Flummoxed by Felix

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I am taking a detour today from my discourse on my London loot and circling back to these fascinating Felix-es I purchased on eBay shortly before my trip. I have labeled this a toy post, but honestly, I have no idea what purpose these served so they may indeed not have been proper toys. However, when I saw them I had to have them and here we are now, on a bright if chilly St. Patrick’s Day morning in New York City, coffee in hand, contemplating them.

For once I believe I really did understand the tiny scale of these pre-purchase – no bigger than a quarter. Of course they came from Great Britain (they call it Great for a reason said the Felix collector) which is still the El Dorado of early Felix items, despite my recent disappointing foray. They are made of wood and appear to have been commercially produced – this wasn’t a pattern in a magazine or someone’s one-of-a-kind. The tiny Felix arm (paw?) on one has broken off. The scale is a tad wonky with the hands a bit enlarged. The bottoms are even and they stand up easily on their own, edges sharp. If they are pieces to a game, the most likely thought – I want it!  Surely they would be considered a choking hazard for small children today – and really, who could blame a small child for wanting to give these an experimental chew? I am sure Cookie and Blackie would give them a gnaw if I allowed it.

Here we are in paragraph 3 and I sort of assume it goes without saying that I have never seen the likes these before. My best guess is that they were markers for some sort of game played by grown ups – like a Bingo variation of some kind. My imagination races – were there Felix game boards or cards? How many variations on Felix are there and, most of all of course, will I ever find the rest of it? These are the most pleasant sort of mysteries of life – small and fascinating hints dropped in my way, leading me on a jolly, if long and winding, path of toy discovery.

Along these lines, I share a photograph I found online recently – it is the box for the Felix game I wrote about recently in my post Chocolate Felix. Just going to show, pieces of the toy puzzle do continue to turn up.

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Foxy Squirrel?

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Al the Squirrel Aesop Fable doll from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictoram Toy Post: Oh joy and bliss! My first of several post-birthday posts is devoted to this utterly magnificent birthday gift from Kim, the most unusual of the Aesop Fable dolls in some ways. This toy came to me via a lovely toy dealer in Belgium, Regine Beghin, who has been the source of several holiday and birthday acquisitions in recent years. I will hope that my travels eventually land me nearby so I can say hello in person one day. (That does of course have the potential to be a very expensive trip indeed.)

Unlike his brethren, this is the only one of the dolls I know of with a very different body type, a strangely long skinny neck and puffy tail. As seen in this publicity photo below, the others are largely interchangeable bodies, different heads, clothes and expressions. So now comes the big question – what animal exactly does my new friend portray and what is his name? Looking at my prior research, presented in my post Mine, all mine…at long last – a personal favorite post – I listed the names for those characters as identified on the back of the photo, but realize this fellow remained nameless!

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Photo from the Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Google remains stubbornly inadequate on information about these Aesop Fable toys. In fact, it has gotten to where Google images on the subject are mostly my toys and posts! I reached out, deep into the toy network, and tapped a friend who I consider the Kingpin of Toy Lore. Mel agreed that he had always thought this was a fox (Max Fox perhaps?), but in examining the Aesop Fable hankies book – he owns his own copy, but some of you know this was recently the subject of some covetousness on eBay by yours truly – all the characters are laid out and identified. It would appear, as shown below, that this fellow isn’t a fox (or a wolf) after all – he is evidently Al Squirrel! (This and some much more can be seen at melbirnkrant.com.)

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Collection of Mel Birnkrant – melbirnkrant.com

 

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Collection of Mel Birnkrant – melbirnkrant.com

 

I must say, on the face of it a squirrel seems like a strange animal to attempt immortalized as a cartoon character. I kind of like the fact that they gave him such a straightforward name – Al. Upon reflection, perhaps a wolf or a fox carries negative cartoon connotations. (Think Three Little Pigs for starters.) Squirrels, on the other hand, are industrious, hard working little fellows. I suppose more likable – although the image above is anything but, holding a dead rabbit and a ditty about shooting a bee. Hmmm. Bottom, line, he is clearly a bit of a stretch aesthetically – more foxy than squirrelly  however.

I will note that this little fellow of mine seems to have replacement eyes (as above all of the dolls with open eyes have flat black pasted on ones, mostly but not all pie-eyed) and as a toy collector I should care about that, but his eyes are very fitting and I admit to liking them very much despite being later replacements. Otherwise his is in very good shape overall.

