Gussie

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Poor Gussie deserved a better photo in my opinion – the photographer was poor in various facets of execution. The exposure is bad (and I have helped it a tad), but the development and printing manages to be even worse – blotchy, cockeyed and cutoff. (It is also, to be frank, dirty and missing a corner.) I assume that it is the product of a nascent photographer and is a credit to the process of early home photography that it was made at all.

Yet for all of this that the photo survives is touching. In addition, there’s something charming about it – even the way Gussie & cat is written with a period at the end. A series of people cared enough to keep Gussie and his cat so I have entered into that line of holders. Obviously for me the attraction is that Gussie is proudly showing off his nice tabby cat. This is a photo postcard and it was never mailed, nothing is written on the back.

While the erstwhile photographer didn’t have his or her chops on exposure or printing they had something of an eye for composition. The boards make up a very pleasing horizontal and vertical design, as does the board he is perched on, and Gussie is captured with his rollicking charm fully intact. I like his shadow self behind him. If you look carefully you can make out the food and water bowl for the kitty. It is clearly a cat domain.

The ongoing mulling I do over the meaning, value and saving of photos is more than I think my readers or I want to tackle on this Sunday morning. As I have mentioned before, my intention is to eventually collect these photos into a book. I like to think that all these photos of families, soldiers, men in hats and Gussie will end up together in a long chapter on beloved family felines.

Just a Song at Twilight

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: This postcard sat on a watch list on my eBay account for quite awhile before I noticed it one day and snapped it up. Sometimes, it seems, our attention wanders here at Pictorama. The nice fat black cat on this card first attracted me because he reminds me of one of my first stuffed cat purchases, a cat of similar proportions and girth. (While we strive for svelte, calorie calibrated real felines here at Deitch studio, who doesn’t love at least the image of a pudgy puss? And Cookie and Blackie would love to explore the possibilities of unfettered eating, I assure you.)

This card was sent on February 20, 1913 from Waterman, Illinois I cannot quite make out. It is addressed, in a childish hand in pencil, to Mrs. A.H. Seibert, Pecatonica, IL, RR no. 1. To the best of my ability it reads, Waterman, Ill. Feb. 20. Hello ma. Well I got here all right. Jennie was in Rochford. She had to go to the dentist. She has another wisdom tooth on the other side now it is not thought but hurts her. She did not get all she wanted but will probably have to come back to Rochford again. Well I will write you again. Good bye from…feel pretty good. WS. Clearly at the time such a card sent in the morning and received in the evening or the next day, rather than a phone call, would comfort a mother to know her child arrived safely to their destination.

Just a Song at Twilight refers to a popular song of the day and I would offer a link to it on Youtube if I could find one that wasn’t decidedly lugubrious. While Kim and I both believe such a thing exists I cannot find it so I will not tax you with what is readily available. (Dear readers, feel free to supply if you find differently.)

Since we live in Manhattan you would think we might be experts on nighttime noise, but I must say I mostly adjusted to the type of nocturnal life of the city without any trouble and rarely hear it now. As many readers know, I grew up on the water in a New Jersey suburb and therefore my earliest memories are of going to sleep with the sound of water lapping outside (a sound I love and one that immediate lulls me) and later, even though where we lived could hardly be called the country, everything from screech owls to the fluttering of bats under the eaves were some of the noises of the night. Returning to New Jersey those sounds are now more likely to wake me as I am no longer used to them.

Cats of course are nocturnal animals and this is true whether they live inside or out, although I do suspect that living in a small space with us in our apartment has perhaps had some impact on their circadian rhythms, aligning them a tad with our own. Gratefully, Cookie and Blackie seem to devote at least some of their more than a dozen hours of daily sleep to the evening. (Although if you want to read about our wake up kitties and their routine, which starts quite early, I wrote about it recently and it can be found here.)

However, cats raising their voices in nighttime song has long been a part of their modus operandi. Here in the city I occasionally hear mournful meows at night via an open window and it makes me nuts as I worry about the little fellow or gal. (Recent decades spent on the 16th floor means this happens less often than when I lived on the 6th and faced a garden, complete with low wall, which was well, like catnip to kitties.)

Cats howling for the sake of howling has long been memorialized in cartoons and song. I have two pieces of sheet music within eyeshot right now that allude to this. I have written about them before, I show one below. (Those posts can be found here and here.) I also wrote about a strange, pre-Photoshop somewhat mysterious collaged image of kitties on a back fence that I purchased and love (post can be found here) which I offer again.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Meanwhile, this reputation for nighttime cat carousing is indeed one that is justly applied and has not fallen out of fashion with felines. Cats fight at night – in fact Cookie and Blackie have a date to fight at the front door of the apartment every night, usually at 10:00 PM, complete with strangled noises from Cookie which often result in my having to break it up. I have known a number of cats, I want to say mostly if not exclusively male, who have wandered the house caterwauling in the wee hours of the morning – a habit which is hard to live with and would be hellish in a studio apartment. My mother’s cat Red is a current practitioner. I refer to it as existential kitty angst – and it would probably get us thrown out of our co-op if Blackie ever takes it up.

