Ocean Grove

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This snapshot popped up on Instagram for sale recently. Ocean Grove, New Jersey, is about a forty minute drive from where I grew up in Monmouth County and it immediately took me back to my childhood. Written on the back of the snapshot is Asbury Park 7-4-35. I thought this photo was earlier than 1935, and I am a bit tickled that it is July 4. I am also surprised by the coats for a July 4 at the seashore however. I don’t think I remember a chilly Fourth.

The Ocean Grove community abuts onto Asbury Park so this declaration of location is not surprising – a town called Bradley Beach surrounds Ocean Grove on the south end. For those of you who may not be acquainted with it, Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 as Methodist summer camp community. Known for its enormous wooden Great Auditorium, an extraordinary survivor of Victorian architecture, it has hosted concert performers from Enrico Caruso and John Sousa to Kenny Rogers.

Another notable aspect of Ocean Grove are the more than 100 tent-homes that are erected annually, these attached to wooden sheds providing a kitchen and bathroom and making them more substantial. There is a more than ten year waiting list for tent rental. (I would put myself down now for a summer tent for retirement, however Wikipedia notes that dogs, cats and barbecuing are prohibited, as is subletting of tents. A cat-less summer would be no fun. It is also noted that while you do not need to be a Methodist you do need to support their spiritual mission.) Ocean Grove is the longest active spiritual camp site in the country.

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As a child, the concept of the tent-houses fascinated me and I longed to see what they were like inside. The idea of a whole summer spent enjoying ocean breezes and sun dabbled days in one was fantastic.

Meanwhile, the law prohibiting cars on Sunday was equally exotic to my childhood mind. It seemed impossible – how could you close roads to cars every Sunday? Was there a place where people parked them and walked in? The fact that additionally the beach was closed on Sunday meant that this was never really a destination for weekenders from Manhattan, unless they were there for the day, attending one of the many concerts (musicians from New York and Philadelphia regularly grace the stage) or lectures held there.

Although neighboring Asbury Park was also founded by Methodists, soon after Ocean Grove, it was more like the Jersey shore’s answer to Coney Island. While Atlantic City reined for boardwalk pleasures further to the south, Asbury was the turn of the century amusement park boardwalk gem of Central Jersey and therefore a fairly easy day trip from New York City. The Convention Center and Casino offered largely the opposite sort of appeal of its religiously observant neighbor to the south. The difference struck me even as I understood it as a kid.

During my childhood both towns were largely in steep decline and neglect. The Victorian hotels were turned into SRO’s and, it seems to stick in my mind, nursing or retirement home type facilities. (Maybe we knew someone who lived in one?) During the late 1960’s Asbury was the site of race riots, documented by my father in his role as news cameraman. All this to say, I rarely went to Ocean Grove or Asbury Park growing up unless there was a specific reason. As these things do, it therefore fascinated me all the more. The architecture of the somewhat deserted Convention Center and the dilapidated boardwalk (and not to mention a really great if dilapidated carousel) always beckoned for more exploration than I was allowed.

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In young adulthood I discovered that a series of summer flea markets are offered in Ocean Grove, which I have only had the pleasure of attending once, many years ago with my father. It was perfectly splendid and I have always wanted to go back. Starting in the late 1980’s, both towns but especially Ocean Grove, enjoyed an immense renaissance and renewal. Despite knowing this my parents could never quite get over their dislike of the area and were always reluctant to go. (My mother is the same person who still sees Central Park through the lens of 1970’s urban decay and was appalled when I announced that I was going to work for the Central Park Conservancy years ago. In fact, I think she can barely accept that my whole life in Manhattan – and that of my brother – isn’t taking place in the neglected city of her memory.)

The area is not ideally accessible by public transportation (some Pictorama readers may already know that neither Kim nor I drive) so alas, it remains somewhat unexplored for me – one of those things that nags and glitters just out of reach. Summer always tugs me back to my childhood at the shore. I miss the ocean and the beach, but busy times mean that trips to Jersey are more about spending time with my mom, and less about lazy days of ocean and sand. Meanwhile, this Covid summer has deprived me of all summer Jersey shore visiting pleasures. But perhaps this means that next year I will plan a real vacation at the shore – one with trashy novels and a little too much sun – and of course well-timed around some flea markets at Ocean Grove.