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Detail, Al the Squirrel Aesop Fable doll, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

In the process of writing this post I realized something else – in the above photo the Countess, the character at the far right, has different feet than all the others. I own two (yes, two – for the most recent acquisition see the post about that variation on a theme Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) Countess dolls and neither has those strange feet. Additionally, in what I now think of as true Aesop Fable tradition, my friend mentioned above also noted that his “hankie book” had a different cover than the one on eBay.

Finally, to muddy the waters further, below I share a photo of a partial doll I have, given to me by my friend Zach Sigall a few years ago. This was clearly another variation on the Wolf, Fox, Squirrel figure and is substantially different than our friend Al. Although his tail is missing, he doesn’t have the skinny neck and there’s no indication he had the fat tail. Unlike the other dolls his eyes are painted on and could not come off at all – other dolls seem to have eyes that are very firmly attached, but applied on. If we are using the hankie book as a reference or guide this fellow does not seem to have a match – perhaps there is a Max Fox after all.

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Mystery doll fragment, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

I remain totally enthralled and fascinated by what appears to be the mix and match mysterious nature of this enterprise. I cannot help but wonder if, like the East End shop I wrote about that churned out many of the more off-model Felix toys I enjoy today, this was not also a fairly small company that just randomly combined pieces to assemble these toys. Meanwhile, as for me, that means that I can dream about there being almost endless variation on each of these toys I can hope to some day find!

Big Band Valentine

Pam’s Pictorama Bonus Post: Happy Valentine’s Day! Those of you who have known us for a bit know that it is an annual tradition here at Deitch Studio that a very special Valentine is produced each year in honor of the combined Valentine’s Day and Queen of Catland (my) birthday – as recently noted in Sunday’s post A Happy Birthday to Me. It has grown into a several week project – the conceiving of which often germinates weeks, if not months. in advance.

This year Kim has outdone himself with this rendition of the Jazz at Lincoln Center band, all as anthropomorphic cats of course, each one nodding to the actual gentleman who owns that seat in the orchestra. I don’t know how Wynton, Carlos, Sherman, Walter , Marcus and the rest will ultimately feel about their cat edition selves, but I hope they love them as much as I do! Kim and I are in our garb from the upcoming Reincarnation Stories book and I especially like what I call my Queen of Catland regalia. We are of course at the soon-to-be famous toy cat museum, of which I am the proprietress, featured in the latter pages of the same story. Kim is busy with the appendix of that book now which means it is slowly crossing the finish line!

The great rendition of a Feed the Kitty is on the floor – more a nod to my fundraising responsibilities than anything else. Kim also made the drawing below at my request recently. I will imagine the money and see it – and it will come!

Wonderful Waldo

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This simply amazing item comes via Facebook friend Roy Conolly appearing unexpectedly in the mail the other day. I am stunned by the Waldo wonderfulness of it in numerous ways – the first being that it is a crocheted doll that looks like Waldo! Amazing! How fabulous, thoughtful and most of all impressively clever it is for someone to have done. I freely admit that I come at it from the perspective of someone who has tried, but is utterly incapable of effectively knitting or crocheting a stitch. People have tried to teach me over the years, but to say I am all thumbs would be a true understatement. It is just a path that my eyes and hands cannot or will not merge into a coherent methodology.

Awhile back I wrote about the existence of pattern kits for the knitting of large Felix the cat dolls in my post Homemade Mickey where also I opine on my lack of ability in this area. While our crocheted friend is a somewhat less enormous project, he was of course conceived of without the benefit of a pattern, making it impressive indeed. In my mind he possesses a lovely similarity to the very first Felix I ever purchased at a flea market in London. (Shown below.) I believe this Felix was a prize to be won at a fair – for winning at knockdown dolls or something similar. Our new Waldo doll hails from that part of the world as well and I like the implied symmetry. Roy tells me that his friend Nita made it so I am giving a shout out to her as well. Yay Nita! Yay Roy! Thank you so much!

