A Mystery Bonzo…and Questions

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: We changing direction a bit today and I present for your consideration, this newly acquired Bonzo dog toy. I found this toy on eBay, made a mistake and didn’t bid – but fortunately for me he did not sell and I purchased him from the seller. I have photographed his wonderful, handwritten tag which seems very old as well. As far as I can tell it say, Bonzo and no 91 on one side and on the other Viola & Madeline Falkenthal 210-08 93rd Ave Bellaire Gardens, Cullens, Long Island. There is an online record of them living in Queens, Madeline Conlon nee Falkenthal 1902-1993 and Viola Albertina Connell, nee Falkenthal, 1906-1983. So strange what you can find on the internet. (I can only assume that they were very fond of their Bonzo toy, and I will of course keep the tag and their link to him.)

Bonzo is unusual in that he seems to only have one moveable arm, his left. There are no repairs so I assume this was intentional, but it does seem odd. He is in very good shape. His tongue seems to have been stitched back on but other than that he seems entirely original and intact. Bonzo also has a wide-eyed, open eyes which are found, but are less typical. That and the very black one ear left me wondering if instead of Bonzo, like Ooloo, he is another character in the Bonzo chronicle. I cannot find any evidence of this, but I am open to suggestions.

I assumed he was made by Chad Valley – the maker of most of the Bonzo dolls from this period seen today – as per my fairly long discourse on them in my posts Blame it on the Blog 2: Bonzo Dog Edition and the more recent Happy Ooloo to Me!. However, once in my possession, I realized he does not have the distinctive Chad Valley label on his foot, nor a Chad Valley pin. The eyes are glass, which is common for the period but not used on the Chad Valley Bonzo toys I have seen. There is, as shown below, a somewhat indistinct face as the only marker. My next thought was a company called Merrythought. They were evidently started in the thirties, in Great Britain, by some folks who left the larger Chad Valley toys. Although I have had trouble tracking down their early trademark, it seems to have been more distinctive label as well.

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So folks, a mystery Bonzo! I am interested in hearing back with any thoughts or clues. Meanwhile I have also included a photo of my Chad Valley fellow for comparison. More on this as my toy sleuthing continues!

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Chad Valley Bonzo

Toy Hospital

 

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: The toy posts continue, as does the work in our compact apartment; I write to you from a very dusty computer this morning. I snapped a few quick photos of toys as I cleaned them and packed them for the duration of the ceiling work. Last week I featured Felix-es that could use some work in my post, Felix…the Bad and the Ugly, and it reminded me of a toy hospital that used to reside on Lexington Avenue, near Bloomingdales. I worked in the neighborhood, my brief stint at the Central Park Conservancy, and was of course curious. As you walked by you could see toys piled up in a second story bay window in a old building – a large sign declaring Toy Hospital. Therefore one day, when to my great horror, the arms broke off this Felix I knew exactly where I was headed.

On my lunch hour I chugged up a couple of flights of old, steep stairs in one of those incredibly narrow, dark stairwells you find in very old New York City walk-up buildings of a certain vintage. A glass door opened into a room which pretty much had toys scattered and piled helter-skelter, waist high with no visible path through them to the window. The shop ran the length of the floor, with about a third off it closed off as what appeared to be a workshop at one end. The toys strewn around were not of any particular vintage – all in various states of repair and disrepair. I did not see other antique Felix dolls.

An elderly man greeted me and I showed him the patient. Felix is held together by a wire armature – his arms and legs are meant to move. The armature was so very old, and rusty, that it had broken. The man took Felix and told me he would have a look and he would let me know how he would proceed.

This Felix was one of my early indulgences. It was in the relatively early days of eBay (I was just congratulated on my 17th year on eBay by them – I was relieved that they didn’t show me how much I have spent in that time) and this was the first time I saw this model of Felix and I had to have him. I paid fairly dearly as a result, but had a very deep affection for his real weirdness. I believe he is a Chad Valley made toy – as is my recent Christmas gift from Kim featured in Felix as Cat written several months back. Years after purchasing him, when they had become a bit more ubiquitous on eBay, I was at a grand antique toy market in Atlantic City and saw someone selling an entire basket full of them! The El Dorado of a certain kind of Felix. She said that they were prizes at fairs in Britain. I have never really agreed with that, I believe the quality is too high and they were only purchased as toys, but more on that another time.

When I was summoned to discuss the nature of the repair, I brought Kim with me, figuring that he would appreciate the unusual nature of the enterprise. The elderly doll doc went through his plan for a meticulous rebuilding of the armature. The fee would be somewhat astronomical. I can’t remember what I suggested he might do that would be more simple – I suspect I pointed out that the arms no longer needed to move, as we don’t actually play with him much, and instead just re-attached. The toy doc looked at me and intoned, “No! I must do what is right for the doll!” Of course, in the end, I meekly agreed and Felix was restored to his original glory there. I paid more for the repair than I had for Felix, but of course it was worth it to have him back – the integrity of his moving pieces intact.

