Belated

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As is sometimes the case, a birthday post has been nudged forward by the great Deitch Valentine reveal. My birthday comes right before that holiday and has a way of getting mashed up with it. As Pictorama readers know, my idea of a birthday celebration in the before time was for Kim and I to spend the day poking around an antique toy store here in Manhattan, and checking in at a few places I would happily classify as junk stores and then grabbing lunch. (Past birthday posts can be found here and here and always resulted in a pleasant acquisition of stuff.) Covid times do not allow for that and I wonder what merchants of that kind will still be with us when we get to the other side, as well as restaurants.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Kim gave me this rather splendid ancient Halloween toy which I found at auction and is the first of its kind to enter my collection. His head is paper mache and his body is a woolly felt. His red ruff is a bit of silk and he is perched on a wooden handle. He can be moved gently like a puppet and I think he would have been a jolly addition for a child celebrating the holiday and is the right size for that. Unwrapping it in the morning, along with some birthday cards (yes, I still send them via the mail and receive a few in turn) launched the day nicely.

I was born in a snow storm. My mom often tells the story of her decision to go to the hospital as soon as she sensed it might be the day and having a look at the weather forecast. (We Wheeling women are planners!) It was a good decision because the snow piled up rapidly and by the time I was born in the late afternoon, the New Jersey town of her own birth and where they were staying with her parents, was under a deep blanket of snow.

My father brought her a large box of Valentine’s Day chocolates. (Dad always brought us boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day – Whitman Samplers and puffy heart shaped boxes of Russell Stover ones.) As the story goes, the long-standing family doc visited her in the evening (he had not delivered me, an obstetrician had) and sat on the edge of her bed and ate his way through the entire box of chocolates! Much to my father’s surprise when he showed up, the empty box remained and he gave his wife a sideways look (it would have been quite an accomplishment after giving birth only hours before) until she realized and let him in on the demise of the candy.

Carl Schurz Park in the snow the day after my birthday.

Having a mid-February birthday has meant a regular routine of canceled or rescheduled plans over the decades. I won’t say there is snow on the ground for everyone of my birthdays, but several major snowstorms stick out in my mind including one where I stubbornly went down to the East Village to meet someone and incredibly found myself in drifts of unshoveled snow waist deep. A few years later, there was a weekend trip with a then boyfriend that sadly had to be canceled, but instead he booked us into a wonderful old-fashioned hotel in midtown where we watched the snow pile up around us.

Snowy February view from our apartment.

To be honest, I find birthdays a bit overwhelming. When I turned 21 I decided to take matters in my own hands; I invited a friend to join me and I concocted a worthy day of celebration. Once I had a job, my sister insisted that I take the day off from work and to reinforce the idea Loren also took the day and we spent it together a few times. The first time we visited the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (it was endearing to me that she went despite the fact that later I found out that they actually freaked her out) and had lunch together. Loren also had the habit of calling me at the crack of dawn on my birthday, stating that she wished to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday. (A good friend of hers keeps the practice via text and email rather than phone at 5:30 or 6:00 – although the day at Deitch Studio is already well underway by then these days.) I still miss it every birthday.

Many years ago I founded the practice of a series of dinners with friends and colleagues who also had February birthdays throughout the month, a birthday club of sort that embraced people from all aspects of my life. Sadly in recent years it has whittled down to just a few (fellow Aquarians, feel free to speak up!) and of course this year bringing all more or less to a halt. Covid combined with piles of snow! Still, I look forward to catching up with those folks annually and have the space to just relax and check in with each other.

Eileen Travell at a birthday dinner last year.

Somehow even my game of pretending outdoor eating is like being on an Arctic expedition couldn’t meet the challenge of the weather for outdoor dining this year. (My last outdoor meal was at the end of December and there was snow piled on the ground already. We sat under heaters and were offered blankets sealed in bags. My layers and boots combined with the consumption of a hot toddy and hot soup kept it festive for a bit more than an hour before we decided we were done.) My birthday week the restaurants were largely in agreement with me and weren’t even trying as they dug out from what the snow plows dumped in their al fresco dining areas. I think I will bring my own polar fleece blanket if I tried again before spring.

