Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I type I pause to consider if today’s post was a Pictorama Toy post or not, because while I think of this little fellow as a toy, he isn’t. He is a sweet little practical item from a time more or less gone by days – a sewing pin cushion and tape measure. Now, I admit it is hard to imagine sticking pins in this fella (making him perhaps more hedgehog than kitty), but he would be very cheerful and perky to perch on your sewing table or to find in your sewing basket. When grasped you can hear the crunch of his kapok or sawdust filling (aren’t pin cushions filled with something to sharpen the pins though?), his eyes are glass and his cheerful red tongue can be pulled out for a tape measure. (I cannot not display this as it no longer can be made to retract.) He has a tag on his tummy, but any manufacture information printed on it has long faded away. I like his red plastic collar which has remained firmly in place.
I have already opined previously on my inability to sew. (That post which features another pin cushion cat can be found here.) My maternal grandmother didn’t sew a lot, however she did have a sewing basket which I now only remember as round and I believe covered in fabric, although most I see from the same period are wicker so perhaps my memory is flawed. As a child the magic of the sewing box was all about the rare occasion of when it was opened and I could peer into the interesting bits and pieces inside. Sewing baskets make tremendous sense, housing all those sewing necessities in one place so that one can quickly get down to the task at hand. However, as I do it so seldom I seem to be loathe to spare the shelf or table space and instead have to scramble each and every time I sew a button on.
The pleasant jumble inside this sewing box reminds me at least a little of my grandmother’s.
Crammed inside there were scraps of fabric, thread of course and fascinating tools whose use I had no idea of – nor have I necessarily learned about them since. The exception was the shiny coin-like needle threaders which always interested me – so bright and tempting! They are an exception because I eventually learned to use one and ultimately became utterly dependent on them for threading needles, especially as I get older and my eyes get more frustrated with the difficulty of this task. Wikipedia tells me that these have been around since the late 18th or early 19th century and that a head of a woman is generally stamped on them, which is how I think of them. I show the classic version as I know it below. Genius!
Additionally, I am familiar with this model below of porcelain doll as sewing kit although I cannot remember who used one. Perhaps my father’s mother who sewed less than my other grandmother, but I have a very specific tactile memory of these. I think I was very small and slightly afraid of it.
If I had discovered this little kitty along the way I don’t think anyone could have stopped me from nabbing him for my own. As it was, he was one of my very first black cat purchases from a now defunct antiques annex in Red Bank, New Jersey. He sits proudly among the other black cats where to my knowledge no one remarks on his utilitarian beginnings.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photograph was one of those mercurial finds online. I stumbled on it and snatched it up immediately. When it arrived and I was stunned to find that it is in almost pristine condition. Written in pencil (twice) on the back is Jean Arthur, the Culver Photo Research Service logo (a snappy one with their address and phone is a part of it phone VAnderbilt 3-3372, 51 E 42nd St NYC). In addition it is stamped, Reproduction of this PHOTOGRAPH must carry our credit line. This picture is loaned for one reproduction only and must not be sold, loaned or syndicated. Must not be used for advertising without written permission. It also bears the inscription, Permission is hereby granted for use of this photograph in Magazines and News papers. Credit to PARAMOUNT PICTURES will be appreciated. Photograph by Gene Robert Richee.
Kim has calculated this photo for about 1924-25. In a book he has a photo of Jean in ’25 with her hair bobbed however so this is presumably earlier than that photo. We cannot actually find her linked to a Paramount film in that timeframe so if you all have information let us know. Of course for me this splendid black cat on her lap is what makes the photo. A charming Jean is instructing stuffed kitty in the ways of the radio microphone. He seems like a sprightly fellow with this nice big bow. Although there was a popular Stieff model of this sort at the time, I don’t believe that is his pedigree.
Eugene Robert (E.R.) Richee (1896-1972) was a Paramount portrait photographer although online references disagree on the years he was there. (One states he worked there from 1925-1935 which would date this photo better, but another states that he started there in the late teens.) He is best known and most closely associated with well recognized photos of Marlene Dietrich and Louise Brooks, among others. He moved to Warner Brothers and worked there and for MGM later. Jean is listed among the stars he photographed at Warner Brothers as well. Some stars demanded him for their photos and one site quoted that Miriam Hopkins was being difficult from the moment she arrived, because Richee was not there. His style seems to morph from this sort of studio shot to silvered exquisiteness that epitomize a certain kind of early 20th century retouched perfection in photographs. I prefer the slightly kooky and offbeat charm of these earlier efforts.
As mentioned, Jean’s kitty appears to be of what I think of as a generic good luck black cat type, as opposed let’s say to a nice Felix, or even an Aesop Fable doll (see my post of Jane Withers in Van Bueren’s Aesop Fables – the Toys! ) which I am always on the prowl for. These black cats proliferated in the early 20th century, as did other “lucky” black cat items. (A whole lot of those are on display in my post Lucky Black Cat among others.) This toy is strikingly similar to the one held by the little girl in my post Altar of the Black Kitty and as a toy collector, of course I must add that I wouldn’t mind having such a nice fellow in the Pictorama collection, fluffy tail and all, sometime soon. I share a photo of an early favorite from my collection from another post, which I believe hails from the same general family, yet a bit different.