A Parade of Toys: Part One

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I am the first to admit this year I was a bit indulgent over my birthday, and Kim nicely enabled me to a nice degree. Last weekend I covered what ended up being day two and day three of a glorious birthday week. Today, I circle back and start at the beginning. So many treasures did I acquire in this first foray, the day before my actual birthday, that it will take at least a few photo and several toy posts to fit it all in, so now I begin.

Last year on my birthday I discovered a gem of a toy store I had somehow missed, located in my own backyard, over the past several years. It is called, quite simply The Antique Toy Shop (you can visit their site here) and it is the sort of El Dorado of antique toys that I haven’t had locally in years. It’s most recent predecessors in my affection were a tiny hole in the wall operation in Greenwich, Village owned by a remarkably elderly man which was a bit too neat, very expensive and had a few too many toy soldiers to really satisfy my toy yen deeply, and another store that never quite took root, across the street from the Film Forum movie theater. However that one skewed toward somewhat later toys and I have never really been someone fishing in my own past – I like to go back further, to the earlier part of the 20th century. This recently discovered, tiny outpost is a true trove of Pictorama pleasure.

Anyway, a friend out-of-town inquired about this establishment and I looked it up. At the time it was located in a strange high-end antique mall in Manhattan’s east fifties which I had never been aware of. One summer weekend Kim and I hiked down there only to find it closed. I believe the next time I checked online I found it had moved to Chelsea and for whatever reason, it wasn’t until my birthday last year that we made the trip to one of the last antique strong holds in Chelsea, across the street from the remnants of the weekend market that used to thrive there, now a handful of vendors holding onto this last gasp, a building that houses three floors of dealers in antique clothing, jewelry and a delightful variety of other things. (A reminder of that day’s haul can be found here and here.)

As fulfilling as my online toy buying experience has been (and Pictorama readers know how, um, deeply I have supported this industry) there is nothing like a well curated collection which represents someone else’s vision and therefore introduces you to things you never knew you would love and well, need. And I do love that on the website for the The Antique Toy Shop the owner, Jean-Pol Ventugol, declares, Nothing useful, you don’t need it, you DESERVE it. For you or your beloved collector, it’s the only place of it’s kind in New York. Packed with childhood dreams from the floor to the ceiling. A man after my own heart!

Jean-Pol did not immediately recognize us when we arrived. Perhaps in years to come he will develop that sixth sense around Christmas and my February birthday, as has my toy dealing compatriot Regine Beghin in Belgium. She knows when to tempt me with prime offerings and her thoughtful greetings and emails add cheer, both personal and toy related, to each of these events annually. Anyway, last year was a mere introduction. This year we walked out pleasantly laden with toy take.

Mr. Ventugol does not exaggerate when he says his shop is packed from floor to ceiling – it quite literally is. So tightly packed is it that we stripped off our heavy down jackets and left them outside the door; I parked my shoulder bag (large enough to potentially contain my toy loot) and handbag safely on a corner of the floor in order to move as unimpeded as possible in his space and not be in danger of knocking into toys. Jean-Pol’s taste runs ever so slightly to the masculine for my own taste (he has a thing for these sort of glorious toy race cars which I can absolutely appreciate but fall outside my areas of obsession) and which takes the occasional fascinating turn toward things like early bikes. (If I ever were to purchase a bicycle I would certainly check in with him first.) His stock runs from the late 1800’s through the 1970’s, with a broad swath in the early 20th century, right where I like it.

Oddly, I have yet to purchase an actual toy cat from him – he is evidently not particular to them. As you can see, today we start out with this rather splendid Donald Duck (or as I like to think of it, a Donald Duck variation) Chein brand tin wind-up toy. Last year’s take away was a delightful felt covered wind-up pig which plays the fiddle, so the shop has broadened my horizons.

J. Chein & Co. was an American toy company started at the dawn of the 20th century and bumping along until the 1980’s. These early 20th century tin wind-up toys are what I think of as their real metier and although I don’t collect them deeply, I find the occasional one irresistible, usually for its wind-up movement. As I think I have shared before – it is the movement of tin toys that first attracted me to collecting, both wind-up and early battery toys. I am a sucker for the sputtering feet of this duck which provide his waddling walk. (I just wound him up and our cat Cookie sat up to take notice. Blackie, however and as is his tendency, remained asleep undisturbed or interested. Cookie however, is deeply interested and stares intently at me and Donald. She’s thinking – deep cat thoughts.) There is nothing like great toy movement to get my happy endorphins to kick in.