This year I did however take the day off from work and despite being home I really came as close as I have since last March to unplugging. My office was very thoughtful and flowers arrived from one faction and a lovely bag of cheese and treats from another. I purchased a new chair for work as I have been perching on a very worn one sans arms and my back has been in violent protest. (My trainer, Harris Cowan, told me that no arms on the chair was a big no no as he tried to get me to stretch my way out of the lower back pain.) While I had intended to buy it for myself for my birthday my mother stepped in and made it a birthday gift from her. Several days prior to my birthday it arrived and Kim and I put it together which, while challenging, we managed handily.

Cookie in full possession of the new office chair earlier today.

I deeply suspect that buying a desk chair is a bit like buying a new mattress – it can be a very expensive mistake and it is hard on the face of it to judge how spending hours in it is really going to work out. Going to office supply stores to try them out seemed out of the question under the circumstances, nor do I think you can really tell what it will be like to sit in something for hours on end by just sitting down in it. It is a decision you are going to live with and therefore somewhat intimidating to make. I researched them online (there were none without complaints, but I decided on which things I thought I could live with if true), decided on a medium sort of price range (they quickly go from inexpensive to more than a thousand dollars), and picked one. Sadly, I was told about four days later that the chosen one was no longer in stock and I went with my second choice.

Cookie on the former chair favorite, now a lesser perch.

Although I am still adjusting things around it (table height of the drafting table I use as a desk still isn’t right) it was a fine choice. The cats fight me for it daily in fact (they adore it) and as I write this at our “big” computer (I work on a laptop during the week) Cookie is curled up in it. She has been asleep in it since last night and she has one eye half open staring at me wondering if I am going to take it away from her. She and Blackie go to war over it almost daily – war hoops and boxing over the right to claim it. In general I would say Cookie has the edge in the amount of time she spends in it – she is very determined. When shutout Blackie goes back to sleeping on the bed, Cookie often to the chair I am sitting in now – which used to be the chair of cat choice. When Cookie and Blackie allow, I sit in it for upwards of ten hours a day and I am very glad for the arms in particular – especially when work requires I be on camera for long periods of time.

In the spirit of birthday, I also purchased myself the pin below. Last year I had purchased an old school medal which declared, Improvement in this very different year I bought this one with hearts from Great Britain which instead offers Best Wishes. (This purchased from an Instagram seller I am very fond of following, @fiorisfinds. Hey Marco! Thank you!) Nice to give myself encouragement where I can.

I have not resigned myself to the idea that I won’t still figure out a birthday meal of sorts with at least one determined friend, and perhaps at least a call or a Zoom call with another. A few of the elderly ones will have to suffice with cards and emails this year. When the weather warms up even a smidge I will see if Kim and I can’t get out of the apartment for a day in another part of town – everything outside of the immediate environs of Yorkville feels exotic these days. And when we do, I promise to tell you all about it.

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.

IMG_1647

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.

cat collage page

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

20170225-00010-copy

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.

20190224-00002.jpg

20181020-00004

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!

IMG_1634.jpg

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.

IMG_1601

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.

IMG_1613.jpg

IMG_1621

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.)

IMG_1624.jpg

IMG_1612.jpg

IMG_1614

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.

IMG_0803.jpg

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.

IMG_7380.JPG

IMG_4882

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.

IMG_1623.jpg

 

 

 

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.

 

Peggy and Ruth

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I just found this photo, purchased a little over a year ago. Somehow it has been overlooked, but today seems like the right day for it finally. For many of us this past week was smacked with a weather front we now refer to as a polar vortex. While it plunged our compatriots in the midwest into negative double digit weather, closing offices and schools and terribly even killing a number of people, here in New York it was just very, very cold, requiring many more layers of clothes than we wanted to wear and waddling like down covered penguins as a result.

