Letters from a Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today feline dedicated post was a birthday gift from my good friend Eileen Travell. She acquired this precious, slim volume at a store I long to experience one day and that I wrote about in an earlier post, 3 Little Kittens, which can be found here, and describes that gift purchased there as well, The Salem, New York shop is 1786 Wilson Homestead (1117 Chamberlin Mill Road, Salem, NY; their website which can be found here). It has set me to dreaming about a future summer day digging through their wares. My copy is stamped School Library, Saranac Lake, N.Y. on both front and back fly leafs.

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While this book is clearly meant for children, complete with very large and easily read text, I am not sure I would say race out and grab this book to read to your small child. Suffice it to say life was cheaper and harder in 1879 and that is evidenced in this book. The overall premise of the book is that while a little girl is away visiting her aunt she receives a series of letters penned by her puss in her absence. (Yes, the remarkable nature of a cat writing letters, however sloppily printed, is covered in the story, although never fully explained. The methods of post are detailed however.)

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Sadly kit has a hard time of it in the absence of her mistress with everything from a spring cleaning of the house, which terrifies her, to an accident with a barrel of soft soap, which I assume is either lye or the lye and fat makings for soap, which almost does her in. All about the plot is is given away in the first part of the book which is penned in the voice of the young mistress now grown.

However, when the little mistress describes how much she loves her kitty and what a glorious cat she is you know that H.H. was herself a cat lover and an understander of the feline nature. (Kim speculated that the timing is right for this book to have inspired Archy and Mehitabel, first created by Don Marquis in 1916 and collected first in 1927. As many of you know, it is best known for being illustrated by George Herriman of Krazy Kat fame.)

Letters from a Cat Published by Her Mistress for the Benefit of all Cats and the Amusement of Little Children has an original copyright of 1879. My edition is from 1930. It has seventeen illustrations by Addie Ledyard. The author H.H. turns out to be Helen Hunt Jackson (b. 1830 and d. 1885, née Helen Maria Fiske) a famous poet and writer of her day.

Jackson was the daughter of a minister, author, and professor of Latin, Greek, and philosophy at Amherst College. Her mother having died when Helen was 14, she and her sister were fully orphaned three years later. However, the father had provided for Helen’s education and she attended a boarding school where she was the classmate of Emily Dickinson with whom she corresponded throughout her life. Helen Hunt Jackson was very much a part of the interesting and broad group of writers and thinkers in the greater Amherst area of the day.

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Jackson begins writing after the loss of husband and sons over a handful of years and before she was much more than 30 years old. (Hunt was the surname of this husband, she eventually remarries while taking the cure for TB in Colorado years later and takes the name Jackson.) Her earliest works are published under the H.H. nom de plume. She became interested in issues surrounding the poor treatment of Native Americans after hearing a lecture in Boston by Chief Standing Bear in 1879 (interestingly, the year Letters from a Cat was published).

Her best known work, Ramona, published in 1884, is a story of a young woman of mixed Scots and Native American heritage, was hugely popular and spawned five films and even was thought to expand the tourism industry of Southern California at the time. While it may have been the romance of the story that made it so popular, Jackson wrote it as a way of showing the plight of the native people. She kept up a very real and fierce lifelong battle with Washington over the treatment of the Indians and fighting for the return of their land and rights.

Of the illustrator, Addie Ledyard, there is really no information except for the trail of books she illustrated which are still available. At a glance I would say cats were a specialty, although she seems to have illustrated at least one volume of Louisa May Alcott stories. Following my nose on her illustrations may lead to some other interesting discoveries.

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This illustration shows Ceasar, the handsome, huge black cat who arrives in town and is an  important plot point.

 

I am reminded of an obscure, antique volume I had years ago and gave to my mother, written by another poet who also wrote from the perspective of her cat. If I can remember it and find it I will share it in a subsequent post. I always think of it when I see a cat watching out a window as her cat called that reading the newspaper daily.