Looking back on it, I feel that the fee included the price of admission to one of those dying New York curiousities, ultimately a victim to the toy doc’s advanced age and ever-rising rents. Sadly it was gone a few years after that, a nail salon in it’s place.

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Felix from the side – note his hump back!

Happy Ooloo to Me!

Pam’s Pictorama: Back in December of ’14 I wrote Blame It on the Blog 2 where I displayed and discussed the perfectly excellent Bonzo Kim had purchased me as a Christmas gift. That acquisition had in part come out of an earlier post devoted to Bonzo (Going to the Dogs – Bonzo) where I had discovered the Chad Valley Bonzo toys. Well, we can blame it on the blog again, because while I was researching those toys – and stumbling onto the lovely Bonzos made by Chad Valley, I found a very rarified toy indeed – Ooloo the Cat!

It seems that cartoon Ooloo, designed by the same artist George Studdy, knocked Bonzo right off center stage at Sketch Magazine where his full page strips and sight gag drawings had been featured on a regular basis. Bonzo had been working the Sketch Magazine gig since 1921, but his appearances had fallen off by 1927. On January 2, 1929, Ooloo made her first appearance in the mag and knocked Bonzo right out of the box. Bonzo made only occasional appearances after that and I read that an appearance five months later in May of that year may have been Bonzo’s last in the magazine. Below is her first, fluffy premiere in Sketch.

However, Bonzo got his revenge fully in the long afterlife of marketing. Bonzo seems to have launched items in his image, both licensed and clearly off-model, that rival Felix and Mickey Mouse both in breadth and sheer number. His longevity, considering the limited reissue of and interest in the actual strips, is extraordinary and reaches not only throughout Europe and the United States, but seems to reach as far as Japan. His ubiquitous, sleepy, dog face image plays out over Valentines, figurines, lamps, a band, toys – you name it! I have personally speculated on the possible influence of his image on the Japanese character Norakuro (featured here Norakuro – the Japanese Felix and also in an early post here, Pam’s Toy Post) but have never established a link.

Ooloo, by comparison, is little known today and sadly toys did not proliferate. As above, I discovered this outstanding Chad Valley Ooloo when researching the toys for the other post. They are indeed rare however and frankly I had little hope of ever acquiring one of these fine specimens. Therefore, I was over the moon when this one appeared on eBay just before my birthday this year! Kim generously stepped in and Ooloo, thanks to the considerate quick packing and shipping of the seller, arrived within days of my birthday. (As a bonus, the seller turned out to be the same wonderful woman in Belgium who sold me Bonzo! A shout out to Regine who certainly has an extraordinary collection of toys.) As I always say, I am one lucky toy collecting woman. Yay!

Ooloo is a truly outstanding addition to this woman’s toy cat collection and a very finely made toy. In the photos I have tried to show some of the touches and details that make this an especially wonderful toy: the bits of color in the ears and around the nose – the tiny stitches under the eyes. Ooloo retains her whiskers and these interesting thread bits on one paw that seem to be claws – I thought they were just pulls in the fabric in the photo but have determined that they were meant to be there. It is a thoughtfully made toy indeed.

Below is an image of an Ooloo perfume bottle, one of the few fairly available Ooloo pieces of merchandise. There may be one or two other toys out there – and be assured I will be ferreting them all out for your pleasure – and mine!

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Blame it on the Blog 2: Bonzo Dog Edition

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: A few weeks back while I was doing some research for my post Going to the Dogs – Bonzo I discovered that the fine British toy makers of Chad Valley made a vast variety of delightful Bonzo dog stuffed toys! And me being me, I had to have one.  I also found out pretty quickly that Bonzo toys are rarefied items and do not go cheap! As I have noticed in some early Felix toys, there seems to be a lot of variation in these toys, many sizes, but their expression as well, so not just any one would entirely do.(For more on my ode to the Chad Valley fine makers of Hygienic Toys, see Felix for a Cause.)  All this has culminated in this wonderful Christmas gift from Kim – welcome to our home Bonzo! Thank you Kim – you’re the very best husband!

As you can see, Bonzo has a bit of sleep sand in his eyes – this seems to be on most of them. Bonzo was, after all, a sleepy fellow. He still has his great little Chad Valley identification button and his Hygienic Toy Made in England Chad Valley Co Ltd tag.  This fellow came from a lovely eBay seller in Belgium who took excellent care to ensure that he reached our shores safely.

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Bonzo is now enjoying a special spot on a shelf with his earlier shown Bonzo brethren. In the interest of further Bonzo education I offer one of the great color full-page spreads snatched from the Google image file and a cartoon below. Ho, ho, ho!

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