Time for More Men in Hats with Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo postcard was purchased several weeks ago and put aside, found and remembered today as I was having a quick paw through my piles of photos currently waiting to be deposited into storage containers or, more rarely, in line to be framed up. This postcard is in remarkably pristine condition for such an old card, never mailed, written on, nor put in an album.

The photographer had a good eye for setting these gentlemen up perfectly in front of this interesting house with bay windows and porch. (I have a soft spot for a good porch and I am ready to curl up on this one with a book for the afternoon. In fact I am slightly in love with this house in general and would love to explore its nooks and crannies further.) The upper story of the has these octagon shingles that I find especially cheerful too. I admit to being uncertain about the purpose of the post they are posed near – for horses perhaps? I never understood how horses were patient enough to stay casually looped to a post. I always feel that, like dogs, they probably should be leashed more tightly but, at least from watching westerns, evidently not.

However, most notably, the men have chosen to display this interesting early bike and to scoop up their kitty to include as prized possessions. Unfortunately, the cat has moved with feline impatience and is just a blur. I like the shot of the bike very much. (Watching American Pickers has given me an interest in the aesthetics of early bikes I admit.) Unintentionally, these fellows have given us a visual tour of chapeaux of the day – two variations on bowlers, fedoras and a newsboy cap. I think it is fair to say that the hats are largely worn at a jaunty angle by all. Four are clad in suits of various design and fit showing the sartorial options of the day – from baggy to quite tight – our biker sporting a more casual turtleneck sweater instead.

A subset of photos of hat-sporting men photographed with cats makes up a small portion of my collection. (Some posts about those can be found here, here and here.) I am a sucker for them. From soldiers, to guys sitting on a bench or a lone gentleman scooping up his kit for a snapshot, I am pleased that man clearly does not live by canine alone.

 

Ratters and Mousers

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Sadly there are no tracks on what this photo is about. I know only that it comes from Great Britain. The image has a cut out quality, as if the negative had the background trimmed away before printing – a few drawn lines added after the fact and I’m not sure I’ve seen that exact process before. I do want this velvety cat costume for my own and wish I was getting a better look at it. (I constantly search without success for early cat costumes, as evidenced in Kim’s Alias the Cat.) I am, as I have stated as recently as yesterday’s post, a sucker for a nice pair of cat ears and a tail. (That post can be found here. Also an alert to regular readers that I will be exploring animal imitators and in particular Alfred Latell – whose popular post can be found here – further in the near future.)

The seller pegs this card as a version of Dick Whittington and his cat which seems like a fair enough guess. The Dick Whittington story is based on a ballad from the 1600’s where Whittington sells said cat to a town that is rat-infested for the obvious denouement. As per the internet, I understand that Dick Whittington is a real historic person, but no evidence about the cat’s ratting prowess – or as Wikipedia says, that he even owned one. (We, here at the cat loving Pictorama, will assume he did.)

The reality of rodent extermination by our cats is a difficult and unpleasant one. While it is at least an unconscious hope that our darling kitties will keep the mouse and (gasp) rat population down in our abodes, you frankly do not look forward to them bringing you the carcass, or leaving it for your approval. At best it would perhaps happen behind-the-scenes somehow. There is something distinctly disturbing about seeing your loving cat, who sleeps with you perhaps at night, with a dead or struggling animal in its mouth. My sister used to find mouse heads (yes, oddly just the heads she reported) lined up on the staircase as a sort of totemic gift from her cat Milkbone, an especially good mousing tuxedo. Loren had a very old house and she made peace with the mouse part parade, ultimately embracing and applauding Milkbone’s enthusiasm for her job rather than be run over by rodents. Most of us remain conflicted at best.