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Letters from a Cat is available on Project Gutenberg (with illustrations) and Google Books, as well as in reproduction and various earlier reprints over time. With renewed thanks to Eileen, I suggest all you cat collectors get on this one.

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Earlier volume of the book.

 

 

 

A Cat in Gloves

Pam’s Pictorama Post: The bottle featured in today’s post was a gift from Facebook (and real) Friend, Dan Theodore. Dan faithfully shows up at many of Kim’s speaking engagements and before a recent one he told me he was going through some things that belonged to a family member and did I want this bottle as it had a cat on it? I happily accepted which brings us to today’s post. (I realize as I take photos of this that I could use some advice from friend Eileen Travell who shoots glass routinely for the Met. I did the best I could!)

As it happens, in addition to cats, I have long been fascinated by blue glass. Since my childhood days of beach combing and hunting for sea glass, glass colored blue has attracted me. If you have hunted sea glass you know that green and clear opaque are the common colors. Blue and red are very rare. When Loren or I found a piece we would crow and lord it over the other.

It lead me eventually to the logical question of, why is there so little blue glass to begin with and then the exercise of keeping a weather eye for blue glass bottles in their original whole state – assuming of course that somehow those bottles had to find their way into the Atlantic ocean, often broken, to ultimately make their way into my glass collection. Aside from some medical bottles I did not find too many in use. I assume this is because cobalt is a somewhat more expensive color and unless you had a reason for using it why add expense. As a child I had the sort of naive idea that all the glass in the ocean was from ships – ocean garbage dumping had not occurred to me.

Without really knowing much about what I am talking about I am vaguely aware that some of the chemicals I used for my early process photography warned that they had to be stored in dark amber bottles because exposure to light would damage them. There might be something to this for the use of blue glass which seems to have a limited use primarily for medical purposes. Furthermore, Wikipedia has informed me that what I call sea glass should be called beach glass and while I stand corrected I will continue, as I always have, to call it sea glass. In addition, the internet informs me that more rare than blue are the previously alluded to red, but also yellow and lavender which frankly I don’t remember having ever seen in person.

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Cat bottle from animal series by Clevenger Brothers, in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Sliding back to today’s bottle which has an interesting story in its own right. This bottle, with an image of a cat on one side, reads Cat, The Cat in Gloves Catches No Mice. This is evidently a known saying. The meaning is, you cannot be too cautious and get what you want. I am not sure I endorse this saying, and right now I am looking at Cookie’s white paws (the gloves to her perma-wear tux fur) and thinking they do not hamper her in the least.

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Curled up kitty on Clevenger bottle, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

I was surprised how quickly the history of this particular bottle was revealed to me online as the only markings are a C and a B on the bottom. The bottle is the product of the Clevenger Brothers, an eponymous  South Jersey enterprise founded by brothers in the 1930’s. They were seeking to revive a much older glass industry in the area and their bottles are generally reproductions of these earlier designs. Some of their own early efforts, those that are handblown and also the efforts of some of their more creative employees executed off hours, are of some value. Ones like mine are collectible for their charm and have a market.

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Elephant bottles by Clevenger Brothers. Not in Pictorama collection.

 

This cat bottle is evidently part of a series on animals they produced. It is unclear to me if these were original designs or also copies of earlier ones. Although I found references to it I did not find much of substance or many examples aside from this elephant version below which I like. These bottles were made from molds and could have been made any time during the company’s history. There is an interesting brief history of the company which can be found at this link, 1987 Clevenger Brothers Glassworks the Persistence of Tradition, at the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center site. It would seem that the factory remains in existence as a quasi-museum today and it is on a list of historic sites in South Jersey.

Growing up in Jersey I have long been aware of the history of the area and in my childhood there were sites where you could visit amateur excavations to search for such things as early glass. Although we drove through the Pine Barrens a few times in my childhood and I was regaled with these stories, we never stopped at any of these sites to dig. However, I do appreciate this gift and even more now that I know that like me, it comes from my place of origin, the Garden State.