In the midst of it we experienced something called a snow squall, which I admittedly liked the name of very much, but the experience of a bit less. I saw it from a conference room at work, overlooking the south end of Columbus Circle and within view of the southwest most corner of Central Park. We could barely see out the window and the wind was so bad it snowed upward! For a little more than an hour it poured snow and pounded Manhattan. Visions of pioneers struggling through sudden deadly storms came to mind, although we remained safe in our office tower perch. It resulted in a sheet of ice covering all the sidewalks which somehow the denizens of buildings responsible for snow removal didn’t see fit to address.

Of course my relationship to bad weather was quite different as a child, as I am guessing is true for at least most of us who experience childhood in the suburbs. For me, childhood hurricanes brought floods caused by the nearby river and had a holiday effect, a cause for excitement as water rushed around the house and under the floors, chilling them, ducks quacking at the backdoor. (I think about that now and how my mother was often home alone with us, three small children, when it happened – Dad off at work in New York or traveling as often as not. Mom was and remains, one tough cookie.)

Snow was of course the best because it resulted not only in a day off from school, but in ice skating (that same river flowed into smaller tributaries that froze solid) and sledding. Now, before I create an image of a sylvan childhood of Rockwell-like jolliness, I will state that as a child the meteorological conditions seemed to rarely result in weather that both closed school and was prolonged enough and appropriate for skating and/or sledding. It seemed to be something you were always waiting for that rarely occurred – making it all the better when it did.

Born in February blizzard, I have experienced many snowy birthdays. I will not opine on them right now, but frequently canceled birthday plans created a love-hate relationship with the white stuff. However, I do remember getting a new sled for, I believe, my eleventh birthday, and even without snow on the ground that year it remains a splendid gift that lives in memory.

While this photo was taken twenty-one years before I popped onto the scene, it could very easily been me and my sister Loren, and our cat Snoopy. We owned this very type sled and peaked caps, just like Peggy and Ruth. Snoopy was white with black cow spots, instead of this nice tabby type, and I believe Loren and I at 19 months between us, were closer in age than Peggy and Ruth appear to be. (A nod to Edward who would have shown up on the scene later in the game.) I have trouble imagining a photo of us this angelically posed – I believe most of the snow photos of Loren and I have us fighting, appropriately enough. Still, I purchased it thinking of us.

Unsurprisingly, at the moment the long-range forecast has precipitation predicted for my February 11 birthday. Last year it was a torrential, icy rain – none of the jolliness of snow I am afraid. I am working next weekend, but taking my birthday off to enjoy with Kim and cats here, snow or not, at Deitch Studio.

 

This Little Piggy

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: More toys today as the birthday bonanza continues and today is the second of several posts devoted to the subject.

I believe I have mentioned that it is our habit to spend the day on or near my birthday just me and Kim poking around some haunts I have found or we haven’t been to in awhile. This year my birthday fell conveniently on a Sunday. Having said that, it was a torrential, monsoon-like downpour the entire day. Nonetheless, we put on our boots and our storm coats and headed downtown. I had a line on a toy seller who I had attempted to hunt down in midtown (he was closed the day I went), but I had subsequently moved to Chelsea – and now we discover sadly there is only a single building housing a number of vendors. This shop is called simply The Antique Toy Shop New York (theantiquetoyshop-new york is the link) which does make it turn up conveniently in internet searches on the subject.

We hadn’t been to this area in Chelsea in a long time and did not realized that the garage weekend market, where we had spent numerous happy hours, is now gone, along with the building full of vendors next to it. (Kim and I can both remember when in addition to these there were two huge lots on 26th and 27th, now the site of enormous high rise buildings, were the weekend playground of those of us who like to pick through piles of old and ancient stuff.) So it was a sobering start to the day and as the rain grew ever harder Kim and I dashed east into the building on the south side of 25th Street, me no longer feeling confident about our mission. We wandered the aisles, dripping, poking our heads into various dealers enclaves, pausing briefly to dally in a rather fabulous space devoted to wind-up phonographs, old radios and a single ancient tv which showed an image. While we have been tempted to purchase a portable wind-up player for 78’s in the past, and they had a beaut, it is not a current focus (where would we put it?) and after enjoying the atmosphere and music for a bit we pushed on.