 

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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Black Cat Balloon

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Taking a short break from the world of photo postcards, I am shifting over to a diminuative snapshot today. This little gem was spewed out of Great Britain and found in a sort of needle-in-a-haystack way while searching on eBay. The back is only marked with Velox and 5 38, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that May of 1935 isn’t the date of this photo. It is tiny, really just sort of 2.5″x3″ – the size of a business card – and has those crinkly white edges and boarder that were briefly in vogue for early commercial photo printing.

I do wish I knew what was going on in this photo as I suspect I would find it quite exciting. There is the really splendid, enormous cat balloon (held in place by an impressive number of ropes if you look carefully) and a group of women posing in front of it, while another woman is being filmed by what appears to be a newsreel or other film movie camera. (Oh to get closer!)  There are people lined up on the sidewalk behind some kind of fence or barrier. I would love to have a better look, not to mention know what it was all about. Interesting to take a picture of something being filmed. It was important enough to save it all this time – but with nary a note of explanation.

When I started collecting cat photos and photo postcards I was pleased to discover this sub-genre of cat photos – the cat parade float. I have come across and added several to my collection, most of them photo postcards. You can see some of my other lovelies at the following links:  Cat’s Eye on ParadeSpirit of the Golden West, Cats on Parade and lastly Felix on Parade. Clearly folks could easily work up some enthusiasm for a black cat float – thereby making it my kind of parade. I just wish I could have been there.

Tabby cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Those of you who have followed Pictorama for a bit know that men and cats are a sort of a sub-genre for me. For some reason I find it very appealing to see that some man of years gone by has grabbed a cat or two for a photo. This man seems to be quite pleased with these two great tabby kits – one perfectly calm and the other clearly itching to get on with the duties and pleasures of his own cat day.

While tuxedoes are generally considered to be the cats of choice here at Pictorama, I harbor a deep affection for our stripe-y feline friends. They are, in their own way, the very archetype of house cat, aren’t they? (I pause for a moment to reflect on that term – house cat. Interesting.) I think of them as generally genial, although my parent’s had one, Wally, who was insane and would randomly attack people with ferocity. (He was the kind of cat who created cat haters by embodying and realizing their cat fears.) Further back in my childhood however, there was first Zipper and then Tigger, both of whom exemplified the tabby persona with aplomb and good nature.

I have written about Zipper before – my mom rescued him as a tiny kitten from an ally behind a laundromat where two boys were tormenting him. He was so malnourished that he slipped between the space between the cushions in the back of the car. Somehow this made mom arrive at naming him Zipper. After a diet of cream cheese to build up his strength he grew into an easy going if occasionally skittish cat. Despite his early bad experience with humans he would submit to some petting. My mom alone could hold him though. For the rest of us he would quietly slip out from under your grasp without fuss.

Tigger meanwhile was a plump black gray and white striped tiger. She was the kitten of my insane, if remarkable, calico cat Winkie. Tigger had a good personality, undemanding yet smart and friendly. She would sleep on my bed, a bit erratically but always welcome. One day she wandered off and was missing for a very long time. She was discovered in a barn several blocks away and somehow brought back to us, the denizens of the broader neighborhood having heard that we were looking for a cat of ours. We were delighted to have her back and she settled in immediately. However, oddly, within the next year she disappeared once again, this time for good. We searched, but ultimately suspected that she had adopted another home, and when weighed we were ultimately the ones found wanting. Ours was a large but cat filled house at that time so perhaps she had a fair gripe. I have always hoped she found a home where she was the sole feline resident in charge, much adored, feted and spoiled as she deserved to be.

 

NY Band Instrument Co.

Pam’s Pictorama Advertising Post: It is perhaps obvious to Pictorama readers, but I will start by stating that I like stuff. While I think of myself as a toy and photo collector (and those predominantly of cats, of course) I am also fascinated by what I guess you might call collectibles. These often fall in the category of advertising – give aways (pins, calendars, cards, rulers and the like) that would keep you in mind of a product or establishment. The disappearance of the flea market as this sort of collecting occurs more frequently online makes the finding and acquisition of such tidbits harder I believe, however I accept the challenge.

These items fall soundly in the category of you didn’t know you wanted it (or that it existed) until you saw it. I believe my favorite are the cat pin trays I discuss in my past post Corbin Canadian Cats. This was the sort of stuff I stumbled on and went nuts over as a kid and young adult, and I miss having as many opportunities to paw through piles of stuff and find such things. Nonetheless, necessity is the mother of invention and I have managed to find some interesting oddities online as well and here I present one today.

Of course it is this rather dignified looking kitty on this pin that attracted me and brought this item into my sphere. It is so interesting to me that cats have always been used to sell pretty much any and everything and this tom had been employed to hawk the N.Y. Band Instrument Co. While kitty is great I can’t help but point out that it is far superior and, for me, made irresistible by the little stitched holder he resides in. Tucked into this sleeve it is this way (and this way only) that we know that he was created to ply the wares of the N.Y. Band Instrument Co. Everything Musical, 111 East 14th Street, NEW YORK and 1225 Broadway, Brooklyn. I do wonder what it is that you would have been required to purchase at said establishment to earn you this little gem – a trumpet perhaps? Or just a pile of sheet music? Did folks immediately take it out of its holder (which they then lost) and poke it into their lapel? I know I would have. I was tempted to do it as soon as it arrived in the mail.

