pretty much been shot out of a gun since starting the new job – a racehorse let tearing out of the gate, seeing how much ground I can cover in this first lap. Part of me hates to break that stride, but another part knows that time off is needed too. Photos from my friend Eileen’s vacation spent at their weekend home in Vermont – featuring lovely summer fields of green and a truly enviable swimming hole – have lured me into vacation thoughts too. So I won’t begrudge myself a few halcyon days of summer to let my mind wander, eat strawberry ice cream, corn on the cob – days when I have slept late after staying up reading books. Lazing around with my husband losing track of time. This photo makes me yearn a bit for summer activities. Maybe the Fair Haven, NJ Fireman’s Fair this year? A bit of cotton candy or candy apple and a trip on a small, but thrilling ferris wheel. We’ll see. Part of vacation is all in the dreaming and planning.

 

A Maybe Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Yep, Happy Birthday to me once again – and get a look at this glorious new toy for the Pictorama collection! This fellow, known as a Yes/No Felix made the trip across the ocean from my friend a toy source (my supplier, shall we say?) named Regine who lives in Belgium. She had this fellow up on eBay a few months back, pre-Christmas. I hesitated on him as he no longer has his Yes/No function – you moved something (tail? arms) and he nodded his head yes or shook it no. This one appears to remain mute. I reached out to a friend and collector to ask his opinion about purchasing a toy that had lost this original functionality. His answer made me laugh – he said that to his knowledge he had perhaps used the yes/no on his Felix immediately upon purchase and to his memory never in all the subsequent years. He did however, ask said Felix if I should purchase the toy and his Felix said Yes! Luckily Regine still had him and so I acquired him, for my birthday – or to be more accurate my very generous husband the ever-wonderful Kim Deitch bought him for me and Regine got him here in record time.

Felix turned out to be larger than I anticipated (always a happy discovery) and a great specimen of Felix toy really. I love his comical tummy bulging shape, googly eyes and his large, goofy ears! More than the other toys (all ranging pretty far from the cartoon design to be honest) he is like Felix’s elder statesman uncle – the one who pulls silver dollars from behind your ear. While he is a completely different design from all the toys by other makers, he is similar to another Felix by the same maker, Schuco. That one that originally wound up and walked and was produced later than the Yes/No. (Mine no longer walks either, perhaps there was something about the mechanisms on these Schuco toys? He is a long story of his own which we may or may not get to one of these days here at Pictorama.)

Below is our man as a Christmas gift in his youth. Regular readers will remember this from just a few months ago posted in A Very Felix Christmas – and to think I had no idea at the time that this Yes/No fellow would be coming to live here!

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Let’s turn back the clock a bit. In the beginning of collecting, shortly after my first toy cat purchases – several splendid stuffed cats from the early part of the 20th century which were unearthed at antique stores in Red Bank, New Jersey – I discovered Felix the Cat toys with my first purchase of one at a flea market in London. I was off and running! Yet it was quite a while before I knew anything about them or who made these Felix toys. For some reason I thought that Germany was a likely maker of the European version of these American cartoon toys – or perhaps France?

It was a number of years before I discovered that the majority of my beloved Felix-es were made in Great Britain. I have examined this in different ways in a number of earlier posts including Felix as Cat and most definitely East London Toy Company, one which I myself refer back to periodically. The British were a hotbed of Felix production, companies such as Dean’s Rag Company and others. They far outstrip Felix’s home turf of the USA where he seems to have been somewhat neglected on that front despite his extraordinary film fame.

Anyway, all this to say that I ultimately learned that outside of Britain the production of Felix toys, particularly stuffed ones, was pretty much limited to a few models of Steiff on the US front and Schuco in Germany, and I have sited the two stuffed Schuco Felix toys above. Schuco was founded in Germany in the year 1912 and seems to be primarily a maker of rather indestructible looking metal cars and trucks. Odd that they should make Felix toys with a tendency toward mechanical breakdown. However, I have a lovely little Schuco bird which still functions – for this one see the post Tweet, Tweet, Tweet.

So thank you Kim! Thank you Mel for your advice (Felix’s too) and thank you Regine! You all, along with Felix, have softened the blow of growing one year older.

