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.