My Little Chickadee

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This is a truly oddball purchase for me. Sometimes the unusual just calls to the collector in me and this fellow is one of those times. I was not the least bit disappointed when he showed up in the mail however – he makes me laugh!

I don’t know why, but I have it in my mind that this slightly angry looking celluloid chicken is an umpire. He does have a baseball bat tucked under one arm and I can be convinced that his hat is a baseball cap as well – because really why would he wear a tam ‘o shanter or captain’s cap? And I can imagine him yelling, Strike – you’re out! Meanwhile, let’s discuss that he sports a tie and belted trousers. I like his hands spread across his considerable girth too (as if he just had a nice big meal), and although he has human arms, his legs are chicken legs complete with scaly toes.

Celluloid chicken, Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

I found him while scrolling through my Instagram feed one night (@MissMollystlantiques) when I really wasn’t inclined to purchase anything (having just spent a fortune with Blackie in kitty ICU – his recovery continues apace, steady if a bit slower than I would prefer), but how could I say no to an angry celluloid baseball chicken? Man, you don’t want to argue with this chicken. He has some attitude.

The angry celluloid chicken in suit series? Not in Pictorama Collection.

This fellow rattles in a nice loud fashion that I can see being pleasantly distracting for a small child back in the day – I admit to rattling it a bit myself. I will note that this is not a young chicken and if I had to guess I would say his era is the 1940’s or ’50’s, although I share above illustrations from a current Ruby Lane listing and they say the 1920’s making him an elder statesman indeed. (These also evidently bear tiny labels stating, Made in Japan, which is not surprising.) I like the top hat on their rattle, although I prefer the expression on mine. The roly poly looks like he is doing a stump speech with his cigar in hand! Movable bits on him and the rooster on the end. (They are for sale, as is the toy at the bottom of the post, at the time of publication.)

My guy does stand, albeit a bit unwillingly and he is not cracked, but has a few errant child induced marks and smudges. At his senior age he is a tad fragile, although perhaps not quite as much as you might think. (Over time I have become less terrified of the fragility of celluloid which I once wrote about here. In that vein I purchased a celluloid cat rattle awhile back as well and that post is here.)

My chicken (rooster, let’s assume he’s a rooster?) is without a maker’s mark or other identification, although there is a (more recent) $10 penciled in on his bottom, but no company or place of origin on mine. If there was a sticker it is long gone.

Somewhat kinder gentler version for sale on the internet, Pickclick.com.

I located another kissing cousin to him (shown above), a brother in a full suit and jacket, no baseball bat, and a friendlier look, who was identified as an Easter celluloid chicken. When I look back on Easter baskets of my childhood (which were in all fairness prodigious things of chocolate and other candy, as well as a bevy of soft chicks and like toys) I can safely say that nothing like this was ever included. I am glad to have mine, if a bit late in life, now.

Another Elephant Box

Pam’s Pictorama Post: A number of years ago I wrote about a small wooden box I keep on my desk at my office which Kim made, long before he knew me, and gave to his mother. When closing up her apartment it was one of the items that found its way back to us and Kim gave it to me. I treasure it and keep a few special items in it. I have written about the box (here) and the items housed there (here).

This box is one of the items that remains in my midtown office which has not migrated back to my desk here at the apartment. It keeps me company there when I make my occasional work visits to Columbus Circle.

Wooden box decorated by Kim. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Unexpectedly I recently had the chance to purchase an elephant box for Kim in turn, just before Valentine’s Day this year. A few months back I had added a new vendor to my Instagram feed (@lucyameliaeastwood) and a steady stream of bits of early 20th century British detritus in the form of Bakelite bits, jewelry, shoes and dresses from the 1940’s, now washes over me more or less daily. The jewelry is of the sort that I would routinely purchase if the shop was down the street and visited periodically (think cheerful glass bead necklaces, clip on and screw back costume earrings aplenty), but for the first several months I didn’t see anything which merited me ordering it from Great Britain.

Butterfly pin.

Then this wonderful elephant box appeared and it caught my eye immediately. Still, to order such a relatively small item to be shipped all the way from England, to be packed and shipped seemed like a lot to ask of the seller. As I weighed it, the rather splendid celluloid butterfly (above) also showed up and those combined did indeed seem like a reasonable request. (I have written about the strange interest in insect jewelry which has overtaken me during this long pandemic Instagram season. That post can be found here. The British seemed to make a lot of jewelry with an insect theme in the dawning decades of the 20th century – the war torn years. I wonder if there is a correlation with that and also with their appeal to me at this pandemic time?)

Found elephant toy repainted by Kim. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Readers of Pictorama know that the fragility of celluloid generally worries me despite the attraction of its ephemeral beauty. I fret that the rough and tumble of life here at Deitch Studio (there are cats! it is small and crowded!) does not seem like a safe landing for fragile items, but we make occasional exceptions. (I wrote about my fear of fragile celluloid purchases in a post here.)

However this little fellow made the perfect Valentine gift for Kim. We think he is rather splendid in his early plastic, ivory-like appeal, his trunk up for good luck and prosperity. I wonder what it held originally, if anything, or if just produced for the likes of us looking to fill it with something.

Carved wooden elephant gracing our shelf which belonged to Kim’s mom as well.

