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

 

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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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Scrum

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama regulars know that I promised more Louis Wain and today is our next, although definitely not final, installment. Ah yes, as I curate the cat museum in my mind’s eye I now acknowledge that Louis Wain should take his rightful place, a collecting tributary of its own! This card is an image that I have favored from the time I started looking at Wain seriously. In some ways he is at the height of his powers here for me, making black and white work for him as well as color does.

Each and every one of these rugby playing pusses has this own expression of glee, pain, and even, my favorite, maniacal anger. Notice the one very happy cat who has his foot right in the eye of another on the ground – who in turn looks surprisingly pleased about this arrangement. The movement of these cats is great, but so is the sense of deep space with the lightly drawn house (rather British-suburban) and trees in the background. In the middle ground we have one cat covering the distance and the goalie, way back there.

This card was used and sent on January 11, 1905 from Freston. It is hard to read the address, but it appears to be something along the lines of: Miss Breaf Elle, East View, Bouds, Lancashire. The note reads, Moody Maureens next week are you & Kali coming? Let me know in good time as there is some one who will go with you. Evidently the sender assumed all would know who she was as she did not sign her name. (Handwriting and message makes me lean toward this being a woman.)

While this card is entitled After the Scrum is Over to me the scrum still seems very much in action. I guess the ball is technically back in motion so I won’t claim to understand the finer points of the game here. (Readers may remember I have a soft spot for rugby too since my sister played in college. Her trophies are considered in my post Trophies and also in The Crimson.) It is a ribald cat universe here and somehow Wain manages to capture the insane and slightly vicious, wild world that our cats would establish if someday they were indeed to take the evolutionary step toward being slightly more human. Quite a thought to contemplate fellow cat lovers!

Friendly with Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For any Pictorama devotees who are less than enchanted with my collection of photos of people posing with outsized Felix the Cat dolls, the next several weeks may present something of a challenge. So sorry! While today’s post focuses on one that I have pulled off our wall and have owned for years, I have acquired two more that are winging their way toward me even as I type. Yes, pleasantly enough, I have a small wall devoted to these and frankly I have about as many I could hang and have not yet. I could cheerfully fill a room with them.

Frankly my appetite for these photo postcards remains utterly undiminished. Even I am a bit amazed that I remain as enchanted with acquiring each new one as I was by discovering my first. My reaction is the same every time – I love it and I’m amazed and gratified that it even still exists. That’s not to say some of these aren’t better than others – I especially love the one I am sharing today – but in the end each has its own charm for me. Each person, couple or group, frozen in time, the remembrance of lovely day gone by. Everyone with a different version of an over-sized Felix.

For one thing this is a well composed photo and not every wandering picture taker who bought a huge Felix (and still I ponder – where are those dolls?) knew how to put a photo together. This photographer certainly did, although some of it was luck. I love the composition in front of these columns – the striped dress on the one woman is somehow happily repeating that pattern. The bricks provide another pattern, as do the fabrics of their clothes and hats. I like the little slice of action behind the other woman and the long look behind them of other columns giving it great depth. It is my single regret that somehow it is the tiniest bit over-exposed and the one column disappears a bit at the top. We could use the tiniest bit of line there and over the white hat.

These women are dressed in lovely spring-summer costumes for their day out. White shoes and stockings! Pretty dresses and hats! It makes me want to go out and buy a spring dress. (Honesty compels me to confess it is not a hard inclination to create – this time of the year I positively yearn for spring dresses.) They are holding this enormous, slightly tipsy, lop-sided Felix up by the arms. He looks like he’s has a decided list to one side and his arms are very long indeed. Still, he has a great Felix face and large nicely pointy ears. Unlike some of these fellows, he’s in good shape and doesn’t look as if he has been dragged over hill and dale as much as some I have seen recorded. There is a mysterious form – shadow? – in the lower right corner and if you look carefully, bits of developer down at the bottom which has left some white spots. Although this is a very nice photo, those are a reminder that these were done in haste, somewhat sloppily, unlike a studio photo.