 

 

February Festive

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Getting into a pre-birthday and pre-Valentine’s Day mode here at Pictorama today. I will report that Kim is hard at work on the annual Valentine which will debut (hopefully) next week, and I am here to say it is going to be a stunner! Meanwhile, I have a few commercial kitty-esque offerings to start the ball rolling today.

It seems that cats have always figured somewhat largely in the visual language of Valentines and I therefore always keep half an eye on what ebay has to offer in vintage Valentines in the weeks leading up to February 14.

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from Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

The cat and mouse card caught my eye early – there was something truly feline in the way this puss studies the mouse (a mousy looking mouse despite her anthropomorphic portrayal) and she seems is dancing in a strange little holiday dress. My valentine is written across the dress, with a little cheat of the nt in order to make it fit neatly. A nod toward the crueler side of feline nature is a bit surprising in a Valentine sentiment, You look sweet enough to eat. This cat means it folks, a bit of blood lust in his eyes. Nonetheless, it was sent To Jean From Lorraine as per a very childish pencil script on the back. We’ll assume it was taken in the best spirit meant.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

This second card is identified as having been made in Germany which seems to be the place of origin for some of the best early Valentines and is more traditional. I liked something about it’s wide-eyed kitten enthusiasm and bought it for a few dollars on a whim. I think I would have been pleased to receive this one. And I do hope it made the recipient, Elsie Minke, feel kindly toward Raymond, as per the inscription on the back of the card. It is a sweet card and has a tiny bit of cardboard in the back to enable it to stand up on its own and evidence of use tell us that it was employed to do that at one time.

Piles of childish Valentines were exchanged each year in my elementary school days. My memory is that class lists were distributed in the early years and we routinely wrote one for everyone in our class thereby removing the possibility of someone not getting any I would guess. We bought big plastic packages of tiny cards with envelopes and dutifully filled them out, collecting mostly the same in kind in return with perhaps the addition of the occasional box of candy hearts.

High school brought a gauntlet of single roses to be ordered in advance and delivered day of – a fundraiser for some group or other. This afforded an annual (somewhat ambitious) opportunity for anonymous Romeos to put a bid in, or even bolder declarations by others. Purchase by boyfriends was requisite. (We also did something similar in the fall with large white mum corsages – with purple ribbons, school colors – to be worn to the Thanksgiving football game. It always seemed to me like a tradition that probably dated back to the 1950’s as the 1980’s were not a corsage-wearing decade for the most part.) Yes, the holidays could be competitive affairs for adolescent affection.

Meanwhile, my father was always the very best Valentine and he would show up from work with boxes of candy and something special for us. I still have a silver heart key chain he gave me one year, a matching one for my sister, and which I used for years. Dad was a splendid gift giver. Despite never being equipped to remember my precise age after I turned 18, he was always very good about holidays and gifts.

On the (many) occasions he was traveling during a holiday he either sent missives in his absence or showed up with them a day or so later, but they were always great. As a news cameraman his travel was by its very nature unplanned so I am a bit amazed when I think back on it. Dad kept a suitcase ready packed in his locker at work so that he’d at least have a few days change of clothing if sent abroad without notice. He frequently would end up having to buy clothes when a story lasted longer than a few days. This lead to my father, who liked clothes and buying them, having a much more robust wardrobe than my mother, who is somewhat ambivalent about them. (I take after him.) Somehow, probably with my mom’s organizing help, he managed to hit all the holidays and birthdays splendidly.

Pictorama readers know that Kim has found a way of topping this, producing an annual, very personal drawing for me. I will share this year’s great Valentine reveal next week. (A few from years past can be found here and here.) You still have a few days folks, get out there and stake a claim on your Valentine, there is no time like the present.