Elephants are a bit of a theme or subculture here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama. A rather splendid metal toy, a Kim find, resides on a shelf at the foot of our bed. Meanwhile, in his next book Kim has a great elephant story – it is sitting, inked and awaiting publication at the other end of the table I write from while he finishes the last stories for the appendix of his next book.

Metal elephant which resides at the foot of our bed!

For the moment, the elephant box is living on Kim’s desk atop some volumes which are permanent fixtures there and the butterfly pin (also very fragile and I think can only be worn in a way where it won’t encounter a jacket or an errant purse strap) is with it and may ultimately reside within. A spot in a calm spot on a shelf, one where books do not come and go too often, will be found for it, protected from the hurly burly of life here at Deitch Studio.

Celluloid cat. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

In it for the Toys: Part 1

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: My interest in toy collecting actually did not begin with cats. My first toy purchases were battery operating and wind-up toys. Some of these were purchased for my then boyfriend, Kevin, as gifts and ultimately one or two for myself. I have written a little bit about this period of collecting in my post Happy Life Toy (can be found here), which consisted of haunting a now long-gone toy store called Darrow’s on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. My early fascination with those toys was all about their movement – funny drinking bartending men or tin monkey; a car with Japanese tourists taking photos. A great toy was entirely defined for me by its movement, some of which I would just delight in at times.

I knew that today’s toy was no longer functional when I purchased it, but somehow even just visualizing the movement captured my imagination. It is a wind-up toy. This little girl in her attire of the late ’30’s early 40’s, a somewhat grown-up outfit as well, is hitting the road, her beret over one eye, her bindle over her shoulder, and her dog following on a leash. The arm with the bindle would have gone up and down, and the dog (who has a charmingly piggish appearance) is a “nodder” and his head would have bounced up and down as they rolled forward. I am sorry to say that the action does not kick in even if you roll it forward manually.

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Meanwhile, I have also written about a wariness around collecting celluloid toys, those made of the early fragile plastic which disintegrates before your eyes when exposed to heat or light, which can also shatter or dent easily. Somehow I have always felt that my life is a bit rough and tumble for collecting in this category – that it should be the province of those with glass doored cabinets and the like. Paying a substantial amount of money for something this fragile makes me a bit nuts. Still, the occasional piece slips in under the wire and today’s post is one. There is no maker’s mark I can find on it, and I have never seen it or a similar toy before. She does bear a Made in Japan sticker, jauntily applied to her bottom as shown below, it is also embossed on her back.

Kim and I agree that there’s something harking to Little Orphan Annie about her – or maybe it comes to mind because Kim is reading his way through those strips right now. However, it cannot be denied that she is a plucky little girl, off to take on the world with her faithful dog friend, just like Annie.

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Funny Little Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Even I wonder occasionally at the objects d’Felix that I acquire and those I pass by. I own a few variations on this celluloid fellow and I have written about my general antipathy toward celluloid. (These can be found at the aptly named Fear of Celluloid and the recent Tiny Toy Felix Fiesta.) This guy caught my eye and I scooped him up. I confess I thought he was going to be about thirty percent larger, but I liked him even more in person than in the photo.

Celluloid Felix back

He is marked Made in Japan on his back. Perhaps his Japanese origin in some way explains his attachment to his umbrella which he clutches in one hand (paw? does Felix have hands or paws?) while he holds the cord to the handle in the other. He has landed at my door in surprisingly good condition with only a bit of one foot missing and a few minor dents. His red paint is quite fugitive and he must have been a bit more of a dandy in his day, with red umbrella and ears – not to mention a toothy white smile we can’t quite see. He is lighter than a feather and although he is designed to stand well on his own feet, the smallest breeze would knock him over. As always I wonder how he survived child clutching and play and made his way through many decades to my door.

I do not believe that plastic as fragile as this was used in toys in my childhood. Many of the plastic toys of the mid-to-late 1960’s are probably alive and well in a landfill today. Plastic to my generation was utterly indestructible, not to mention those of my brother, almost decade later. I have a distinct memory of stepping repeatedly on brightly colored figures and objects that belonged to him as a tiny tot.

I do remember being deeply engaged with a series of plastic horses and cowboys which, if memory serves, came in clear plastic bags. These must have been purchased at a variety of five and dimes or “dry goods” stores of a type that used to be plentiful. It seems like a strange choice in retrospect, but I am sure my mom probably grabbed them as a cheap option to keep me and my sister occupied on trips to my grandparents and the like, perhaps more focused on the horses than cowboys. I don’t particularly remember Loren playing with them (or with me with them) although it seems unlikely she didn’t. And my parents may have gotten more politically correct, or they were less available by the time Edward arrived on the scene as I don’t especially remember him playing with the likes of them.

I took a genuine interest in the horse and cowboys, and while I remember that damned if I can remember what was going through my mind playing with them. If memory serves they came in variations of green, red and yellow live in memory as shown below. The yellow in particular sticks in my mind. I don’t remember Indians, although logically they were also there – I probably just lumped humans into one category and horses into another. Below are similar ones of the types. Just another mystery of childhood I think.

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Period cowboys and Indian plastic toys for sale on eBay.

Plastic Puss

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.

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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.

Ding Dong Kitty

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!

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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.