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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Krazy Cat & Celebration

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo turned up under a poor listing on eBay and I snatched it up before anyone else spied it. After all, who wouldn’t want this photo of this jolly grinning fellow, clutching archetypal straw hat, flowers and Krazy Kat? I will go out on a limb and speculate that he was a courtin’ and the flowers and Krazy were an offering to his beloved. And really, who wouldn’t be wooed and wowed by that? That toy cat would go a long way to winning me, let alone the flowers and the dapper appearance. According to the back of the photo this is Harry Smith and he is in Augusta, Ga. He’s quite the sport with his hat, sunglasses, clearly parted hair and offerings. No date, but we can make some assumptions about it being the 1920’s from his togs and that great Krazy Kat toy.

Here at Pictorama a year of birthday and Valentine’s Day have just passed. Having a birthday a few days before Valentine’s Day meant a childhood of Valentine decorations at my parties which was always cheerful – however as an adult the bright red and shiny cupids and hearts remind me more of a houseful of kids charged with birthday cake and chocolate than love and romance, the two will always be intertwined.

My father was the first man in my life to meet this double celebratory challenge gallantly. He always had a little something special for us kids for Valentine’s Day, despite it being days after my birthday which had been appropriately celebrated. Heart shaped boxes of candy, a silver heart-shaped keychain one year which I used for a very long time after. (And I’m still a total sucker for those boxes of Russell Stover chocolates which are the taste of my childhood Valentines. I just bestowed an extra large one on my office. The Easter baskets and candy have the same effect on me.) February in the Northeast tends to be a cold, snowy and somewhat miserable month, so the additional festivities make it a bit more cheerful to get through.

My sister Loren put her stamp on my birthday in adulthood by insisting on calling me at an ungodly early hour, claiming that she needed to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday. On another occasion she declared that my birthday should be a day off from work and we spent the day together. I acquired tickets to the live butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, which was brand new at the time. However, Loren had not told me she was afraid of butterflies until we were there and they were landing all over us! (She said she hadn’t wanted to disappoint me.)

After Loren died and birthdays suddenly became difficult, I instituted the Aquarian month of dinners and lunches to cheer the month up. I totted up all my fellow Aquarians and invited each one to get together for dinner, or lunch failing dinner availability. It cut an interesting and somewhat random path through friends and acquaintances, and time spent with friends is always a good way to focus one’s energy for a year ahead. The participants have waxed and waned over the years with only two original invitees still in the mix – over a dozen years folks moved away, some elderly ones died. I haven’t added anyone in a few years, although I just found out that someone at work is a candidate, a late January birthday that just slides into the Aquarius fold.

In addition, I am lucky that I have Kim, the best husband ever, who always makes my birthday and Valentine’s Day very special – we spend a day (or more!) near my birthday devoted to digging around in antique toy stores and the sort of dusty haunts that result in the purchase of interesting photos and strange odd bits. And of course he tops himself each February with his Valentine’s Day drawing. (Actually this production starts in January annually as it has grown more elaborate. For anyone who is a new to Pictorama a few of these can be seen herehere, and this year’s here.)

Kim actually did in fact also give me my very own Krazy Kat toy (this same Averill version as Harry Smith clutches here) on my birthday years ago, which is a story for its own post one day. This year’s birthday adventure and acquisitions, some great toys and photos, will also be upcoming as well in a series of future posts. In fact, I will finish this post up so Kim and I can get ready to go out. There was a store which defied us by closing unexpectedly last week. Let’s see what can be found there today. I will be sure to let you know.

 

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.