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.

 

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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.

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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.