Anyway, I offer it to you today, on what is one of Manhattan’s first truly spring-like days. Cats dozing by an open window, winter on the run at long last. A visual reminder of another perfect spring day, somewhere in Great Britain past.

Waxing and Wain-ing; the Conclusion of Our Story

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who have been following this tale, today I wrap up the Louis Wain story with this entry (for now anyway – I feel more collecting coming on in this area now that I have started, but more of that to follow) with an interesting tributary of his work, the ceramics. I am going to break a Pictorama ground rule today, and please know that none of the glorious items I am abundantly illustrating today’s post with is in my collection – they are pulled entirely from the internet, many from previous auction posts. A girl can dream however!

For some background, although I had not collected Louis Wain as such I had, of course, long been a fan of his whacky cat imagery, mostly via postcard reprints of his work at its height, made widely available in a reproduced postcard line I remember as being available in the 1980’s. While I did not collect them as such, I did purchase them for use (yes, I actually used to routinely send postcards in those days) and at one time certainly had a number of them lying around.

So when I met Kim and cat item collecting became a topic of conversation between us, I certainly knew who he was talking about when he intrigued and beguiled me with Louis Wain’s bio of descending into insanity, cat illustrations becoming wilder and more abstract over time. But then, being Kim, he topped it off with another amazing story. As Wain’s cats became less realistic, at one point they even became Cubist, executed in the form of sculptures or vases. And, furthermore, that many if not virtually all were lost in shipwreck! There was something about them being Czech. (He may have said that they were on the Lusitania when it was lost, but don’t hold me to that.)

Now folks, this was in the days before the internet and Google in the palm of our hands in the form of what we now think of as a phone. It was a marvelous story. My imagination raced crazily with mental images of what these might have looked like. Oh my! The tragedy of a splendid cat bounty that was never to be known! I fantasized that some day the wreck would be raised and somehow many of the objects recovered whole, auctioned and made public. (Made mine…) The story has lived vividly in my head for decades.

So finally, the other day as I began gathering information for the first two parts of this post, at long last I Googled both the story and the ceramics. I was not disappointed. To my great fascination, a fair number of these ceramics exist, and while very expensive, are collected today. In addition to cats, there are (sans explanation) dogs and pigs – and these do not disappoint. While I may have imagined these sculptures one degree more abstract, and for some reason not so brightly colored, I was pretty close with my mental image of them. They are however, if anything, better than I imagined.

 

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And, it turns out that the story of the shipwreck and loss of a significant shipment of them from England is also true – although not on the Lusitania and they were produced both in Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, in the teens. Fakes have evidently plagued the market at various times – meanwhile, I am sure I wouldn’t mind owning one of those either. One article I read said that had the shipment reached the United States (which, unlike Britain, had a discerning consumers who, even at the time, had a voracious appetite for these particular offbeat items) it might have staved off, or at least delayed, the impoverishment Wain suffered at the end of his life, ending sadly in asylums, but still producing cat drawings. It is all a very Deitchian tale, with only slight embellishment, and now you know one of the many reasons why being married to Kim Deitch is so much fun.

Meanwhile, those of you who know me are wondering by this time, how could price alone have swayed me from adding Louis Wain to my routine collecting? After all, I am the woman who has brought you my indulgences ranging from rare Aesop Fable dolls (Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) to Mickey Mouse toys the size of a toddler (Big Mickey) that I have crammed into our tiny apartment and paid admittedly obscene amounts of money for over time. At this point, I sheepishly admit that has been a foolish kernel of jealousy that has been at the root of it these many years.