At last, on the landing heading up to the second floor, I saw a case with a few toys and I knew we were finally hot on the trail! Indeed, above and right near the staircase was a tiny space, packed tight with toys and a man taking photos of large gauge metal vehicles on the floor. The proprietor, Jean-Pol Ventugol, welcomed us in we squeezed our soaked selves into his space. I placed my bag on the floor, the better to maneuver in the pleasantly cramped space – chock-a-block full of glorious toys – but even my coat was catching on precious toys.

Perhaps luckily for me, it wasn’t a cat bonanza or we could have broken the bank quickly as his prices, definitely fair, were not bargain basement and he is stocked with fine, high-end items. There were numerous toys that I had never seen that appealed to my broad collecting taste which were not cats however. Among them two especially attractive Steiff dogs and two fine examples of French growlers – which for those of you not in the know are large paper mache bulldogs ,complete with raffia ruffs, which open and close their mouths and, well, growl. (I have wanted one for a very long time, and I will find mine one day I am sure.)

Mr. Ventugol warmed to the subject as I asked questions about various toys and asked to see several as I made up my mind. As we got into toys a bit and he understood my predilections showed us this a really splendid early French game, bad photo of it below, which is ancient, but electric and the cats and witch’s eyes light up when you hit the witch with a small ball! Amazing!

early cat game

Early French Mere Michel game, not in Pictorama collection – yet anyway!

 

There was also an early Snow White top, the kind where you pump it to make it spin, which Kim was deeply enamored of. For me, taking wallet and desire into consideration, it came down to a celluloid wind-up Bonzo I have been chasing at auction for awhile, or this rather excellent, wind-up pig below. In the end, Bonzo’s fragility terrified me. (Pictorama readers know of my Fear of Celluloid despite some indulgences in that area such as my extraodinary Happy Life Toy – a truly beloved possession!)

This sturdy Schuco toy I settled on is a somewhat surprising choice – although his sheer heft and excellent condition is a joy. (His tiny but solid and nicely marked Schuco key winds him up.) However, it was his movement that got me in the end. I am a sucker for wind-up toys with great movement and he is a joy when he fiddles! He is an early version of one of the Three Little Pigs, which was ultimately produced again and again in lesser versions. He is, I believe, from the first trio, I assume made shortly after the Disney cartoon shot them into fame in 1933. I show a photo from the internet of all three with their boxes.

8437647_1

All 3 Little Pigs, not in Pictorama collection

 

Oddly, I realized as I prepared to write this that a number of years ago, five or six I think, I purchased another wind-up pig on my birthday. (What does this unconscious tradition say about me I wonder?) I procured this little porcine fellow, below, online from a dealer on the Ruby Lane website. I put together a birthday buy with some other tin toys, but this fellow was best of the group. He has no markings and he is a bit loose in his joints, but I just love the little cane he carries and his jaunty hat perched atop of his head!

windup pig 2

Unmarked wind-up pig, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

So, as we leave this post, I purchase this fine fiddle playing fellow, and have of course pledged to return to The Antique Toy Shop another day. Bonzo awaits  perhaps, as do I hope many other, yet undiscovered toys. Thank you Jean-Paul!

Here are short videos of both in motion! Schuco Pig, Pams-Pictorama.com Collection and Pams-Pictorama.com Wind-up Pig 2.

A Happy Birthday to Me

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I stole the image here today – he is not in the Pictorama collection, but he seemed to want to wish me a Happy Birthday. It was used for this purpose and sent to someone named Marjorie on August 21 of 1907, sent from Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie Janet, Uncle Allen, Beaumont & I, and signed by Auntie Marion.

Today I draft this post this poised on the threshold of my birthday (for the record, perched also on the edge of a computer chair also, which I am sharing with a less than cooperative kitty who believes he owns it, Mr. Blackie). As I stare down the barrel of the coming year, it is a time I take stock and figure out how I might pull my socks up a bit in the coming year. Like many people I am in fact ambivalent about my birthday, getting older is not all that entertaining after a certain age and being reminded of your mortality more sobering than celebratory certainly. My approach to it is tackling it two-fold – planned celebration and a hard look at the year ahead and behind.