This is already a wildly meandering post so I will not go into the (rather fascinating) history of the Chein company too deeply. However a thumb nail of highlights are as follows: the company was founded in a loft in New York City, the original founder, Julius Chein died in a horseback riding accident in Central Park. His brother in-law, owner of the rival Mohawk Toys, took it over and merged the two enterprises. In addition, Chein was the producer and supplier of the early metal Cracker Jack toy prizes. (See here for a recent post on early Cracker Jack prizes, and do rest assured I have quite a future Cracker Jack post or posts in the making as they have become a new sub-genre of my collecting mania.) I also find it interesting that Woolworth’s was the later major client of Chein and as a result their financial fortunes waxed and wained along with that enterprise.

My duck is the second entry of this family to enter my collection and they are shown together below. The earlier and more beat-up variation was purchased in Europe I want to say. (A Google image search turns up a great penguin variation on the theme I will need to look out for.) I think I purchased the original Donald in a large buy of toys at a flea market in Paris several years ago.  Both examples seem sport sort of strange beanies (Donald with yamaka? Why?) whose origins I am unclear on. The new fellow is in splendid condition and sports a jolly painted on cane in one feathered hand. I particularly like the fact that these toys had wind-up keys that were a permanent part of them so no fussing over potential missing keys with these. My earlier example winds and will move if held aloft, but no longer can execute his waddling walk. The new entry waddles splendidly, as duly noted by Cookie.

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Chein Donald Duck toys, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Kudos to you readers who have made it through a post which is much longer than original conceived! I will save the further exploits of my birthday acquisitions for tomorrow and beyond.

A Birthday Do-Over

Pam’s Pictorama: So when I left off my meandering tale yesterday, I had actually failed to acquire the featured small white plastic cat and we had not been able to visit the store in question, Obscura Antiques and Oddities, although the day ended well despite all. However, this sort of thing brings out the stubborn and compulsive side of my nature and I wanted that tiny kitty. (Meanwhile, I have to say there’s another whole piece to this story which I will share, where Kim and I have an absolutely splendid time at an antique toy shop in Chelsea. It will require several toy posts! But I seem to be committed to starting this story in the middle so I will continue on the path I have set for myself.)

Therefore, last Sunday we set our caps to right these wrongs and with Kim’s indulgence had a do-over of sorts. We started with Blick Art Supply and acquired the white plastic kitty and added the pig and a few drawing pencils on for Kim. (This time I immediately secured all in my handbag.) Then we made our way up to 13th Street and found Obscura open.

 

It has been about six months or more since we had paid this store a visit and I was pleased to find some new stock. The photographs I acquired relate to earlier finds at the store. This page of cat and dog photos definitely belongs to the same family album I wrote about shortly after discovering this store in my post A Page of Life (which can be found here) which was a leaf from an album created on the pages of a publication on steam boilers. This one seems to be slightly different, but if you look carefully this is also built on a page from a previous publication – a few words sneak out in the lower left corner, Show Sault Ste. Marie in its relation to Canada, East…

Whether this method of creating an album was one of thrift or an affection for the nicely bordered pages I am unsure. As this page features the gray and white family tuxedo kitty and their sprightly terrier dog, I cannot imagine I passed it up previously so it must have somehow just made its way into the filing cabinets of photos, waiting for me to come and reunite it with its sister page. Both are shown below.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

The photographer had more ambition than skill – exposures are wonky, as is printing. The glue affixing some of these to the page has further obscured the images. There is indeed a hit and miss quality to these. Still, the overall affect is endearing and tells a story and it is an interesting entry in the Victorian photo collage discussion. Notably the photographer has marked this page Rolex II in the lower left corner.