I remind long-time Pictorama readers of an early post, Mine, all mine…at long last, where I gloried in obtaining a long sought after photo of the Aesop Fable dolls I adore. A copy of that photo had passed through Kim’s hands to a woman he lived with for a number of years and it gnawed gently at the back of my brain for years until I acquired my own copy. The same former girlfriend of Kim’s also collected Louis Wain items, primarily postcards. He mentioned this casually, early into our relationship, probably as a part of the broader Louis Wain tale. Kim had in fact purchased one or two of the original postcards for her as gifts over time. While admittedly, this seems a bit embarrassing and ridiculous as my adored Mr. Deitch and I are well into our second decade together, somehow I did not wish to have him associate her with my collecting. Then I guess I just never got around to lifting the prohibition and purchasing Louis Wain until this recent trip to London. Petty jealousy is like that and now I realize how silly that is – and will let the Louis Wain buying begin at long last.

1914 Ceramic Cat with Cigar and Monocle designed by Louis Wain (Made in Austria) 20.7 cm high x 18 cm long 1.jpgLS1461663_HR-1.jpg

Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 2

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Back cover of Merry Times, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama: I pick up today with my tale of Louis Wain acquisition which was what the universe presented to me while I was on my recent business trip to London. For those of you who read London Fog, Chapter 1 and London Fog: Chapter 2 you know that I was slogging my way through London, trying to maximize my limited free time there, frequenting some old collecting haunts. Maddeningly much was closed due to the inclement weather and I was feeling quite out of luck. However, bookseller Natalie Kay Thatcher ultimately made the trip in and did open late that morning. Marchpane, the bookstore in question, is devoted to antiquarian children’s books. There was a time when I pursued that interest more vigorously, but always just following my nose to what I like (cats generally) and I have never learned much about the ways of old books – what makes them desirable or valuable. A recent gift (highlighted in Good Cats and Bad Cats) lead me back to buying books (Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball and The Robbers Squeak) and I was intrigued with the idea of what I might dig up at Marchpane on this wintery morning.

Yesterday’s readers know I had purchased my first-ever Louis Wain item in the form of an engraving taken from a broadsheet publication earlier in that morning. So when Natalie pulled out Merry Times illustrated by Louis Wain I realized that perhaps Louis Wain was going to be the theme for this trip. I believe she also had a Louis Wain Annual, but I quickly realized I was all about Merry Times. Like all Louis Wain items, it was intimidatingly expensive even for holiday Pam with pent-up toy money to burn in her pocket, but before I get into that let’s take a romp through Merry Times and see what was getting under my skin.

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The most interesting part of this book for me is the positively whack-a-doodle story first in the book, The Holiday Home, which is a bizarrely bleak tale (considering that I believe this volume is meant for children) about homeless cats at holiday time and an anthropomorphic wealthy cat who is out collecting funds for the poor cats. Sadly it points out the truth that people will frequently just leave a cat behind after a vacation some place, or move house without taking the pet – my mother was in the animal rescue end of things for years and as hard as it is to believe it frequently happens. This story, and others in the book, are a mix of anthropomorphic cats with regular cats and dogs. The human cats are the more take charge and the catty cats and dogs are either children or just animals. Most of the stories are jollier than this one, but others still have some dark overtones. Wain’s drawings are just starting to get stranger, but haven’t really achieved their later more pop-eyed appearance.

Meanwhile, I realize I have neglected to share some of the facts about this publication. While it was illustrated by Louis Wain, the writing is credited to Dorothy Black, Grace C. Floyd, Norman Gale & others. There is no copyright year marked and some quick research turns up that this is not the first printing from 1917, as originally noted by the seller, but a later 1925 reprint which notably has additional text and illustrations. Inscribed in wonderful childish writing on the inside cover in scratchy pencil is From Dorothy To Derick with love and kisses for a happy Xmas XXXXXX.

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Frontispiece for Merry Times, Pams-Pictorama.com collection. Evidently this is a key difference between the earlier and later editions of the book.

 

I am sharing a few of my other favorite illustrations from the book below. Sorry, I was not able to scan these – the spine of the book is too fragile. You will have to make due with photos taken on Kim’s desk. And for those of you careful readers who are still wondering why I have gone all these years, collecting cat items and until now never flipped for a Louis Wain item, I am afraid you will have to wait for the final installment of this story next week!