Pepper Felix

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Pam Toy Post: In a first of several loot from France posts, behold this very odd item I purchased from the fine fellows at Antics Toys and Dolls in Lyon. I found the shop online before my trip and, since I was there on business not pleasure, I considered it a great stroke of luck that I had a rare few free hours in Lyon which allowed me to race over and check it out. The gentlemen there spoke no English (and I no French) and at first they seemed to have no idea what to do with me as a customer with a strong interest in Felix le chat and perhaps a Mickey. Their prices ran high and I dismissed several items which seemed over-priced, especially after Euro to dollar conversion. However, I purchased a small, lovely jointed bear (future post) and left the store.

I wandered down the street, noting with frustration that several antique shops were closed despite the fact that it was 3:30 on a Thursday which would seem to be a time when things would be open. I found a small shop that was, according to the owner, opening next week – although it seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be open. He sold me a lovely rose gold ring with a tiny diamond chip, which he dated around 1903. I would have added ten years to that date but can’t say I am an expert. Then I walked back in the direction I came from and when I walked past the aforementioned toy store something near the window on a shelf caught my eye – Felix! Back in I went and another owner seemed to have appeared in the meanwhile and he, having lived in Stamford, Connecticut for a year or more, spoke some English. Felix was fetched from the window shelf and, strangely, he turned out to be a pepper shaker – no salt shaker sadly, but even alone, a worthy and unusual item. A bargain was struck (after they showed me photos on their phones of the antique cars they own, I showed them photos of my Felix toys on my phone, and we discussed religion in broken English for some reason) and home to NYC Felix has come.

I have never seen this particular model. I would have maybe even thought he was homemade from other parts except for his rather professional poivre sticker, as shown, on the back. Early in my collecting I assumed that early Felix items might be largely French and German. I was surprised to find out that they are almost predominantly British. This item may indeed be the only French item I am aware of in my collection.

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Meanwhile, next I wandered down the street to find Antiquites Marilyn and my purchase there which I will outline in tomorrow, Sunday’s, post.

Felix as Cat

Felix portrait

 

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Oh Merry Christmas to me! This extraordinary Felix was a gift from Kim this Christmas. In truth, I picked him out on eBay months ago and Kim purchased him and tucked him away. Christmas morning was my first good look at him though – and wowza!

I have only ever seen one or two Felix dolls posed on all fours, but never this model. Felix walking (upright) was part of his whole appeal – and schtick. His humpbacked thinking manner is recreated in two and three dimensions – often with the hump in his back exaggerated, as he walks, pondering something, which his hand/paws behind his back. I have a plate which bears the much used motto Felix Keep on Walking which is a play on this. (See my prior post Living the Felix Life which features this item.) As Mickey Mouse and countless others would ape later, the anthropomorphic charm is all about being upright and therefore more human.

Christmas night Kim and I stumbled home after our annual trip to my folks in NJ and curled up on the couch to take a look at another of my Christmas gifts – the superb DVD Cartoon Roots. (I know, I am a very lucky woman!) This outstandingly curated DVD put together by Tom Stathes deserves a shout out. Instead of the usual entries in the early animation stakes, this disk manages to have the one or two outstanding examples of each that you’re pretty sure you have never seen. I have not yet viewed the whole thing (why rush?) but already have seen a few excellent Terry Aesop Fables, a strange and interesting Krazy Kat (where he seems to be trying to morph into Felix…) and Felix Comes Back, a splendid example from 1922.

I have been known to opine on how Felix started out drawn more squarely (pointier I like to say) and both more feline and a tad bit doggy. According to Kim, Bill Nolan was responsible for this subtle neutering of Felix which Messmer passively allowed. Anyway, I was reminded that back in ’22 Felix spent a good portion of his time on all fours – running away fast from things most frequently – but sportier and a bit wilder.

However, all this to say, Felix spent the majority of his career walking on two legs and virtually all the toys and merchandising reflect this. In all the many hours (days, years) I have spent combing through Felix toy offerings I have, as I said above, only seen him portrayed on all fours a few times so this toy is very unusual. I originally thought of the subject of another post, East London Toy Factory due to the almost hand-made, individual aspect of this and was going to attribute that company as his maker. I lean now instead toward thinking this was made by the folks at Chad Valley. I have not devoted much time writing about the company, they appear to have been the biggest makers of stuffed Felix toys, a company that still makes some toys today. I am, however, open and raring for discussion.

Cookie and Felix

Cookie and Felix Christmas Morning

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For those of you who have an Amazon gift card burning a hole in your pocket post-Christmas, the DVD above can be found at: Cartoon Roots

The eBay seller who sold us Felix did not seem to know much about the origin, but she was lovely. She is Mme Regine Beghin of Belgium and this is a nod to her.