The internet does lend an interesting spin to this research and it was a matter of only seconds after inquiring before I was able to learn that the N.Y. Band Instrument Co. was once the largest music store in New York. The genesis of the company, originally known as the N.Y. Musical Instrument Company in its first incarnation, seems to have been a small import and maker of instruments which was born down the street from the address near Union Square, at 12 Cooper Square back in 1913.

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Undated photo of the store front, Horn-u-copia.net

 

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Steinway Hall at this address in 1875, this image from the Museum of the City of NY

 

The founders are noted to have been (Max) William Renz (a piano maker) and the Swiss born, Louis Ortlieb. The store on 14th Street appears to have been established by 1925 (I guess Steinway moved on) and the building included studios on the top floor which were rented to music teachers. It is a bit uncertain, but it would appear that they were in business in one form or another until 1950. The site of the building appears to have morphed into NYU dorms and is now apartments, according to the Zillow real estate site. (For these historical details I give a nod to the book, Spann’s Guide to Gibson 1902-1942, available online, and the site Horn-u-copia.) I was unable to find any information about the Brooklyn location, only that an African market currently claims the address.

This thriving establishment advertised frequently in the New York papers of the day, however it is a bit of patter from Jacob’s Band Monthly, in April of 1921, next to an ad for Toneking brass instruments placed by our friends at the New York Band Instrument Company , that best captures the spirit of music selling of the day and more,

SUMMING up the successful men of the past and present we find them all to be men of POWER It was power that won the world war. The most powerful engine the best success of an automobile and confidence are inspired by the of power. How can the beginner [of] the study of music gain this power? That is of the first questions with which the student is confronted. In trombone, power is attained in proportion to degree of control of the embouchure in words the better lip the more power will be to the tone and the less fatigue there be experienced. Power also comes from ability to concentrate regarding which I written previously I would now further every student to bear this subject in mind for when he has developed power of concentration his power to advance will be increased amazingly…

 

The Robbers Squeak

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I purchased this volume after researching another book I wrote about recently, Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball, which featured illustrations by the more than capable artist A.M. Lockyer. This volume however credits only Mr. Lockyer so we must assume that it is not only illustrated by him, but that the story, written entirely in verse, is as well. (There is a song over several pages, Sergeant Sleek’s Song, with music and three verses in the middle of the book. However, words are credited to G.E I. and music by F.R. Cox. A casual search did not turn up any information on them.)

The book’s story is an odd one – and considering I featured dogs yesterday it is a bit shocking that I go out way out on a Pictorama limb and feature mice today, because this is indeed a story of mice. They are both the heroes and the villains of this story, which it should be noted, is a stretch for children, at least as we see children’s stories today. It is a tale of mice who are a marauding band of thieves, stealing feasts of food, but eventually kidnapping a beautiful girl kitten they adore. The image below is when Momma cat comes calling for her little girl kit. This interaction with maternal cat love reforms them and they turn over a new leaf and become monastic mice – who occasionally tell tales of the days of yore.

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As best I can tell, it was published in 1889 – there is no copyright information in the book, although the publisher is noted as Marcus Ward & Co Limited, London, Belfast & New York. Given the availability of the book even now, it must have been relatively popular. The illustrations are beautifully executed, even if the story is a bit odd. Meanwhile, anthropomorphic cats and other animals seem to be A.M. Lockyer’s bread and butter and I have my eye out for other books by him – in particular on called The Cat Concert. I have yet to find a biography of him, although there is no shortage of his illustrations available when you search on his name.

The story of cat and mouse is one that goes back to the beginning of a certain kind of story telling as we know it. It starts with illustrated books and eventually winds its way to Felix and Farmer Alfalfa cartoons and beyond. It is of course an old, old story from life itself – going back to the domestication of our feline friends. Just this morning, as I sat on the phone during an out of the ordinary Sunday morning call for work, I noticed Cookie and Blackie united in an investigation under Kim’s desk. Despite being litter mates, our duo rarely unite in any effort so it is notable. As I attempted to carry on my conversation with the volunteer in Florida the cats chattered and meowed to each other about something under the desk. (Kim wasn’t home and I could not investigate.) By the time the call ended, the cats had tussled with each other and subsequently retreated to their own perches, but of course I do wonder what they saw, or thought they saw.

Living in a many decades old building in New York City generally means you have rodents (and roaches) and it is merely a question of keeping them at bay. To date just the presence of the cats, and their predecessors, have influenced the rodents to bypass us as a stop along the way as they search for food and fun. Still, you never know when a little mousie fellow or gal takes a wrong turn, or decides that they can take on the big guys, much like The Robbers Squeak. Even if I do not, Cookie and Blackie, meanwhile, live in anticipation.