Jersey Sights

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo is one I couldn’t resist despite the price. It was one of my purchases on the Brimfield attempt at an online sale. Even with the seller coming down in price it was a bit dear. It is a tiny photo, about 4″x5″ which has the tell tale signs of a life spent in a photo album, indicated when you look at the corners carefully. It is an early photo, on brittle paper, somewhat lacking in detail with a flat cloudless sky. There are no notations on the back, perhaps because everyone knows this is Lucy, the Margate Elephant, residing in the town of that name located near Atlantic City, NJ.

Starting with a brief review of Lucy’s pretty fascinating history; this photo actually shows Lucy in her early incarnation – she was substantially renovated in 1970, a face lift which changed her appearance, and she required further significant repair after being struck by lightening, blackening her tusks, not many years ago. She survived Hurricane Sandy unscathed however which is remarkable considering the damage around her.

Lucy was originally constructed in 1881, by a man named James Lafferty who acquired a patent to make or sell animal shaped buildings for the duration of 17 years according to Wikipedia. Despite having tusks, an indication of a boy elephant, she was nonetheless dubbed Lucy at the dawn of the 20th Century. Sadly Lafferty died broke in 1898, forced to sell Lucy years earlier.

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Lucy was originally constructed as an observation deck for this area south of the then thriving Atlantic City, but later did time serving in turn as restaurant, business office, cottage and tavern. She is 65 feet high and weighs about 90 tons, constructed with wood and iron bars, 22 windows are scattered throughout the structure. Although marketed as a hotel, the building nearby served that purpose, until March of this year when, in spite of her federal landmark status, the old girl became an Airbnb rental by the night.

Sadly the offer seems to have commenced via a listing on the rather fateful dates of March 17, 18 and 19, 2020 (assuming Wikipedia is correct), less than a week before New York’s stay at home order began due to the Corona virus and dampening tourism in both states, needless to say. While I assume that put the kibosh on it, but perhaps some lucky folks have done their shelter in place there.

One can just about make out what must have been the hotel, behind Lucy’s back, left flank in this photo. My guess is this picture was taken off-season, no tourists teeming around her and the wooden skeletal frames of booths of some kind below her have a distinctly out of season look.

I have always wanted to visit Lucy and somehow have never managed it. Despite growing up a Jersey girl, I have only made one or two trips to Atlantic City and few of its environs, over my life. It was a good hour and a half to two hours from where I grew up, probably less as the crow flies, but also with train service that only takes you so close. We lived in a beach community so there was little reason to pursue another. As I may have said before, because my father’s job as a news cameraman required peripatetic worldwide travel, and therefore our summers were spent at home enjoying the very local beach. Family vacations of any kind were almost unheard of and I was spared the sparring and whining so often described by folks my age when reflecting on such family trips.

As we hit mid-summer I am frequently side-swiped by a desire for the endless beach days of my childhood and this year the quarantine and subsequent ambivalence about travel, let alone crowds, have exacerbated it. The traffic and discomfort are long forgotten and a string of fresh mornings with the sun glinting off the water remain, tantalizing. As a non-driver (Kim does not drive either – we are a non-driving couple) it isn’t as easy as jumping in a car and heading there.

Still, a visit to Lucy remains on my eventual to-do list, although I do not dare to dream of something as wildly entertaining as spending the night within. (The idea that she was indeed home to someone at one time fascinates me and I like to imagine that. The incarnation as a tavern appeals as well.) Lucy is an enduring bit of Jersey lore and I will look forward to paying homage to her in person one day.

Putting the Dog Before the Cart

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s photo is not only suffering from age, but probably from being under exposed in the first place. In person it also has a bit of solarization that photos from this period often get, almost as if the silver is rising to the surface, making it even harder to see. I knew this when I bought it (to Miss Molly’s credit she does nothing to enhance the images of the photos she sells – that doesn’t happen often, although in my hobby I come across it occasionally), but I loved the image and I decided to take a chance. It is small, the image is only about 3″x4″. So, my apologies for its inherent short comings.

This photo appeals to me because I would have adored having such a set up as a child. I have written on several occasions about employing our long-suffering German Shepard, Duchess, and my cat Snoopy in a complex series of games and scenarios. The fact that, at least as a small child, I would not have had the appropriate real estate needed to really enjoy such a contraption, I will leave aside – you need some real acreage to really sport about it something like this, but wow – you’d really be doing something!