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I think it will cheer you up…

Pam’s Pictorama Post: We here at Pictorama feel the need for a good shot in the arm by this point in the winter. January was a grueling month to get through and spring is still so far off, alas. Therefore, as we stand perched on the threshold of February, I offer this entertaining Louis Wain tidbit, The Street Orchestra, to those like me who need a boost.

I have been much taken with Louis Wain recently and you may have noticed that I have been indulging rather freely in the purchase of his postcards. All of the elements of this 1904 street scene symphony remain relevant today – the children, (are the kittens also selling fruit? with a flag of Italy stuck in their cart?), the musicians, beggar and beg-ee, the laborer and onlookers. The fellow seated in the middle of the card could be taken either as a stump speech-maker (my first thought), or my preference is that he is Mayor of this block so to speak. Squarely in the middle of things he observes and comments on all. Every active block needs a Mayor it would seem.

The restaurant in the background is what really makes this card however. While the offerings are all very entertaining, some still have a tiny bit of bite by way of a kind of cat cruelty that Wain tends to lace through his work and specifically his postcards. Louis Wain does not just give us toothless, jolly felines – his kitties still exhibit some of their teeth and claws, their cat nature.

The restaurant offerings here include: Pickled Red Herrings and Boiled rats in sauce, (and my favorite albeit almost illegible) Cats Meat a la East End – where a plate of leftover mystery meat bits comes to mind, and we are Noted for our mice soup, with Best chicken patties and finally the appeal that You can milk your own cow – 20 cows to choose from. Cow milk is additionally advertised on the fence, somewhat cryptically, as Try our noted cow  – best milk, no pump kept on the premises. And finally, if that doesn’t work for you there is also, Good beer – best in town.

While some collectors might turn their noses up at a card that has been written on by the sender, I feel as though the neat script addition to this one adds to the charm of this card, If you look hard at this I think it will cheer you up. HMD. I couldn’t agree more! On the back, in the same hand it reads, So pleased you are a little better. Love to Sis as well as yourself. It is addressed to Miss N. Harrison, 6 Strensham Road, Balsall Heath. It was sent from within Birmingham in 1904, but the month on the postmark has been obscured. I am sure it did its job of cheering though.

So, happy February dear readers – and I do hope that if you look hard at this, it will cheer you up.

Made in Japan

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I should be old enough and smart enough to stop speculating about things I will never do, because some time around your fifth decade you start to realize that those proclamations will just lead to egg on your face – at least they occasionally do in my case. I have long been snobbish (at least in my own mind) about china cats and have more or less thought that I could not be seduced into purchasing them for my kitty collection.

However, the black, white and orange fellow caught my eye on ebay recently, with his rakish sort of Pete the Pup look, and as I purchased him the one with the blue scarf crossed my path and I picked it up too so he’d have a friend. It seems somewhat beyond my ability to find any information about these knick knacks so I cannot tell you if they proliferate in a variety of colors or sizes, only that I do not remember seeing them before.

One is stamped with JAPAN on the bottom and something painted in Japanese as well; the other has nothing. As I photographed them I noticed that the orange and black one is a tad larger and they are made from molds that are ever so slightly different. There is something very cheerful about their expressions and I like them together. They have yet to find their precise home in the apartment, but they will find a safe perch where I will hope they can reside undisturbed by feline frolics or human gaff.

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A couple of years ago I was mesmerized by a truly splendid display of Japanese sleeping cats, Nemuri-neko, which means sleeping or peaceful cat, in the Kutani ceramic tradition in an exhibition devoted to cats at the Japan Society. A dozen or so of the most beautiful examples were lined up like real, lazing pusses napping on a long wooden display dividing the room where you could almost imagine they were sunning themselves. Most if not all were on loan to the exhibit by the sister of the friend who had invited me who said they resided lined up in a similar way in her sister’s San Francisco kitchen.