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My first Felix, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

To my knowledge, this crocheted fellow brings the total of three-dimensional Waldo renditions in the world to three. One, executed by the master Mr. Deitch himself, executed in Sculpey many years ago, wandered back to us recently after many years. There is also a really extraordinary cotton felt Waldo made by our friends Tony and Sue Eastman, a number of years ago now, which sits on a shelf near where I write now. Those both fascinating tales of their own which I will share at a future time. (And of course for those of you up on your Deitch-ian lore there are those Waldo dolls which spewed out of that volcanic explosion in the South Seas back in Stuff of Dreams #1, eventually collected in Alias the Cat. We’re still looking for evidence of those! The $1k offer stands…)

Meanwhile, I will be returning to the scene of that and other flea market crimes later this month when I travel briefly to London with the gentlemen of my beloved Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra. Tales of early morning flea market finds will hopefully follow. Although Paris may rival London for some in flea markets (and I picked up a thing or two in Berlin once admittedly) having once lived in London and made many subsequent trips there (albeit not for more than a decade now) the flea markets of London are a beloved and well worn path for me and decidedly my favorite treat of this kind in the world. The above Felix came from a splendid market in south London called Bermondsey. If I remember correctly, I arrived at that market shortly after stumbling off an overnight plane trip, with my friend Elyse, for a long weekend flea market and museum attack many years ago. Felix was sitting on a table among unrelated items and I, a fan of the silent cartoons, purchased him up immediately. He is, in fact, my very first Felix.

When I brought Felix home Kim said he looked like someone had killed and skinned a demon and reacted with mock horror when I installed him at the foot of the bed, where several antique stuffed cats of more generic nature already resided. It took me a number of years to get Kim to accept that this is indeed Felix and we argued amicably about it ongoing. It wasn’t until other grinning, demonic renditions of Felix started to appear in the house, and pile up on the bedroom shelves, that the pattern emerged I guess. As you know, the rest is Pictorama collecting history.

 

On a Sunday Morning in Swainsthorpe

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Pictorama readers better hold onto their hats because, this holiday season mysteriously revealed the opportunity for some really extraordinary acquisitions! As a Christmas gift Kim’s help fund these and stretched my resources considerably. I am planning to post about them more or less in the order they came to me.

Both groups (the other to be posted tomorrow) were extraordinary opportunities to buy a series of photos of a single family and keep them together. The first photo in this group was brought to my attention by a Facebook friend, Bren Luke. While I was still trying to figure out the origin of the photo I stumbled across the lot of the six of them for sale on eBay. They were being sold separately, by a British seller, which meant high bids had to go on all in order to secure the whole lot. Prices ended up all over the place, but I paid up and purchased all. I am glad they will stay together. They are much more interesting that way.

I was shocked by the size of them when they arrived. They are tiny – only about 2”x3” and I am unsure what sort of film and camera would have been used. (Kim is guessing 120 film via a brownie type camera?) They are undated and cut from where they had resided in a photo album. Written in the same hand as the one titled here, there are dates of  ’24 and ’25 from other photos on the backs, so we might assume these fall loosely into the same period. Sadly this little boy with a horn is not named, only cousins Kathleen & John get identified. Our other tidbit of information is Swainsthorpe on a Sunday morning. The internet reveals Swainsthorpe to be a tiny hamlet in Norfolk, England, population 360 as of the 2011 census. A close look at clothing shows that the whole lot was likely taken on the same day.

My favorite photo is the one featured at the top – the little boy tooting on his horn next to Felix. This was the one sent via Facebook and worth the price of admission on its own. Felix seems to be listening to that horn, smiling up at the kid – perhaps propped up by the wheelbarrow handle.

As the little boy doesn’t actually interact with Felix I wonder a bit if it is indeed his affection for it that has placed it in the photos or some other more general family fondness for Felix? Maybe the person behind the camera. It is a nice big Felix (one that I would be pleased to have I might add) and he comes up to the little fellow’s waist. I especially like the way he is looking at the little boy playing the horn, the tiny wheelbarrow (child-sized) makes a good counterpoint, the beautiful old stone house in the background. A miniature lawn mower appears in a subsequent photo and, although those are somewhat lesser photos, the light is beautiful in them.

My second favorite photo is the one with the little girl with the long hair holding Felix while the boy (her brother perhaps?) toots on that horn. There is a dreamy quality to this one and I even like the overexposed edges for the effect it creates. Is that a tiny keyboard between the girl and boy? It is hard to know exactly, but the toy lawn mower is great too and these toys create a sense that this is most likely a somewhat privileged family. There are a few other photo variations with these toys, and then the two with cousins. Kathleen looks willing enough, but John appears mostly like he is being coerced into staying still long enough to pose with his cousins, let alone put his arm around him in the one photo. Felix is a bit cut off in one, but he makes a splendid appearance as the fifth member of the family, grinning toothily as always, in the other group photo.