I have long contemplated that the connection with our domestic animal friends is different when you are a small child. Is it because you are, in reality, that much closer to their own intellectual bandwidth at that point? Or are you just communicating more freely? I have always wondered. I can remember long childish conversations with them both, prattling happily along, looking deep into their eyes as I spoke, absolutely certain they understood every word.

Perhaps because of the sheer amount of attention paid to them, they would allow me to undertake all sorts of indignities that I wouldn’t dream of inflicting on my pets as an adult – trying to ride the dog, dressing up the kitty, adventures with the doll carriage and the like. My parents would intervene occasionally if things got out of hand, but generally we were left to our own devices. I would have been on this dog cart thing in a minute given the opportunity. Duchess, somewhere in dog heaven, is perhaps grateful the opportunity did not arise.

My new always-at-home life has changed my relationship with Blackie and Cookie. It isn’t a coincidence that shelters have been emptied of dogs and cats during the pandemic. They are excellent company during these days that merge into one long working day.

The daily routine of Cookie and Blackie was forged early here at Deitch Studio, formed around Kim working at home and his day. Kim and the kitties start the workday (very) early, and he is in charge of their feeding, morning and evening. (Eating to cats is, without question, the most important part of the day – a brief but glorious interlude. We have strict feeding times in an, ever-failing, attempt to keep them from driving Kim nuts all day while he works.)

Until the middle of March I was on the outer edge of this cat constellation, home on weekends, but otherwise generally in the ongoing daily act of coming and going – packing a suitcase and leaving for days at a time on occasion, very undependable. They expected it and my departures and arrivals frankly rarely rated so much as a flatten ear or a greeting glance from either.

I noticed the other day when Kim went out for a walk that the cats sat by the front door the entire time, staring at it. Waiting and willing him to return. They clearly have very little faith in my ability to open a cat food can.

Yet, I think the cats have, over the course of more than four months, completely erased my daily departures from memory. I too am now a daily fixture – if a slightly less useful one. Blackie makes his appearance in Zoom calls and demands a 3:30 cuddle no matter what else I am doing – and Cookie helps me work out daily (she likes it when my trainer, Harris, appears on the iPad for a FaceTime workout where she flirts with him a bit), and both fight me for my work chair. Kim can vouch for the fact that I talk to them all the time – Cookie tends to actually answer. She’s the chatty kit of the two.

And of course I believe they understand me, or at least a certain percentage of what I tell them – mostly encouragement about being the best kitty in the whole world!  and the handsomest boy cat! and even the occasional please get off of the desk – thank you very much! – it isn’t philosophical discussion for the most part. I will have to be home many months longer before I can perhaps find my childhood knack and we can enter into long talks about the meaning of life together, Cookie, Blackie and I.

Piercing

Pam’s Pictorama Post: In these days of multiple piercings and tattoos my memory of getting my ears pierced seems quaint. I was twelve or thirteen and I was at the mall with my cousin Patti one afternoon when I had it done – they used a piercing gun and zip, zip and there you go. I had small 18k gold studs with tiny gold balls installed in my ears. I was told to put peroxide on them morning and night with a q-tip, and to twirl them occasionally to make sure they healed properly.

It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast that my mother noticed them. My parents tended toward the distracted and I felt like I had to more or less wave a flag before mom noticed. Much to my surprise she was freaked out that I hadn’t discussed it with her  – turns out she doesn’t especially like pierced ears. We had never talked about it and I was a bit stunned. I guess I figured they were my ears to do with what I would and I more or less told her that. I wasn’t a mouthy or difficult kid and the answer ultimately mollified her and this was a difference of opinion. We had a truce.

Meanwhile, my ears healed slowly and not without detours through periods of bleeding and infection. As soon as they were sufficiently healed I wandered into the heady world of earrings and there was a vast selection of options. Even maintaining that the posts would always be at least 14k gold (and gold was cheaper then so this was possible even at the lower end) I was able to acquire an array fairly quickly. However, suffice it to say that my ears never adapted to metal in them and I began a several year slog of on and off infections and bleeding. I last wore pierced earrings to my high school prom ending in copious bleeding, followed by yet another infection and I swore off them for life. I became a clip-on screw back earring devotee.