I immediately fell in love with these and would very much love to own one of these early pieces. These sleeping kits were originally carved in wood and there are versions from about every period from their inception, some time around the late 17th century, to those contemporary ones churned out now. Some undated, older versions below. The white with the gold pattern is the most common, but I have a hankering for a less common black one myself.

The highest quality of these, unsurprisingly, goes for a fair amount of money. Given the generally rough and tumble nature of our tiny space this seems like an unlikely purchase in the foreseeable future. However, you never know and one of these days maybe I will be writing about a line of these fine feline fellows, curled up and sunning themselves by our window as well.

Midnight Concert

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I admit to being on a bit of a Wain binge lately, having just purchased that excellent New Year’s Card I wrote about a few weeks ago. (That card and post can be found here.) In more or less the same wave I purchased this one which has a lot going on, the longer you look at it the more unfolds. Long gone are the days when I was reluctant to indulge in Louis Wain and his pricey postcards!

This one was never sent and has no writing on it, strangely there is a printed notation on the back which states, F. Hartmann’s “Manx Cats Series” N 3069. 2.” and indeed, the kitties in question are all Manx, tails notably absent upon study. Evidently Mr. Wain did an entire series devoted to the Manx, another example below. Apologies for the somewhat dubious quality of this photo snatch of Stormy Passage on the S.S. “Viking”.

 

Perhaps our Louis Wain research will eventually turn up the answer to why and how exactly he signed on for this Manx project, but for now suffice it to say, it was among his entertaining accomplishments in the realm of kitty illustration.

The music held by the cats all relates to the Isle of Man, the origin of the Manx cat. (I have written a little bit about these tail-less felines. That Wain wanna-be postcard post can be found here.) A quick pass at the internet tells me that the Manx is the oldest breed of cat and sometimes they have stubby tails as opposed to none. Manx cats are generally round all over – big eyes and round head and ears. Sort of ideal Wain models in my opinion.

Kim, who is working at his desk as I write this morning, tells me he used to be visited by a Manx when he lived in Berkley, a girl cat he described as “a real fuss budget, but not as much as Cookie.” In response to this Cookie has left the rocking chair she was napping on and joined Kim on a cushion next to his work chair, a generally prized cat spot in this apartment. Clearly she enjoys her fuss budget status in our house.

A careful study of the music sported by the cats on this card shows titles such as Manx WeddingEllan Vannin, Ramsey Town and by far my favorite, The Herring is the King of the Sea. I can easily imagine these bawdy Toms singing:

The herring is the king of the sea
The herring is the fish for me
The herring is the king of the sea
Sing fol the do or die

Oh what’ll we do with the herring’s eyes?
We’ll make them all into puddings and pies
We’ll make them all into puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!
Herring’s eyes, puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!

The herring is the king of the sea …

Oh what’ll we do with the herring’s heads?
We’ll make them all into loaves of bread
We’ll make them all into loaves of bread
And all sorts of things!
Herring’s heads, loaves of bread
Herring’s eyes, puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!

 

Meanwhile Ellan Vannin, sheet music held by the only kitty who is a bit feminine in appearance, is a sort of unofficial anthem of the Isle of Man. The Bee Gees, whose place of origin is the Isle of Man pre-Australia, recorded their own version of Ellan Vannin, with updated lyrics. It was part of a 1997 world tour and released as a single in 1998 with the proceeds going to a charitable organization. (You can listen to it here.) No one can accuse Louis Wain of not doing his research or shirking detail.