I remember when this approach to birthdays began to formulate. On my 21st birthday I suddenly found I was daunted by the prospect of my birthday for the first time – I had crossed that line between looking forward to the annual march toward adulthood to suddenly realizing I was there, but had no idea where I was going. I was living in London on a year abroad program in college. I had a perfectly splendid time living there, finally realizing that many possibilities were open to me – I could decide to live in an exciting city rather than a small town, and the world was a big place to explore with many possibilities. However, when my birthday arrived on a cold damp day in February (which in all fairness it always is – in New York there is often a foot of snow on the ground and I have canceled endless birthday plans around the weather) I was suddenly overwhelmed and realized that I was far from home and those who loved me. Adulthood was upon my and I had no idea what I was suppose to do with it.

Deciding not to be beaten by the day I attacked it. I kicked it off by walking into the upscale hair dresser of one of my wealthier roommates used and had my shoulder length hair clipped into the shortest of boy bobs. (We had a barely functioning shower in our flat, and I had been considering this for a month or so since moving into this new place, and washing my hair with the meagre hot water was nearly impossible. Kim has clearly expressed a preference for my hair long and I anticipate his shiver of dismay when he reads this.) I called a good friend, Don Bay, and threw myself on his mercy and asked him to take me out. I then went to a favorite antique and junk store located on the King’s Road and purchased a flowered silk dress, cut on the bias, from the 1920’s; a black wool jacket with houndstooth trim; an Egyptian influenced necklace – probably also circa the 1920’s, and a tea pot in its own metal warming sleeve. To me it looked pleasantly like a space ship. I loved that tea pot. The spout chipped, but I never had the heart to throw it out and still have it.

I dolled myself up in my purchases (sans teapot, of course) and Don took me to dinner at a Greek restaurant – somewhat shocked as everyone would be for weeks by the newly shorn hair. We had a long night on the town and I remember coming home very late and calling my mom. I have always spoken with my mother on my birthday figuring she is the only other person to have witnessed them all – and I had not been able to do earlier in the day. The operator, very British, chided me for calling New Jersey at such an ungodly hour – how funny! I can’t imagine an American operator doing that. Mom didn’t care; she was glad to hear from me and we talked a long time.

Meanwhile, my sister Loren had the ritual of calling and waking me up on my birthday which started when she left for college – in order to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday she would say. She announced one year that I should take my birthday off from work as celebration and she agreed to take the day with me. At my behest we went to the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History – it may have been the year of its inception. I had a strong yen to see it and it seemed like the perfect pre-lunch activity for us. What I didn’t realize was that she was actually somewhat horrified by the butterflies which, in a rather insistent way, kept landing on us to gently suck the salt off our skin. Surprising to me because she was not squeamish about many things, but I always loved her for not wanting to spoil my fun and gamely taking the butterflies on.

Sadly, it has been more than a dozen years since Loren died and at first birthdays were an almost unbearable reminder. I still miss the morning calls, but friends have piled in to fill the void in various ways. I have continued the tradition of a day devoted to myself and my endeavors – this year Kim and I have a day of adventure planned poking around some junk stores and bookstores. (In the rain, not snow this year.) In addition to a day to myself, about the same time I also instituted dinner or lunch with my fellow Aquarians, spaced throughout the month, which stretches the birthday spirit out and ensures I see people I don’t always get much time with. Dinner with Eileen (where we also have our fortunes told annually) is on Monday night. Lunch with Ada, who is in her 80’s, is next week at the Met. Whitney was at the end of January to accommodate increasingly difficult schedules to juggle. New Aquarians await meeting and are always welcome to join the club.

Meanwhile, having devoted the past ten months to a new job, I have my work cut out for me in the coming twelve months – and I suspect that it will provide all the adventure I could ask for at the moment, including a trip to London at the end of the month. As I finish this post, it is my actual birthday. A large box containing a rather extraordinary toy (future post) which arrived from Belgium in January, awaits my opening, and the day with Kim stretches ahead like a glowing like a gem, despite the downpour. I am a lucky girl indeed and it is a very happy birthday already I think.