For the folks out there who have taken this path, you know that earrings affixed in this way are just not comfortable for any period of time, especially if you spend time on the telephone, tucked between ear and shoulder. (Yes, that is starting to seem quaint too, but for many years it was a real issue.) However, being the kind of gal who cannot resist bling and bejeweled I have collected some if not a vast number of earrings.

It was my general bejeweled-ness that probably lead the very same cousin Patti (who has no memory of the ear piercing adventure) to offer me this lovely pair of earrings she found while cleaning out her ancestral home. They belonged to my great-grandmother, the point where our mutual genes branch out from. This makes them very special to me as I have nothing else from that great-grandmother.

Not only were these earrings pierced, but they had a particularly evil pierced/screw-on combo that I gather existed in the late 19th and early 20th century. I didn’t take a photo of the back before having them converted, but I show another pair found online below – instruments of torture! How did that work? Ouch!

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My maternal grandmother’s family was never especially well off. However, since they were in the restaurant business at least the family never went hungry. (I have written about this side of my family before and one based on a historic photo that Patti found can be read here and here.) Nonetheless, there was never a surplus of money and not much jewelry has been handed down from them.

In recent years I have considered having my now long-closed piercings redone as a world of earring opportunities does tempt me. The possibility that my ears are actually allergic to gold exists, or perhaps that the placement of the original piercing not ideal. Somehow even for someone as devoted to adornment as I am, the idea of the process does not appeal to me and I have not (yet) pursued it. Having recently gotten these back from the jeweler, I will stick with sporting them for now.

 

Smooth as Glass Savings

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today isn’t quite a toy post, but I guess we could label it a premium post, which is a genre I explore not infrequently, usually in my quest for interesting cat related items. (A favorite post about Corbin pin trays depicting cat heads can be found here, and the more recent acquisition of my Feed the Kitty bank here.)

This little bank was acquired last weekend on what may be our final trip to the store Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village. I was sad to learn recently that they will be closing at the end of the year, a fact I discovered via Instagram where a parade of visitors are paying their final respects and posting them. Evidently it is more a decision about wanting to do something different than about raising rents, but I was very sorry to see this as I have made it my premium choice for expeditions celebrating my birthday or our anniversary annually. A truly great day is pairing a visit there up with a trip to the The Antique Toy Shop in Chelsea. (Some of my other adventures and acquisitions at these establishments can be found in prior post here , here and here.)

It is a bit boring to bemoan how all the interesting places for poking around in old stuff are disappearing. It is just a reality of the way we live, especially in fast moving Manhattan where things seem to come in go with an alarming rapidity. But it saddens me, as poking through the detritus of lives past is one of my great joys. However, I try to be philosophical about the general entropy of retail in Manhattan.

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Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village when we visited last week. I really wish I had room for Mr. Peanut.

 

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Paper Mache mask at Obscura recently.

 

On our recent visit Kim purchased this little bank and a lovely little cabinet for me (future post) as an anniversary gift. I am just charmed by it and I immediately imagined stuffing it full of change as a child – and then being faced with the quandary of retrieving the coins as there seems to be no obvious option for cashing in. There is a seam running down it, and in the case of mine there is a crack near it which makes me wonder if someone didn’t break it in an attempt to open it at the seam. I suppose the purpose of piggy banks was saving, but I have never approved of the idea that you should have to break your beloved piggy bank in order to eventually realize your savings. It seems cruel.

My own experience with piggy banks starts with a nice pig model decorated with painted pink roses. The one below is not the one I had, but puts me reasonably in mind of it.

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I also had a Snoopy one that, given the evidence and availability on the internet of the model I called mine, every child of my generation must have owned at one time. My memory was that it was actually a bit fragile and made of some paper mache material so I did not keep change in it. It was beloved though and I owned it for a very long time. I don’t think I kept money in the pig either – although both had rubber handy plugs in the bottom for releasing the change. No smashing my pig!

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As it happens I instead kept my savings in a small safe made for that purpose. It had a combination lock (with the combination written on a tag the bottom as I remember, defeating the purpose but preventing the obvious problem) and it held a lot of coins, and then it weighed a ton. My sister and I each had one, and although I kept mine for more than a decade I could not tell you what happened to it ultimately. Somehow it and the change in it were lost to the sands of time. The one below, available on Etsy, is pretty much spot on the one I owned. It is a kick to see it again.