This kitty concert racket on this card plays out atop rooftops, in view of some silhouetted men, pipes a’puffin, framed in a nearby window. The cats are in their glory as they sing from a variety of lyrics simultaneously which gives a sense of the cacophony created. Even the moon looks on in annoyed disapproval, but the kitties don’t care. My favorite is the fellow perched on the chimney with smoke billowing out from under him – he’s the one with the Herring King sheet music. One of my favorite Pictorama posts for a late night kitty sing along, perhaps a cat genre unto itself, is the photo I found and featured in Kitty Sextette Singers which can be found here.)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

If you have ever experience a nocturnal chanteur or chanteuse in feline form you know that it gets your attention and can indeed keep you up. While I believe the lore of the midnight cat song is a love song, there is another variation which I attributed to male cats which is the tendency to roam the house (or in our case, Blackie, very small apartment) howling and muttering to themselves.

I refer to this as Existential Kitty Angst or End of the World Meows. My parents had a cat that drove me nuts with it – long sessions of it nightly. They had learned to sleep through it but he kept me awake whenever I overnighted. Blackie indulges in it occasionally, but I find it usually ends in his taking a swipe at Cookie and then whole thing ends up in a fight, sometimes even a spirited chase through the apartment. This seems to sweep his anxieties out of the way, although sometimes instead we can end it in a non-violent way, encouraging him to find his spot at the foot of the bed. However, on those occasions when I find myself awake and fretting at 3 AM, Kim, Cookie and Blackie sound asleep, I too am tempted to caterwaul and howl!

Of Rats and Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Post: A admit to being a bit stuck on the New Year’s theme this year – I wonder what my subconscious is trying to tell me. However, I scarfed up this card recently as its somewhat three dimensional embossed-ness appealed immediately. I am taking this opportunity, therefore, to consider Chinese New Year and the upcoming celebration of the Year of the Rat.

Starting with considering this splendid card, I will note that this realistic puss has a toothy look that makes me think he would happily eat the rat or any rodent in question. The card was never mailed, but in a penned script on the back it reads, Bro Rob – Wishing you a very Merry Christmas Harry. It is undated. It is deeply embossed, making writing on the back a bit difficult, but contributing to its sense of depth.

I don’t know anything about the Chinese horoscope, but I do feel like I am hearing a lot about the Rat this January. The Rat takes us back to the beginning of the 12 entity cycle which gives me a sense of beginnings and the turning over of new leafs. (Perhaps like me, you have many leaves and are still considering which might be ripe for turning.)

I was walking home from the gym last Sunday, which was an incredibly unseasonably warm day for January, more like spring. As I strolled down 85th Street I noticed a rat in a tree well, dead, but oddly appearing like he was napping. I thought to myself that the Year of the Rat wasn’t working out for him – having missed such a very nice day, not to mention the commencement of his year. We’ll hope he did his time as a rat and was moving onto a better incarnation.

Generally rats terrify me. (Even this dead one made me scream a bit and jump.) I have an irrational fear of them. I am unsure if it was growing up on the water where water rats are enormous and fierce; we were warned about them as children, or just something about me and them. (I go into some detail about this in a post called Ratters and Mousers which can be found here.) Meanwhile, admittedly New York City rats are like large mice by comparison – the mice sometimes so tiny that they look more like spiders.

Everything is bigger outside of the city – the mice, moles and shrews of my childhood rodent catching cats were outsized by comparison. I was amazed when I moved here and worked in a restaurant kitchen with mice so small that sometimes they were just a blur of movement I would catch out of the corner of my eye.

My dead street rat victim notwithstanding, the rat and the year are considered to be lucky ones. I have a personal (and also frankly irrational) preference for even years. This applies equally to the year in question as well as to my age – they are in sync for me. I don’t remember when I developed this preference. A friend recently posted that her shrink says the even years are the ones for catching up.

I am a Dragon – the only imaginary animal in the Chinese Zodiac. I am told we have tenacity, courage and confidence, as well as arrogance and we are aggressive. I guess I can own up to most of that. My sub-set is Wood Dragon though, which is a tad less charming as we are tagged as introverted (I am guessing you all at Pictorama may not entirely agree) and less enthusiastic. However, I read that mine is a lucky career year in particular and I say, May the Year of the Rat begin!