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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King of the Cat Tin Toys

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: When I started collecting toy cats, in those days prior to the internet, I assumed that someday I would eventually discover an El Dorado of wind-up cat tin toys. After all, toy cats in other forms are very popular so of course there would be a number of interesting ones, right? However, about a decade into buying toys on the internet I realized otherwise. Frankly (surprisingly) there just aren’t dozens of models of tin toy cats. Variations on this cat with a ball seems to be the primary heir apparent and I have been hunting this version for quite awhile. The smaller and more widely available version, also made by Marx (shown below swiped off the internet) is a friction toy – the same essential design of a cat and ball, but I believe without knowing for certain, that mine is the earlier model. Today’s toy comes courtesy of Santa Deitch with thanks as Christmas in January posts continue here at Pictorama.

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The Marx toy company was founded in 1919 and stayed in business until roughly 1980. (Theirs was the less than memorable slogan, One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?) Marx was an American toy company and was certainly one of the best known in its day. They seem to have focused on tin toys (windup and friction) and the quality was good enough that even many of their early ones survive today – many variations on trains, but also some character toys depicting such favorites as Popeye and Little Orphan Annie.

Both this kitty and the smaller later version, had leather ears which universally seem to have disappeared from them. (Mine has a single ear held on with an ancient bit of scotch tape however.) It remains a bit of a mystery to me, now that I own this kitty, exactly how it worked. Sadly he no longer does work, and it is also unclear to me exactly what the mechanism was originally. I would be pleased to hear form anyone who knows. I long assumed that this was a wind-up, but there doesn’t seem to be a place for a key. If he was a friction toy (now my best guess) it isn’t clear how that worked either – or why it not longer does. His tail would have gone up and down and that he must be been very jolly indeed. I love his red ball and the graphics on him are splendid. He must have made a lot of children very happy before arriving here at Deitch Studio to entertain us.

 

Charley’s Aunt

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Poster from the Chicago run, not in Pictorama collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I consider today’s item a real treasure. I found it while trolling idly on the internet and snatched it up. As objects go, it is splendid, a cast metal with some heft to it, about eight inches high. The cat’s expression is great, with an almost but not quite winking eye – a wicked look. His lashing tail, curled precisely around his feet. There is a tiny ring at the base of his collar and I wonder if a small ribbon or something was originally adorning him. There are traces of red on his face and the base and there is something inscribed on the back of his neck I cannot make out. (See below.) The seams on his casting are evident – he was after all inexpensively made. Kitty is perched on a pedestal which is inscribed, Charley’s Aunt 100th Performance Chicago Hooley’s Theater Wednesday July 25th 1894. I do wonder what sort of jolly world Chicago 1894 must have been if you were lucky enough to go to the 100th performance of this play and receive this great cat statuette? My mind boggles at such riches.

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Having said that, I am not entirely sure Charley’s Aunt would be my cuppa tea. However, it clearly has fans. Written by Brandon Thomas, it opened in England in 1892 and it has enjoyed a phenomenal run that first stretched across the Atlantic to Broadway, made its way across this country in theaters, was then snatched up first for a 1915 silent film (rumored anyway, I couldn’t find a trace of it), an extant 1925 film version starring Syd Chaplin, followed by a 1930 early sound and 1941 (Milton Berle in this one) films. Then came musical adaptations and several made-for-television movies proffered through the late 1970’s. (And I am sparing you the litany of foreign versions, numerous in Germany, even one in Egyptian.)

To this day Charley’s Aunt continues to be revived (think dinner theater in suburban NJ) and one review said that continuously, somewhere in the world, it is always playing. Quite simply, as far as I can tell it appears to be an early cross dressing farce which has something to do with men in dresses trying to get engaged and having issues with chaperones.

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Program from the play two days earlier, cat souvenir mentioned!

 

The playwright, Brandon Thomas, hailed from Liverpool originally, born in 1848. He started his professional life in commerce and as an occasional journalist. His real ambition was acting and he realized it, eventually becoming sought after as a character actor. He wrote more than a dozen plays, none with the record breaking appeal of Charley’s Aunt however. He continued acting, mostly in comedy until his death in 1914.

Kim had heard of the play; I had not. He attached it to Oscar Wilde, which was an accurate impulse as they were contemporaries and Charley’s Aunt launched with The Importance of Being Ernest in London and the two are often thought of as a piece. Most notably, I have absolutely no idea why this play is so winningly represented by this grinning feline, both on poster (shown above) and my recently acquired statue. Frankly 100 performances doesn’t seem quite worthy of such outstanding recognition, not to say I am not extremely pleased that it did.

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A barely legible photo of Hooley’s Theater exterior

 

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Cracker Jack Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I would have been a fat kid with bad teeth if Cracker Jack toys were as good as this when I was little! I discovered this fellow on eBay the other day and paused to imagine a tot’s world endowed with such wealth. I should start by saying I have always loved eating Cracker Jack and plowing my way through many boxes of it would not have been considered a hardship. I would say candy popcorn sprinkled with candied peanuts remains pretty high on my list of favorite junk foods. The fact that a toy of some sort was tucked in amongst all that yumminess of course just made it all the better.