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Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Paint was a small Pennsylvania paint company which was acquired by a glass corporation back in 1900. Therefore the slogan smooth as glass and the glass bank premium make total sense and a slogan still associated with them today. (On the reverse side of the bank it also states, Nature’s Colors in Lasting Beauty, a poetic thought.) The paint brand is still very available and the company has become one of the world’s largest corporations, PPG. I am not in a position to comment on quality of their paint except to say that my own kitchen was recently painted with Benjamin Moore and in all fairness, I had not considered Pittsburgh.

The prevalence of contemporary piggy banks found during my online search makes me assume that children are still given them with the intention of instilling a sense of thrift and savings. In a world where, according to Google, the average price of a Hershey bar is $1.60 and a comic book almost $3, kids either need larger piggy banks or to replenish them quickly. I know nothing of the economy of childhood today, but assume it involves as more folding money than coins. In a sense this is too bad as coins were nice objects to collect and own, although folding money seemed downright exotic when I was a kid.

Funny Jungleland

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I especially like the last panel where they hold cereal boxes! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: When researching my Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat (immortalized a few weeks back in my post Crinkle Cat – For Kiddies, not Kitties! which can be read here) I discovered this earlier premium and set out immediately to purchase one. I read online that this Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures book was the first cereal premium – originally given away in stores, it dates back in its earliest form to 1909. It quickly became something you mailed away for instead and it cost you ten cents. Quite a switch as ten cents was a bit of an investment at the dawn of the 20th century and perhaps that explains why so many were kept and exist today.

This example dates from 1932 and they were produced through 1936, which also gives us a hint as to the rather amazing availability of them today, a century later – I am here to tell you, if you want one of these it can easily be yours. Evidently, it is generally hard to date these as they remained remarkably similar with a few color changes to the cover – however, oddly enough, only the 1932 edition had the copyright for the current year it was issued.

One book site selling these tells me that the original copyright goes back to 1907 and I wonder if they were copyrighting the technology of the “moving pictures” or the book. I will assume they didn’t create the method or concept of the book or somehow that would come out in the telling. It is quite clever though and I think it is the other reason for the proliferation of these slim volumes even today. It’s a hoot! As you can see from the top image, the book expands with a fold-out section in the middle.

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The 1930’s and ’40’s were the heyday of cereal prizes and I opined on them a bit in the Crinkle Cat post mentioned earlier. (I do love to look at them and they ignite a sort of childhood toy lust area in my brain.) However, I’m trying to remember if I ever pulled anything good out of a box of cereal as a kid and nothing much is coming to mind, although they were still putting the occasional premium plastic geegaws in at the start of my 1960’s and early ’70’s era childhood. Even the mail-in option was fading away. Some research on the subject has reminded me of a brief period when you could, in theory, cut out a record from the back of the box and this tugged briefly at my memory. I have only the vaguest memory of testing that and failing miserably.

Via my research light on the subject I discovered that pep pins were originally cereal prizes. While that is pretty cool (extremely actually) I guess I somewhat question the wisdom of putting a pin in a box of cereal for a child to find given the general fist down into the cereal box approach most children take to finding said prize. I don’t own a Felix the Cat pep pin but I share an example below.

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As it happens, one of the things my parents were martinets about when I was small was breakfast cereal. We were a plain Jane family when it came to that when I was a tiny tot and maybe that is why there were few premiums in the offing. I am specific about being quite small because if my younger brother is reading this memories of Count Chocula and Cap’n Crunch and the like are zipping through his mind. What can I say? Our parent’s moral stance on cereal evaporated during those intervening years. By the time heavily sugar coated cereal showed up in the house I had no interest in more than tasting it, with the exception of a brief affair with Frosted Flakes and Tony the Tiger which is coming back to me. (Perhaps it was because I found Tony charming?)

Dad used to urge us to eat our Wheaties as I remember from when I was very small – strange to think of him quoting a commercial; he wasn’t the type. I wasn’t a fan of them, Wheaties, and we settled more companionably on Cheerios as frequent daily fare. I flirted a bit with Raison Bran (I added raisons to a salad the other day and that actually felt a bit decadent, but I digress), and Rice Krispies. I still cop to an appreciation for the occasional marshmallow treat made with Rice Krispies. Yum.