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Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 1

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have been working up to a big Louis Wain post for a few weeks since my trip to London. I alluded briefly to my Wain purchases in my posts London Fog, Chapter 1 and London Fog: Chapter 2, a trip that was toy poor but provided other buying opportunities, it also most notably broke a long held prejudice I secretly harbored against acquiring Louis Wain associated artifacts.

For those of you who aren’t in the know, Mr. Wain (1860-1939) is attributed with single-handedly introducing comic, anthropomorphic cat drawings into world-wide post-Victorian popularity. Started as a drawings and sketches of their cat to entertain his ailing wife, who it seems was dying of breast cancer, these drawings quickly captured public imagination and catapulted him into a career that was almost exclusively devoted to cats. Over time the cats became more pop-eyed and decidedly more human, the humor more pointed, occasionally a bit dark. I have, in prior posts (most specifically Kitten Class), referred to some Victorian cats advertising that likely pre-dates and may have even informed him, but it would seem that it took Mr. Wain to launch the cat as comic subject into popular conscience. One article I read said that there was a time in Great Britain when virtually every home had a Louis Wain print – not unlike the prints of dogs playing poker of a later, American era.

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Louis Wain painting not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection, card playing cats just for fun!

 

Wain was hugely prolific – the same article claims that at the height of his career he was probably churning out more than 1,500 cat drawings annually. Given this, there certainly isn’t a dearth of Louis Wain art available today. Still, despite the vast number of prints, postcards, books, drawings and even sculptures, his work in every and any form fetches a huge premium, which explains one of the reasons I have been reticent to join the fray on the collecting front. However, I too have of course, always been entertained by them and have been tempted over time.

Also famously, Louis Wain eventually descends into insanity, but continues drawing, and his cats get quirkier and more abstract until they become a color psychedelic almost unidentifiable design. He is eventually institutionalized, but keeps producing drawings although I am unclear on the dissemination and publication of these.

I begin my Louis Wain odyssey with the purchase of this early print illustration I am sharing today. I purchased it on that dreadful snowy Friday morning I was spending near Leicester Square in a romantic mews I have always enjoyed. I was already realizing that the extreme weather was going to have a seriously negative impact on my limited free time in London however. I had a few hours before an afternoon meeting and I started with a print store I have spent many hours in over the years. My memory was that at one time, in contrast to the nice and pricey matted objects in trays upstairs, that there used to be boxes with scraps of old prints and even the occasional book, in the basement. If it was that store, or a similar one nearby that has gone out of business I am unsure. Regardless, the proprietor had made his way to work that morning, and when I discovered this item in the basement (sans boxes of lower end items) I decided to break the self-imposed Wain ban and reward the seller for his efforts to open his shop by purchasing this item.

This clipping, a page from a large publication, is identified as Christmas Number of the Sporting and Dramatic News, December 3, 1892. I am told that his break through illustration was sold as a Christmas drawing in 1884 and that it was two more years after that before he illustrated his first children’s book. This would put this illustration eight years after that first illustration sold, but before he achieves his later best known, more broadly comic style.

With the title, What’s This? and identified as L. Wain he perfectly captures the curiosity of these kitties eyeing this insect. He has signed the image itself and there is another mark I cannot make out which I assume is the engraver’s. I like the limited use of color which gives this a bit of warm and brings out the image. However, most of all, I like the little claws emerging on each of the kits! Cats #3 and #4 (in line, left to right) are emerging toward full blown Louis Wain style. All eyes are on that bug which is slated to be a snack for one of these fellers if he doesn’t skitter fast! For comparison, below is a later painting of a similar theme I snatched off the internet. Cats and bugs have legs as a subject.

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Louis Wain painting, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection, spiders remained a theme!

 

The tale of my purchases, more about my antipathy toward buying Louis Wain memorabilia and other strange tributaries of this story to be continued in subsequent installments. Pictorama readers take note!