Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As previously bemoaned in this space last week, our scanner here at Deitch Studio died with a tick, tick groan as it ground to a halt halfway through the back cover of Kim’s new book, Reincarnation Stories. (Yes, here’s the pre-order link on Amazon here – never miss a chance to plug the family product I say! It has a not insignificant dose of Pam Butler in it and comes out in October.) But now we have an excuse to happily explore and exploit a small cache of wind-up toys that have crossed the threshold here recently. Let the wind-up toy parade begin.
Today’s wind-up kitty is one I have in fact chased hither and yon for a number of years. It should be noted that he was the runner up as my avatar on this site, Twitter, and Instagram, but the rare Italian version of Felix on a scooter (which I am unlikely to ever own as it tends to go for a vast sum of money) won out instead. Still, there is for me an undeniable goofy charm to this rotund kitty with his jolly tin bottom half. I have bid on him via eBay and on numerous other sites and always lost to a more ambitious buyer for significant sums of money.
Last week I was trolling eBay and found a listing with a photo that was almost impossible to see it was so dark and indistinct, yet I knew that cat immediately. Even with all of that there were several buyers who also knew however in the end I bought him for much less than expected. Although he has some dents in his celluloid head that I was not able to discern in the photo, he was a welcome sight when he turned up last week.
On close inspection I found a mostly indiscernible tag on his underside which identifies him as being made in Occupied Japan which dates him from between 1947 and 1952. Made with the US export market in mind toys from that era tend to have a slightly skewed American sensibility. His dented celluloid head is a reminder of how fragile that stuff is, but it doesn’t lessen his appeal for me.
I share an image from the internet of him in perfect condition, with his box, and most notably he is holding a bell in his hand (paw) which is missing from mine. (There is a slit in the upturned paw it would have hung from and it is easy to see how it went missing on many over the past 70 years or so. The bell would be fun though as he races around in circles.) The internet also has examples with his tin bottom in blue and a bit less appealing, a mouse-headed version I didn’t care for at all – a bit terrifying. Part of this fellow’s charm for me is his up-turned tail, a bit like a third leg, and his cartoon-like gloved hands.
An internet swipe – this one in finer shape and complete with box.
He still winds well and I close with an action shot for you – a hot four seconds – below. It looks messy, but it rights itself when you click and shows you his action. I do believe that wind-up toys are meant to be seen in motion and offer my modest attempt.
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have made much of my reticence to acquire these delicate celluloid toys known and a few of the times I have written about them can be found at these links here – Fear of Celluloid, Funny Little Felix and Ding Dong Kitty. However, I am here again today with an item I have purchased whose fragility in some ways defies its very creation as a baby toy. This rattle was made to be extra light and to a large degree expendable I would think. After all, they were purchased for baby to chew on, beat against things and, yes – rattle, and ultimately probably to lose if not mutilated entirely.
This one has a splendid rattle and kitty Cookie immediately took an intent interest, even as I removed it from the box and packing it was shipped in. Between the great rattle and the cat shape, I would imagine that this fellow would have been one of baby’s favorites. One of the weird things about celluloid is how light it is – it has no weight at all really, so it is easy to imagine that even a very small infant could have made this one of the first items it was able to clench in their tiny fists. Oh the better to command that rattle yourself!
As you can see below, he has not survived unscathed, and the back of his head is dented. He bears no markings of manufacture or place of origin. I have a nagging feeling I have seen the cat face before on something. It has to be said that he isn’t an especially jolly puss, is he? I might go so far as to say a sour puss. Still, with the shape of him, that big bow and the nice little handle (good for some chewing too) I can imagine being perfectly charmed by mom waving him in my face. I don’t pretend to know anything about contemporary toys for tots, but somehow I doubt there are rattles quite as charming as this one. If I am wrong, please let me know.
Somehow he has wandered into this century and come to rest, for now anyway, among other cherished cat items where he will hopefully remain unscathed for a bit. That assumes that I keep him away from Cookie. Kitty claws and teeth can do more damage than a small child is likely to I do believe.
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I will blame this purchase on my travel too as I saw these and put a bid in while I was away and won. Pictorama readers know I have a uncomfortable relationship with celluloid – it is so fragile! This has been documented in the past posts, Fear of Celluloid, Happy Life Toy and most recently in Ding Dong Kitty. Nonetheless, I bid on these on a whim – a single one was being sold close to these three, I figured why not bid on the three at the same amount as I would one, and here we are. (Total Pam logic on that one.)
They are identical except one still sports his tiny Felix copyright Pat Sullivan tag on the sole of his foot. Unlike yesterday’s Felix-es, these do not stand independently. One has a tiny hole in the bottom of his foot, but otherwise they are in remarkably good shape with no dents. An indication that they were produced in Japan is embossed on each if you look closely. The strange almost non-existent weight of them somehow brings a visceral sense memory of holding such toys as a child.
Tag on Felix’s foot, collection Pams-Pictorama.com
As mentioned above, I have already opined on the frail nature of these items and my wonderment on how something so breakable, an inexpensive toy a child would have played with, can make it through some many decades (blasting toward the century mark) relatively unscathed. It is amazing – and probably a credit to mass distribution in part. I would get the same feeling when at the Met I looked at the rare piece of Roman glass which somehow made it down through time unscathed – I mean, I can barely keep glasses in our apartment un-chipped or ultimately smashed, especially with the kitties. Those items somehow survived not only household pets and drunken guests, but fires, earthquakes and wars. Fascinating.