The variations on these plainer cereals of my youth, Special K, All Bran and the like, populated our cupboards and breakfast table. We were encouraged to add Wheat Germ to it and there was a brief Alpen period (nuts, sweeten raisons and mysterious grains) which sometimes were employed to zip up the somewhat more austere brands.

Meanwhile, I swear my father thought Kretschmer Wheat Germ was going to save the world (I do wonder if it was something from his own childhood) and he converted my sister who went through a phase of putting it on top of everything including the cookies she baked and the English muffin pizzas she would throw together for her lunch or snack. Again, I was not a fan. I share the version below which graced our breakfast table for decades. Somehow I do not remember my mother having strong feelings about any of this – which is unusual for my mother – but for whatever reason she stayed out of the cereal fray for the most part. I don’t think she was a cereal eater herself at all and seemed to be fairly nominal in most of her own weekday breakfast consumption, toast and coffee for the most part. We all might break out more on weekends. (Subsequent to reading this Kim has shared that he also hated Kreschmer Wheat Germ – had never come up before.)

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Of course, in retrospect I suspect that for the most part all that cereal wasn’t great for us and the nutrient filled promise was a tad hollow. I shudder more than a bit at the calories now and we haven’t had a box of cereal in the house in years, although I am the first to admit to a not infrequent diet of cereal dinners during the straighten circumstances of my twenties. (Although the price of cereal today may not make that an option for recent grads these days!) Nor do I wish to take on cereal lovers – calories notwithstanding I love granola in my yogurt. And of course, if the cereal industry went back to adding interesting toys to these boxes I might yet be lured back.

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Nestle’s

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: A bit of splendid advertising where cats meet cards today. When I think Nestlé I think of a chocolate bar which, to the highly discerning taste of my childhood palate, always seemed naggingly inferior and pallid to my preferred Hershey. As memory serves though, they were an early leader in chocolate milk mixes and chocolate being chocolate, was of course ultimately always a welcome event – preferences a technicality really. As a kid you largely take what you can get.

In my childhood estimation Nestlé’s powdered Quik was superior to Hershey’s syrup for cold milk as it mixed better and more easily. It came in yellow and brown tins and I still have the sense memory of using a spoon to pop open the lid. Hot chocolate was happily made with either, but I think my Hershey’s affection won out there as well. (Both were challenged by Swiss Miss later because it had marshmallows ready embedded which was very handy as mom couldn’t be relied on to remember to buy them.)

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In young adulthood I worked here in Manhattan as a chef for a Swiss Hotel, the Drake, and Nestlé nibbles abounded as the house chocolate of choice. I don’t think I had really focused on Nestlé’s Swiss origins before then. In my childhood the bars came wrapped in blue, red and white paper and it was Nestlé’s Crunch, more or less as shown below via Pinterest. For all of my memories of Nestlé chocolates I must say I never really focused on the accent on the é until now, funny. It is consistently used throughout.

 

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Meanwhile, these splendid cards were purchased on eBay recently; I bargained them down but still paid up for them and don’t regret it in the least. Their postmarks bear evidence of having been mailed in Great Britain in 1903, August and September respectively, but these were purchased from a US seller. In tiny letters at the top it reads H.M. & Co.’s Famous Posters in Miniature which makes me wonder if these were originally huge posters as still seen in the London underground for example.

These postcards were mailed to and from different folks in different parts of England. 1903 predates Nestlé’s purchase of a rival chocolate company (in 1904) which put them in the chocolate line of business, and was only just making its way to the US shortly after in about 1905. Therefore these cards were likely British and advertising Nestlé’s earlier incarnation as a condensed milk and baby formula company. Richest in cream these both declare!

Of course for me, it was these comical kitties that called to me. I love them together as a two-part comic strip – the skinny brown fellow drinking his creamy way to rotund plumpness from card one to two! Wise white kitty is the purveyor of the fattening feline dairy diet. In the second image, the dark clouds over the night sky have cleared and this backyard nocturnal perk is discreetly jollier in general. Orange/brown cat offers his gratitude in rhyme, Thanks for your feed of NESTLÉ’S MILK. It did me good – my coat’s like silk; And now I’m sound in limb and brain. I’ll never drink skim milk again!