A lot of research has been done on Cracker Jack and collecting these toys. I spent a little time on the comprehensive site, theartiscrackerjack.com for some information and a quick history. While Cracker Jack starts being made and sold as early as 1871 it is christened in 1896. Toys make their appearance in the boxes in 1912. The 1920’s seems to be the sweet spot for metal toys like my cat, although the first toys were flat metal soldiers so metal was used early on. Paper was surprisingly popular, and since it went into the box unprotected, that which survives today generally still bears the residual sugary stains. Celluloid takes over, followed by other molded plastic later.

I can appreciate the fascination with those early paper toys which have somehow survived, evidently the most prized by collectors. However, it is the metal toys like this one that capture my imagination and would have kept me popping candied popcorn in hopes of making a charm bracelet or finding the ultimate special toy. In a quick search of images online I did not turn up my new blue cat specifically, although cats seem to have been generously represented over the decades. It seems that cartoon characters were favored at one point and evidently Little Orphan Annie and Popeye were among those featured. There is a rather stunning Toonerville Trolley whistle as well, shown below. It must be some sort of high water mark among these prizes!

Toonerville Trolley not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Some of the metal toys are unbelievably elaborate and my mind boggles at how it could have been cost effective to produce and include them when Kim says even in his childhood the price was a nickel for the longest time. Meanwhile, his fondest memory of a Cracker Jack toy is of a red Scottie dog. I have found Scottie dogs in both metal and plastic – another popular model with a myriad of variations. I cannot seem to produce an image of the exact correct one as of right now. Kim says nothing reached the pinnacle of that acquisition afterward.

While I have memories of plastic charms early on, replaced by paper later, I don’t actually have a specific memory of finding something great in particular. I always looked forward to the prize however, even after they had mostly been reduced to sorry little joke books. I believe it is possible I would have kicked off my life long collecting tendencies much earlier if I had found this kitty in a box of Cracker Jack I was munching. Sadly, the company has discontinued even a nominal prize. However it is fair to say that even now this discovery is threatening to kick off a whole new area of collecting here at Pictorama.

Spare Dimes Many Times

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s item is the rare sort that I fret I mostly miss due to the absence of flea markets, garage sales and antiques marts in my life these days. I did manage to acquire it by chance and creative trolling online and I couldn’t be happier with the find. This splendid little bank is no longer change-worthy as its bottom is long removed, but this bulldog-ish kitty is a great addition to the Pictorama collection. Below where he urges you to Feed the Kitty there is tiny lettering which appears to read Trade Mark Reg U.S. Post Office and then my favorite part, Spare Dimes Many Times below that. I didn’t see that until he came in the mail and I love it.

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This bank is small, indeed it is really dime-sized with a grinning cat mouth just big enough for that denomination of coin, and a tummy just big enough to match, designed especially for small change. Somehow that makes this even better in my opinion – and the white metal of kitty is also dime reminiscent to match. He is very heavy, even without loose change added. His expression is a bit enigmatic, despite the smile, and lightly be-whiskered. He has lost the tips of both ears, as well suffered some scratches, with flecks of white paint on his back, but the overall effect is still shiny and jolly. His tail is neatly tucked around him and he sports slightly over-sized paws. I like to think that his presence entice a few generations of children to employ some thrift over the decades.

A tiny plaque has been affixed to the  back bottom of the little pedestal he sits atop. It reads, The Bridgeville National Bank, Bridgeville, PA. Member Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. I like to imagine this item being presented to me as a small child after opening a savings account and, at least for a little while, enjoying the rigors of saving my dimes (and perhaps here. nickels and pennies) here.

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First National Bank appears to still claim turf in Bridgeville, PA, but it is hard to know for sure if it is a descendant. It is currently housed in a modern brick building according to a quick internet look. Their website declares, We’re not just your bank, we’re your neighbors! I looked under a tab labeled Community Involvement to see if they might say how long they had been in existence and instead found, among other things, an explanation of a somewhat unusual program where they evidently allow employees to wear jeans to work in exchange for a charitable donation. I am not entirely sure what I think of that – I am of the old-fashioned variety of person who wants to see my banker dressed like one, nor is it clear to me how much of a charitable donation is expected in exchange for this privilege. Nonetheless, they get points for a kind of creativity I guess. Unfortunately, no cat banks in sight however.

As a fundraiser I may bring this fellow to my office and employ him there, subliminally wooing a new generation of adults to feed the kitty in an entirely different way.

