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.

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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.

The Waining of Fortune

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: When we visited the postcard show in the spring of this year, a woman was selling mountains of very expensive Louis Wain cards and I have already written about some of my acquisitions at her table. (For more on my adventures and indulgences at the show have a look here at my other Wain acquisition that day We Are Getting Quite Attached and another buy of the day Crown.) However, this was the card that really got under my skin. The woman had purchased an entire set of these cards, all devoted to Fortune Telling, and was on the fence about selling only one from the group. They were vastly expensive so even one was a commitment and I certainly was in no position to buy, if I remember correctly, six or so. Also, for some reason it was this particular one I really wanted. Clearly I convinced her to sell it to me.

My card, You will be lucky in love, shows these two animated cats, one on bended knee proposing, claw paws bared in their excitement – the boy cat has a nice little white spot on his neck, just exactly like my Blackie, although everyone else seems to be an all black kitty, just some white hairs for highlight and texture. (The British didn’t seem to have this bad luck thing about black cats and even often said they were symbols of good luck, although maybe there’s some irony here.) Anyway, it is also all these other maniacal Wain cats popping out all over the room, watching the proposal, that make this great for me. Two grinning kitties, a sort of shocked one behind the chair, and that jolly one coming in the door – each cat could almost be its own tale. Somehow that set against this background of this sort of common sort of average room, table and chairs, stuffed armchair, just tickles me. Striped wallpaper and two mundane landscapes adorn the interior in question and make us quite at home.

The card was sent, from Bath to Paris August 10, 1906, but it is written in a tiny French hand that somewhat defies me. A woman seems to be asking her friend if the friend is enjoying her vacation and if she needs someone’s address which she can send. (With multiple mail deliveries a day, postcards were evidently the texts of the time.) It was sent to Madamoiselle Lina Paulier, 96 Rue La Fontaine, Auteuil, Paris, France. I cannot read the name on the signature. Sadly there is no reference to the great illustration on the front of the card.

I am a fan of fortune telling in generally and will indulge given an opportunity. I recently even took a swing at feeding a dollar into the Zoltar fortune telling machine at Ripley’s Believe It or Not in Times Square a few weeks ago, when Kim and I were there doing some research for his next book. Sadly, not nearly as nicely illustrated as my Wain postcard (and Zoltar is a wordy fellow), however I share a photo of my fortune below – for entertainment purposes only, as noted.

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Off to Work We Go

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card had an immediate appeal, but there are some mysteries about it that came to mind as soon as it arrived and I studied it a bit. For one thing, the generally very amateur nature of it – overexposure on the edges, and the line of odd exposure or printing at the top – is very much at odds with the professional title printed at the bottom. The man in the suit is charmingly incongruous with this wonderful fluffy tuxedo kitty on the back of great and zooty bicycle. (A quick Google image search reveals a 1940 Schwinn in red and white that is remarkably similar if not spot on.)

Biking to work – I briefly considered New York’s bike program when I took my new job, thinking the ride between York Avenue and Columbus Circle (I envisioned doing it mostly through Central Park) would be a nice bit of extra exercise. The complications of arriving at work sweaty and riding in office attire perplexed me some, although there were brief moments of seeing myself riding with a certain éclat sporting a tight black skirt, like something out of an Italian film circa 1960. However, both my husband and my trainer voted it down swiftly and soundly as unsafe, even with the hair mussing helmet I vowed to wear. (Subsequently I have taken to walking on nice days – it takes about 50 minutes at a good clip.)

If this photo was more expertly executed I think we would get a better look at this great kitty, riding on the back. Out of curiosity I looked to see if there was a term for giving someone a ride on the back of your bike, in some places it is called a backy, straightforward enough. The same search revealed no popular term for giving someone a ride on your handlebars – incidentally something I personally have never done and I guess it is unlikely I ever will at this point – there doesn’t seem to be a widely known consistent one. In Australia they call it a dink however and evidently at one time in MN (only it would seem?) it was known as giving someone a buck. I gather the term is no longer in use. The term, give someone a pump, was also in use for this, but has taken on, um, a quite different contemporary meaning.

All references to it come with dire warnings about the danger and how it is against the law in many places. The cat seems unconcerned however. He or she is a solid citizen, calmly perched here, nicely hefty and fluffy with white paws and bib and, best of all, a nice white mustache. I am a sucker for a good mustache on a tuxedo. Cookie’s mustache is crooked – like the remnants of a sloppy drink of milk. My cat Otto was the feline incarnation of Chaplin – or Hitler – with a perfect little black mustache. Meanwhile, you can bet that kitty was just posing and wasn’t really going for a ride. No fool kitty!

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Cookie in a recent photo

 

The Cat’s Concert

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little volume makes me imagine screechy cat voices lifted in song! This item is the direct product of collecting mania. Back in January I stumbled into purchasing the rather wonderful Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball (which you can find here) which lead directly to finding and buying another A.M. Lockyer and F.E. Weatherly collaboration, The Robber’s Squeak (featured here) a month later. After doing some research I discovered the existence of The Cat’s Concert which turned out to be quite pricey and not terribly available. I went into a stealth hunting mode and five months later I acquired this copy for a reasonable sum. Sadly, it has fewer illustrations than the others, but it is a little gem in its own way.

It is a fragile little book, so apologies that the inside pages cannot be scanned as I would not attempt to lay it open and flat and instead have just taken photos of them. We are treated to five tunes here: The Cat’s Concert, Sambo’s Song, Serenade, Pompey’s Trouble and Finale. As in the other books I have noted above, this one is illustrated by A.M. Lockyer and has words and music by F.E. Weatherly. These were all published in both New York and London according to the copyright information. This copy came from England. One of the seller’s has dated it at 1885 (?) as the book bears no date of publication. A publisher’s circular dated 1889 cites it as being an excellent little booklet for the nursery.

The cats on the front cover, above, appear to have very long feet. Strangely, as I look through the book, they appear to be wearing long, odd shoes – they wear them for Sambo’s Song, and even don clogs for Serenade. This tiny pamphlet is well worn with age, is about 5″x7″ in size. I do wonder at the practical application of it – hard to imagine anyone whipping it out in the nursery and playing a tune, even in the late 1880’s. Instead we will imagine that these cheerful cats entertained enough to keep this booklet in circulation over a period of time sufficient that copies remain today.

My favorite drawing is for Pompey’s Trouble, shown below. I like the sharp claws displayed by these fellows and the one on the far right could almost be a Louis Wain kit; he’s having a high old time! Pleasantly maniacal expressions on the faces of all three.

The lyrics on all of these tunes are less than memorable and racist – a mini-minstrel show for the nursery. (Collecting black cat material can lead you unknowing down this road.) The one called Sambo’s Song is the most cat related however and praises the cats for catching the mice in the farmer’s grain and seems to end in a clog dance:

Three fat Mice, Dey lay by de farmer’s grain; Dey stuff away all ob de day, An’ couldn’t get home a gain.
Den dese three cats, Came over de old barn floor….An’ I think you  see, Tween dem and’ me, De Mice go back no more.
O come along, Di_nah, come along Di_nah, do! ‘Tis de middle ob de night, and de moon is bright, we all ob us wait for you? With a wow, wow, wow! An a m’you, you, you! Did you ebber see a clog dance done?…

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Clearly the British were as capable of writing racists ditties as the Americans (Weatherly the author of music and words is British), but perhaps like me, Lockyer and the cats sold it for them.

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