The other entry is also a bookend to an earlier post called Kodak: Box Camera (which you can find here) and I am left wondering if it is the same family and photographer or not. It is a much better – or at least much improved – photographer that made these photos. My earlier acquisition, shown second below, is a beauty of a snapshot and this new one a fair entry and also in the telltale circular image of the Kodak Box Camera. While this one lacks the great contrast of the earlier one, the new one showing a Victorian woman riding sidesaddle has a nice composition and it is a beautiful location. It is a small thing, but I am pleased to reunite these as well.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Lastly, on a whim, I purchased something unusual, this elaborate wooden photo frame. If you live in one room with most of the wall space spoken for, you generally resist such purchases, but this one just cried out to me and I capitulated. More on it when I figure out which two prized cat photos will go into the spots available – I can assure you that a photo postcard with someone posing with Felix is likely to fill the 5×7 inch spot. Hotsy totsy as I like to say!

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So, with large photo frame and photos made into manageable bundles off we went in search of a place to eat during prime Sunday brunch hour in the East Village. We found long lines out the door at most of the establishments we frequent. Therefore, on a whim, we took a chance on the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant. While I had an erstwhile urge for matzoh brei which I could have satisfied at either B&H or Veselka I made do with a bowl of soup (a variation on the split pea, lentil and barley soup my paternal grandmother used to make) and another plate of potato and onion perogies. Kim dined on a substantial grilled cheese made with what can only be described as slabs of bread.

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Ukrainian East Village Restaurant

 

I have always been a bit curious about this establishment which has been there for as long as I can remember, tucked down an industrial looking hallway, removed from the street. It has always looked like it was some sort of a private club which coincidentally served food. It reminds me a bit of many years ago when I lived in London for a time, a friend took me to a kosher lunch outpost way out on the East End of London. This somewhat makeshift lunchroom served a huge Jewish working population in the area. It was a memorably good meal and the existence of the establishment seemed a bit miraculous. This was a bit more ordinary, but it was hot and welcome after an interesting morning of shopping out in the February cold of New York’s East Village. A nice finish to the birthday fiesta this year.

 

Birthday Smalls

Pam’s Pictorama Post: So, I have this odd habit – occasionally on my birthday, almost without realizing it and while hanging out with my husband (the ever-wonderful Kim Deitch) I tend to find a tiny item which I ask him to buy for me and which become a memento of the day. Two of these are marbles, shown below. The large one lives in my winter coat pocket where I take it out occasionally to admire. The small one lives (appropriately I think) on my desk at work in a specially made Kim Deitch decorated box. (The origin story of this wonderful box can be found here called Kim’s Elephant Box.) I am not sure Kim even realizes that this is a thing that I do (I suspect that as he reads this it is the first he is finding out about it), but it seems I do.

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Beloved lucky marbles, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

This year I found a sort of perfect item early on my actual birthday. My birthday was celebrated in parts this year which turned out to be a lovely three days scattered across the week. (More about that below however.) The item in question was the tiny white plastic cat shown at top. In fact, my friend Eileen Travell has been in the habit of giving me lovely plastic animals of a slightly larger variety, those shown below and I think one acquired by me on a prior birthday, but this little fellow is very tiny indeed, could perch on a dime in fact. I found him at Blick’s Art Supply at the beginning of our celebratory birthday day and the kitty seemed to fit the bill splendidly. (Kim needed some new colored pencils, ink and paper – the fundamental supplies of a workaday cartoonist.)

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Schleich cats and pigs, Pams-Pictorama.com collection with thanks to Eileen Travell

 

Despite living in a very chaotic apartment crammed with stuff, the tiny toys have a place here too and I do a pretty good job of keeping track of them. There is a spot for many at the foot of our bed, some live on a mirrored cabinet there, others live scattered among the feet of the larger stuffed toys. As noted, several are assigned to my desk at work, having made the move from the Met, where they cheer things up. As you can see, for some reason in addition to cats there are pigs. There’s something very satisfying about these solid plastic toys and I can easily imagine happily playing with them. Those are made by a company called Schleich. For some reason I cannot explain, I have kept the tags on them all.

This year’s purchase, the cat (and pig, shown bottom) are made by a company called United Art and Education and an entire tube (or Toob as the have chosen to call it – does that seem educational?) of animals can be purchased for $12 online. We paid a premium of .99 cents for each at Blick.