Time is Flying

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Who among us has not been smacked by time running away on us? The image of the hourglass with the sand running low comes to mind – or if you are a Kim Deitch fan, maybe a bossy clock with a human face glowering while he stands over you, urging you on. This postcard features the tailless cats from the Isle of Man, the origin of this card, which was posted on May 15, 1909 – or so is my best read on the stamp cancellation. It was mailed from a place called Douglas and to a Miss H. Woodrich, 15 Manchester Road, Southport. The sender of the card wrote in pencil which has faded, but I can read the following, These are Manx cats without tails. What do you think of them, ask Libs. Hope you are well & jolly. Love to all. Sadly, the sender’s name is obscured.

I liked the exposed claw paws on these kitty fellows as well as their action reaction to the bits being thrown at them. (Each one getting conked on the head with a different item!) I especially like the one across from what turns out to be the coat of arms for the Isle of Man, soon to be hit with a flying slipper. The top of the card reads Time is flying (it struck me in flight), I’ve nothing of a ‘tale’ but hope you keep all right. Then, more subtle but humorous is the translation around the coat of arms which is, whithersoever you throw it, it will stand. (This translation from our friends at Wikipedia. It should also be noted that this is an older version of the coat of arms which was changed in 1994, according to the same source.)

A number of years ago, after my sister died, I decided that I wanted to take a less adversarial approach to time which suddenly seemed out of control, and attempt to consciously slow it down. As someone who has meditated I felt that there may be mindful activities which allow us to slow time down – or I guess more precisely to experience it differently.

I chose to learn how to make daguerreotypes – an early photographic process that is fairly complicated to replicate today. Because of the exposure time with the subject (or sitter) it literally meant recording time in a certain way. From that I started making other kinds of photographs, both early process and silver gelatin prints ultimately as well. I enjoyed it and it served me well for many years, the taking of the photos and then the slow repetitive process with a creative edge that meant I was also mentally alert. I stopped for a myriad of reasons I will not go into right now, but it has been on my mind lately. Not necessarily to go back to making photos, but an activity that will serve the same purpose. Working out at the gym has served this function to some degree in recent years, and I am considering swimming. I am not sure, but my guess is you, Pictorama readers, will be among the first to know.

Cat House

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo of a handsome shiny black cat seemed like just the thing the other day as I scrolled through eBay. Unfortunately, as I often find when trying to capture my kit Blackie, a black cat can be tricky to capture, especially if lurking the shadows. He is positioned perfectly in the doorway to his kitty abode however – eyes glowing, a feline watchdog, vigilantly overseeing the situation. This cat house is a good fit for him size-wise, and he even has a pot of flowers out front. Those are sprightly, the plant behind a bit more anemic, although the overall impression is that this is a neat and tidy corner of the world. I purchased it from Montgomery, Alabama, but there’s no indication about where it might originate from and it was never used.

Back in June I wrote about the dog house from my childhood. (It can be found here in the post Mr. Frank, In the Dog House.) Our dog didn’t spend much time in her house and we never even considered a house for our cats, other than our own that is. Over the course of my childhood our cats largely roamed free, in and out of the house more or less at will, numerous times a day. We were never possessed of a cat door, but cheerfully did their bidding at the door. Somehow over time we joined the ranks of those who kept our cats entirely indoors, where they were safe from predators, and cut down on their own preying on birds and whatnot. At some point there was a town ordinance passed which served to severely curtail free range pet cats – I was shocked to find this out, but it meant the Butlers no longer had indoor/outdoor running felines.

I have not seen many cat houses firsthand. Recently though Kim was on a panel at his alma mater, Pratt Institute and I did notice that they had several cat houses on their campus. Unfortunately, I only have the photo below snatched off my Instagram account, the original photo a victim of my attempts at good phone hygiene and the ongoing purging of photos. The Pratt cat house, one of several as I remember, was a more downscale model than ours above. Yet was probably a more practical affair, plastic over the door to help keep the winter chill (not insubstantial that day) out.

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I didn’t see any cats in these houses on that day. In looking for a better or additional photos of the Pratt cat houses I discovered that Pratt has a well documented history of caring for stray cats. An article in the New York Times from May of 2013 describes the steam plant at Pratt as the heart of cat central at the art school. The strays tended may range in numbers from dozens to more than 100 – but whose counting really? They are (or at least were, that was a few years ago) tended by Pratt Chief Engineer, Conrad Milster who christened them with names like Dulcie, Landlord, Art School and Prancie. The article explains that these free range kitties are fed and cared for by Mr. Milster at his own expense. Clearly the cat houses are another of his contributions. The cats contribute to the well being of stressed out students and faculty and are unofficial mascots of the Brooklyn school.

When I was in college in Connecticut I had a cat friend who I referred to as Ranger Tom. I do not remember where that name came from, but he was a hefty gray and white fellow – spotty nose like I generally am drawn to in a cat. He was more of a visitor cat – seemed well cared for and just making the rounds to see what acquaintances he might make, and of course what food he might get out of it. As a vegetarian I wasn’t his best bet, but would occasionally keep this or that on hand that a visiting cat might approve of. We were only acquainted in my freshman year, but I missed my own kitties and he was a welcome diversion therefore I say excellent work Mr. Milster. Keep those cat houses going.