 

 

 

Toy Love

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I purchased this photo awhile back and it was put to one side in the heat of birthday purchases and other indulgences of recent weeks and months. I pull it out now and realize how much I like this photo. It is a somewhat perfect example of its genre. (That would be the children posing with a Felix doll category – in case you are new to the Felix photo genres of my collection – it is a whole swath of it.) It is a slightly odd size, 6″x 8″, and despite being mounted on thick cardboard there is evidence it was also pasted into an album at one time. Because of that, I think, it is curling a bit.

This is obviously a studio photo and therefore Felix is undoubtedly a prop, borrowed for the picture, rather than her own beloved toy. However, as she looks out at us with a bit of a smile for whoever is on the other side of the camera, for his part Felix appears to be looking up at her with an impression of real fondness. As I look at it the somewhat odd thought occurs to me that even in my most anthropomorphizing moments I can no longer see love in the eyes of my toys. I do have a flickering memory of looking deeply into the eyes of my dog Squeaky with adoration and finding it returned however. With strangely long eye lashes and glass eyes which roll open and closed, I remember being deep in communication with him when I was a tot and he accompanied me everywhere. (Those of you who are regular Pictorama readers know that I still have Squeaky. A very old, battered and beloved stuffed toy indeed. I have shared photos and other thoughts about the special place he has in my childhood in posts that can be found here and here.) I am quite sure I knew his affection for me equaled mine for him.

I wonder what the adult equivalent of toy love is. The closest I can come is the somewhat mystical relationship I have had with my cats which has continued more or less unchanged since childhood, although sadly I don’t have long hours to commit to communion with them I did as then. Of course cats, in this case a long line of them, are alive so it is different. (Kim offers that he has lost a feeling of tapping into deep cat wisdom he had enjoyed with kits as a child. He too still communicates with them however – I see him and Cookie and Blackie go about their daily routine and the three of them are clearly of a mind.)

As an adult and as much as I love my toys and they bring me a certain joy, I no longer communicate with them in the secret language of being a child. I ponder if this is true of some of my toy collecting colleagues. I think especially those folks who collect toys because they didn’t have them as children may have a different relationship to them, although this isn’t a question I have put to any of them. (I am grateful to report that my childhood was in no way deprived of toys.) I regret that loss a tiny bit as I consider it and I think I wouldn’t mind slipping back into that world – and perhaps there is a little gleam of approval in Squeaky’s eyes now that I take another look.

 

Doll House

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: I walked past this store yesterday while running some errands. I believe this establishment did a stint on Lexington Avenue, where I would occasionally admire the wares in the window. A number of years ago it moved to East 78th Street, oddly enough, in a storefront where I once bought high-end vintage clothing. I was pleased to see it hadn’t disappeared. While it isn’t a block I find myself on too often, when I do I like to take a few moments have a look in the window. (It is next to Orwasher’s Bakery and I have to tear myself aware from the temptation of the bread and bagels in their window – yesterday I was only saved by the line of people more or less going out the door!) However, I will say I have a complicated relationship with dollhouses.

I had a nice dollhouse when I was a kid – it was about the size and shape of the one top left, sort of a two story horizontal model. It was handmade, like these, but unlike the one indicated it was closed on three sides, with a cheerful exterior in some detail, although nothing like this intricate yellow number above. It was white with light blue trim.

I both loved it and was somewhat frustrated by it. For one thing, I wasn’t actually much of a doll playing child. (Barbies were the exception and they were a creative endeavor for me – I hope to consider those in a subsequent post.) I do not believe I actually had dolls which were the inhabitants of said house. Scale was issue – you have to sort of figure out what works in proportion to the size of your house and furnish and inhabit accordingly. I purchased furniture over time, but it was expensive and I was not good at making my own. Something about it was a bit intimidating, and I never embraced just playing with it. It somehow didn’t inspire creativity in me. I would set it up and marvel at the tiny pieces admiringly – periodically our cat Snoopy would crash into it, and decide it was a splendid place for napping and everything would need arranging again. (I was a bit annoyed, but never one to deny my cat any pleasure even then.) I would have loved to electrify it – to me that would have been the height of fascinating – have lights I could turn on and off, but although I saw such things I had no idea where to start with such a project.