My plan for the day discussed here, technically day two of celebratory birthday fun (I am starting my birthday tale in the middle this year and will circle back to day one in a near future post or posts), was to head up to a store I have mentioned before, Obscura Antiques and Oddities, on East 13th Street and Avenue A. This is a store where I am delighted to spend time pawing through their collection of photographs and picking up all sorts of the kind of bits and pieces I didn’t know I needed. For example, in the past I have purchased an ancient wooded backed hand mirror, a tiny wooden wall shelf, in addition to many photos and pages of antique photo collage. (The photo collage – sort of a passion here at Pictorama, can be featured found here.) It is what flea markets and antique stalls used to be like here, but have disappeared largely due to rising real estate values.

Unfortunately, the day went off the rails a bit starting here. It was a Monday and I had taken the day off from work since it was my birthday – a suggestion my sister made years ago but I have rarely put into practice. Obscura was closed when we got there and I was sad. Although open on Mondays they just weren’t, perhaps we were too early; I don’t know. We then wandered over to a rather splendid place where I buy a lot of my clothes, D. L. Cerney. I go way back with these folks who used to have a store on 7th Street, near McSorley’s pub.

D.L. Cerney has a line of clothing which hews to vintage design, somewhat modified, made with classic and even occasionally vintage fabrics and buttons. All are produced here in New York state and are extraordinarily well-made. Back in the early days they had a small line of actual vintage clothing and I fondly remember purchasing a pair of man’s oxfords I wore to shreds over a number of years, a lovely cotton shirt, a women’s suit made of mohair which, however, turned out to be extremely warm for my then office. They lived in memory. I stumbled across their new digs at 324 East 9th Street when returning to a vintage clothing store that briefly had residence there.

Upon my rediscovery of D. L. Cerney, I have purchased a number of pairs of men’s trousers and some lovely cotton shirts, among other things. I live in these trousers (which have heavenly deep, deep pockets – you boys are so lucky!) and wore my first pair almost every day of that snowy trip to London last year. (A bit of a tangent here. It turns out that our, brilliant, photographer at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Frank Stewart, dresses pretty much exclusively there as well. Sometimes Frank and I are twins, especially when traveling with the orchestra. The story of that snowy London trip with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra starts with a post found here.) I can only say, if you like such things, do not walk, but run to this store. I am heavily invested in keeping them in business, which sometimes it appears I am attempting to do single-handedly with my purchases.

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Photo of D.L. Cerney’s store at 324 East 9th Street, taken last spring

 

I hadn’t really meant to hold Kim hostage while I tried on clothes, but he had a book and got into a conversation with the woman who I believe is one of the owners. I was in the middle of purchasing a vest (men’s style but sized for a woman, vintage buttons, a bit neo-Annie Hall, but I decided no time like my birthday to buy my first ever vest, oddly never owned one before) when my phone exploded with texts and calls from the office. A certain beloved and well-known and generally beloved boss needed information for a meeting that was occurring in the next twenty minutes. Such is my life these days and, while still wearing the yet-to-be purchased clothing (vest and a nice pair of gray trousers too) I did my best to remedy the situation, but admittedly felt a bit peevish as such information had previously been offered and deemed unnecessary – ahem.

It was late afternoon by the time I extricated myself from work and purchased a pile of clothing. We took ourselves over to a favorite hole-in-the-wall, B&H Dairy, for a hot and restorative lunch of potato perogies, burger for Kim, soup and hot coffee.

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B&H Dairy, East Village, NY, February 11, 2019

 

Fed and considerably buoyed by the hot food, we headed home. Immediately upon arrival I went to find my plastic cat so he didn’t get lost and could achieve a place of pride somewhere in the Pictorama universe. We were devastated to discover he had not made it into the bag! Such a tiny fellow – I should have pocketed him immediately after purchase. A bit chastened, I curled up on the couch to watch TCM and consider the gravity of my 55 years when my phone rang. It was, again, the assistant to my fearless leader and I figured I would at least get the report on how his meeting went. Instead, a piano played a jazzy version of Happy Birthday which made me laugh and laugh. It would of course be impossible to stay cross with such a person!

So now you are wondering how I show you this fine, tiny white cat – and his buddy the pig. We had a Day Three, birthday re-do last week and achieved the purchase this time – and a trip to Obscura Antiques and Oddities. All this and a trip to a wonderful toy store in Chelsea and many purchases there still yet to come in what appears could be the better part of a month of post-birthday related Pictorama.

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