Growing up at the beach as small children we were frequently cautioned about water rats there, residing in the jetties. Large enough to kill a cat my mother would say and that they would leap if cornered. (We were also warned away from approaching the feral colonies of cats that also lived in the same jetties, tough enough to co-exist with the rats and not to be toyed with, beyond domestication even in my mother’s kindhearted opinion.) Our home was perched on a river and our cats, while mostly interested in the catching of small shrews more than mice, occasionally took a water rat on. The smell of the resident outdoor cats helped to keep them at bay. However, when the cats became indoor critters the exploding rat population became more of an issue.

Mom was right – those outsized water rats are much bigger than their city counterparts, as are country mice and shrews. When I first moved to Manhattan I thought the rats I saw in the street were large mice – and some of the mice I encountered in the restaurant I worked in seemed no bigger than large spiders. Meanwhile, if I have not made it clear, I am absolutely standing-on-a-chair-screaming (like a cartoon character) scared of mice and rats – I understand it is not rational. Therefore, in self-defense I acquired a cat as soon as possible upon arrival in New York City; Otto, the first in a long line of my feral tuxedo cats. To my knowledge she never got anything larger than a water bug and most of my NY mousie (and ratty) encounters took place either outside (think subway tracks, restaurant kitchens) or at the Met – yep, suffice it to say it is a very old building in the midst of Central Park. I have long believed that, like the Hermitage, they should house cats to patrol their basement.

As I write this Cookie is playing with a favorite bright green (otherwise) life-like mouse toy, tossing it about wildly, practicing her craft in hopes of one day employing it. We here at Deitch Studio continue to hope otherwise.

 

Cat Ears

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I resisted this photo as long as I could because it was expensive, but had to purchase it. (Full disclosure: Kim has tweaked the contrast on this in Photoshop which improves it considerably.) There’s no explanation on the back of this card and it was never sent, but it does speak for itself. I must say, with perhaps one exception (second girl from the left end), as a group they don’t appear happy about what I consider to be their jolly cat costumes. And my goodness, poor #6, in his enhanced, darker costume doesn’t look happy at all. Even mom doesn’t look thrilled. It’s a glum group of kitties. (A careful look leads me to believe the adult is at a minimum related to the child whose hand she holds and #6.)

In addition to his number label, #6 is the only one sporting a nice set of whiskers and has a high contrast version of the cat suit. It is hard to see, but they do also sport tails – a pity that we don’t see those better. One set of ears was sewn to look more elfin that cat, third in. It is almost impossible to see, but each also sports a tiny horseshoe pin – pointing down I’m sorry to say, all that luck pouring out. Mom wears one too. There’s something I especially love about the line up of shoes peering out, the trouser legs sewn differently at the bottom of each. There is that reluctant version of hand holding that children do – with a complete refusal of the two on the end. Ha! Gotcha. Take that you grown ups!

Personally, I have long loved a good animal costume and I tend to think I would have been more than happy to have been dressed up like this, especially if I was #6 – I would have been jealous of those whiskers and sharper black suit if I was one of the others. A tail is a great thing too and I have often thought I would like one. For myself, I am very fond of a pair of cat ears on a hairband I own. (This combines a good hair look with, well, lovely pointy cat ears – if only I could make them move independently like Cookie and Blackie do in inquiry and annoyance.) Our cats seem to find my cat ears alarming and repugnant however.

I remember when I first got the cat ear hairband years ago and put it on to show my cat Otto – who shrank away and with an expression which could only be described as the sort of disapproval and disappointment she’d have reserved for my holding forth with a racist joke – how could you? Evidently cat ears are the equivalent of kitty black face. It also seems you have, in their eyes, been transformed into a huge monster cat. Frankly, they appear to find hats distasteful too in a similar way – although it must be said that Cookie and Blackie are forgiving of Kim’s outsized cowboy hat he wears daily. However, I get the kitty stink eye for a knit cap in winter on my way out the door.

Unlike the Metropolitan Museum, it is interesting to note that many of the folks at Jazz dress up for Halloween. I was surprised the first year, but this past year I did bring cat ears to work. I only wore them for a short time, but it is clearly one of the perks of the job.

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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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.