The idea of miniature worlds continued to fascinate me. I went through a long terrarium stage as a child. I was stuffing dirt and plants in every container I could get my hands on with varying degrees of success. As an adult I have considered recreating some of those terrariums and photographing them. Climbing inside those little, interior worlds of my own creation and sharing my bird’s eye perspective. Kim and I talk occasionally and ongoing about the ideal miniature town, most likely to be given life through his drawings someday than anywhere else. It will have an elaborate train set up and jolly houses like the yellow mansion above. I briefly went through a stage of considering taking on a dollhouse again as an adult and approaching it more organically and creatively, making the furniture and shaping the interior less inhibited by the conventions of scale and reality. My own dollhouse was long given away however and the issue of space in a cramped apartment made it unattractive to pursue.

I was greatly under the spell of Rumer Godden’s book The Doll’s House which, if you are not familiar with it already, is a juvenile chapter book about the Doll family. It is a bit terrifying actually, with an awful, proud doll named Marchpane which is introduced into the lives of the happy Doll family – ending in the death of one of the celluloid dolls by melting! Oh my. I bought myself another copy of it a few years ago and can’t lay my hands on it right now, but found it almost every bit as frightening all over again when I read it. (In researching this I discovered she is also the author of the novel Black Narcissus, on which the somewhat creepy and alarming film with Deborah Kerr is based. Makes sense!)

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The sight of a great dollhouse, such as the Stettheimer one at the Museum of the City of New York which I think of as the ultimate version in some ways, still sets my heart racing and the wheels turning in my head. The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death created by Frances Glessner Lee is another such perfection, although her intention in creating them was forensic study rather than creativity or play. Fascinating! I realize that somehow my childhood dollhouse experience was somewhat stillborn and it still itches at the back of my brain. Perhaps this toy collector will have a chance to travel down that particular road still.

Toy Sleuth

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I write today from an airplane, speeding (or so they say, feels pokey and small today) across the country to catch up with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in Santa Barbara, California. I am nibbling a square of dark, mint, organic chocolate I packed for the occasion and contemplating a rather satisfactory toy interaction I had earlier this week.

A number of months ago, maybe as long as a year, my good friend Eileen was opining on a toy she had as a child, but had long lost track of. She described it as a mouse playground which puzzled me – what the heck did that mean? Nothing came to mind. I began asking questions. Eventually Eileen located one mouse and I used the photo of it to do an image search on Google. Bingo! Turns out it was a German company, Kunstlerschutz. Wagner Kunstlerschutz produced sturdy looking toys in conjunction with Max Carl Toys of Germany during the years of 1951-1965. These figures were “flocked” rather than made of actual felt. I recognized them from my childhood, but have no memory of actually owning any.

I believe that most, if not all, of the world’s toys pass through the wondrous portals of eBay so next I began searching for said playground to see if it could be purchased. I found Kunstlerschutz animal houses (vaguely European in design), a school, a sort of a farm and of course ultimately the playground as well. However, while the animals are widely available, probably a tribute to their fairly indestructible nature and popularity, the buildings and playground are much harder to find. They seem sturdy enough, but still with pieces that could be lost or broken. I found record of one that had been sold on eBay previously for a large sum of money. Nonetheless, knowing that anything can happen on eBay, I put an alert on my account for Wagner Kunstlerschutz and playground and waited. I never heard a word until the other morning when at 5:30 AM this little gem popped into my inbox – complete, mice and all, for a fairly reasonable price. It was meant to be.

Other than a few books (my posts on A Cricket in Times Square can be found here, but I have also written revisiting my childhood favorites in The Story About Ping and Push Kitty), I have not largely pursued acquiring toys from my own childhood. I understand the thrill  and emotion of being able to experience them again however. Our books and toys were how we constructed our childhood worlds and possessing them again gives us our portal back to the past in a special way. Coming home from California on the airplane I watched the recent documentary on Fred Rogers which left me weeping. (Yep, sitting next to a pleasant seeming young German couple who were wondering why. I should have gone to a theater like everyone else.) Meanwhile, I wish Eileen (and her cat Apollo, who is meeting the Mouse Playground for the first time in these photos) much enjoyment with their newly re-acquired toy.

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Wagner Kunstlerschutz playground now in the Eileen Travell collection! All photos by Eileen Travell.

 

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