I worry sometimes about whether I am the best steward for certain items. I do not collect what I really feel I cannot care for, keeping china to a minimum for example; paper mache gives me pause occasionally. Those who have visited Deitch Studio know that this is far from being a glass cabinet-ed, dust free facility. Toys are actually pretty much stacked around us, tumbling (especially with the help of cats) onto the bed with some regularity. Somehow we co-exist, the collection and us sentient beings, but as this is a single room I do wonder about the ultimate tipping point. However, for now, these Felix toys are tiny even if there are three of them, and they live quietly on a shelf propped up by a mechanical mouse, in front of a clutch of film books Kim requires access to only occasionally.
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: My ambivalence about collecting these fragile items is well documented, although I don’t think those past items were expected to stand up to heavy childhood play for the most part. However, this little fellow, and his bulldog mate, shown below, were meant to really be handled and played with. (As always, I am sad when a set gets broken up. These toys were listed separately and despite a best effort I lost a bidding war on the bulldog, which for some reason was much more popular than the kitty. They were a great pair.) I believe in his day this toy was reasonably sturdy – although his thin plastic probably always prone to denting and breaking. The plastic seems brittle now with age, but I assume a bit more pliable closer to its time of origin, and his joints a bit more tightly strung. However, someone kept these in splendid condition all these years.
This fine fellow is fully articulated – head turns, legs move – only tail does not wag. He has a serious look on his face despite that jolly pink nose and that tail is aloft at a jaunty angle. The white string seems to be a recent addition, but I am nervous about how best to extract it and have left it for now. On his tummy he is marked Japan with a small cross symbol, and there is a red and white sticker on one foot that says inspection and some other bits I cannot read. I believe his mark means he was made in a pre-war Japan, or the mark would be occupied Japan. This duo resided most recently in Fargo, North Dakota.
This is the sort of small toy, coupled with the dog, that your mom would buy you to occupy you for the an afternoon or weekend somewhere, to be spent at your grandmother’s house perhaps. Sometimes those five and dime buys turn out to be most beloved items. In addition to endless sets of Colorforms (I met someone who worked on many of those and it was hard to begin to describe to him what a huge part of my childhood they were – a visual vocabulary all their own in my memory) there was a black plastic doctor’s bag which fell into this category of toy too. Frankly not sure what mom was thinking on that one, but I did love it and was going to be a doctor for a hot five minutes. It had tiny pills in it – somehow I suspect that would not be allowed today – best part though. The ultimate of all these casual acquisitions was my stuffed dog Squeaky (already memorialized in the post Felix on an Outing) which I insisted on taking everywhere with me for what in memory seems like years.
I occasionally see small children clutching toys on the streets and subways of Manhattan. The carrying of toys seems like a much more precarious endeavor here than my suburban childhood of travel which took place predominantly in our sea green, Pontiac station wagon. Without knowing for sure, my guess is that the rate of loss is much higher on the streets of the big city. (In fact for a time Kim was forming a casual but interesting collection of small plastic abandoned toys acquired on the streets and sidewalks here.) There is a part of my childhood self which asserts itself and I find I worrying a bit when I see a child with what is clearly a much beloved toy on the subway or street. However, it does allow for a form of toy voyeurism that suburbia provides in lesser degree. Not often, but once in awhile I see a really great toy. I remember several years ago a little girl on the subway with a simple, but very nice stuffed cat that was almost collection worthy. A smart little girl, she kept a firm grip on it.
Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Nothing like a toy post as a shot in the arm after a hard week of returning to work, summer already a fading memory! This splendid roly poly toy turned up in one of my searches and I was just nuts to get a hold of him. Much to my delighted surprise he still makes a jolly ringing noise when you move him back and forth. The cats and I were as charmed and entertained as small children when this arrived. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, roly poly toys are those that are weighted in the bottom in such a way that they pop back up when you push them down. I own a Felix roly poly I wrote about in my post Felix Roly Poly awhile back, and although he is splendid, he doesn’t make a wonderful chiming noise like this fellow.
He is so dapper! I love that he has that little walking stick, cravat and nice suit. The paint around his mouth has faded in such a way that he sports and big red grin. Cookie and Blackie especially like the sound he makes and come running to see what I am doing when they hear it. They aren’t sure how they want to play with (reads as destroy) this charming object, but they are very interested indeed.
As you can see from the label on his back, shown below, he is a pre-occupied Japan toy. Hard for me to pinpoint and I am open to suggestions. I feel like he could date anywhere from the ’20’s to the ’40’s from appearance. While I have had some luck with Google Image search on toys, all I got when I tried this photo was a bunch of (somewhat frightening) images of cats dressed up in Elizabethan style ruffs. Yikes!
Long time Pictorama readers may remember my having professed some hesitation about collecting in the world of fragile celluloid (such as the aptly named post Fear of Celluloid), but this fellow actually seems fairly sturdy, despite his years and fragile material. Roly polys had largely gone out of fashion by the time I came on the scene in the mid 1960’s. However, I was entranced by a toy that worked on the same idea, a large blow-up clown (at least that is the one I remember), about as tall as I was, with sand weighting the bottom. You could push him over and he would pop right back up. I adored it. It seems a bit violent perhaps upon reflection. But still, when I look back on it, his refusal to stay down was probably a good message for me as a little kid.