Knock, Knock

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Let the cat post begin! It has been awhile since a new cat item wandered into Deitch Studio, but this one was worth waiting for. It came to my via one of my favorite Instagram vendors, Mia @ The Ruby Foxes, or you can find her wares at therubyfoxes.com, but then you wouldn’t be treated to her frequent posts which not only have great stuff, but showcase her two cats (Enid and Astrid) and take the viewer on glorious, daily five mile runs through the British countryside. Her account says she resides in Arundel, Sussex and let me tell you, it is stunningly beautiful.

Photo from Carl Schurz Park earlier this week.

This pandemic year has given me a vast, new appreciation for glimpses of other folks lush landscapes as an armchair traveler of sorts – and for what it is worth I try to treat my Instagram followers to my East River views, park foliage and wildlife in my IG stories as a reminder of our urban pleasures. Some of you know that I recently made the acquaintance of a young hawk who insistently swoops in front of me as I entered the park each morning. (Look at me!) Just yesterday he was hunting about a block from the park and I saw him as I headed over, soaring high above me, being chased by wary, angry crows and sparrows. (An interesting example of warring bird factions who wouldn’t typically otherwise unite for a specific cause.)

Immature hawk (red tail?) posing on a lamppost after flying past me repeatedly one morning while warming up for my run.

Mia, on the other hand, has hedgehogs in her garden and she has rigged up a camera to film the pudgy little fellows at night! They are delightful! The other day she gave some instructions for encouraging them back to British gardens as they no longer thrive there the way they once did. We all do love the hedgehog footage.

A glance at the Ruby Foxes IG page. Just out of sight is a rhinestone horsehoe pin I might need if it hasn’t sold. The lower right is a hedgehog night cam video! Enid is the pretty long-hair and Astrid the large ear-ed youngster of the kits shown.

Mia is an accomplished runner and shared views of her muddy track shoes through spring – extra muscle building, those muddy paths I would imagine. She ticks off five miles daily and is very diligent. While I suspect she is younger than yours truly it does inspire and impress me mightily, as my sort of sloppy, very slow and approximately three miles has taken a long time to achieve. Mia sent encouragement early on when I told her I was trying to start running which was also very kind, and she and her five miles in the English countryside are a sort of vision board for me and my nascent, slow and urban, efforts.

However, this is all to say that I found The Ruby Foxes because she sells antique jewelry and other antique bits and pieces on Instagram and I like to see those too. I have written some about my fascination with early 20th century British jewelry and vintage clothing as it is a sort of a parallel universe to the same period in the US. I am enjoying the baubles and bits of their bygone age and as it is slightly different than our own, it has renewed my interest in this sort of thing. (My other posts about this can be found here and here.) I considered it a sign of good mental health when I got interested in jewelry again – proof that some part of my brain was thinking about a future where I would again be out in the world someday. I am developing a fascination with lucky horseshoe pins and insect pins.

Not doing this little beauty justice, but moonstones are like opals in that they are hard to photograph!

Recently I purchased a tiny moonstone ring from her. I have long been a fan of moonstones and have had my eye out for a simple, early ring like this one. It is a tad small, even for my littlest finger, but after some to and fro we decided that it could be made a bit bigger if needed. However, best of all, Mia reminded me that ages ago I said I wanted a cat door knocker which she had subsequently tucked away for me until such time as we added something to the order which I guess didn’t happen. I don’t know how I let this little fellow slip my mind because he is wonderful!

He is quite small, the size of the palm of my hand so what, about five inches? As a door knocker he is small, although solidly made of brass and I would imagine he would emit a suitable knocking on your door. (In size he reminds me more of a mezuzah than a door knocker.) Still, I can’t help but feel he is somewhat apartment sized and really would be ideal for a door like ours here where you are never more than half a room away from the front door.

Living in a large apartment building which has restricted front door access (in our case a rotation of doormen) means that not a lot of knocking goes on here. Oddly though, we have a new, shy porter who has instituted the practice of leaving some of our packages at our front door and he quietly knocks when he does it. It made Cookie hiss the first time, which seemed like an extreme reaction. Still, we were all a bit surprised and of course now when you go to open your door you have to find your mask first and chances are you are on a Zoom call for work at the same time and carrying the ipad or phone around with you. It doesn’t happen often and so it is a bit of a big deal.

Our broken bell, misnamed home and a bit of peeling door paint. I gather these will all be repainted shortly.

Our NYS regulation fire safe metal doors also seem a tad knocker unfriendly. We technically have a doorbell built into the door although it broke within weeks of my moving in here decades ago and I wouldn’t begin to imagine how to have it replaced or repaired. There is also a bit of press tape with the prior owner’s name stuck in (J. Radigan, whoever and wherever you are) where the broken bell is. We have lived here incognito for several decades. (Yes, I have always been a bit casual about some aspects of home maintenance.)

Meanwhile, I don’t foresee putting this great little fellow out in the hall. For one thing, I like to look at him. He has tiny holes for thin nails and I cannot imagine somehow drilling him into our fire-approved metal door. Since we live in one room, doors are in short supply here, so I think he will grace a wall or shelf instead.

Cat Knocker, I would guess by the same maker, for sale on eBay.

I have found some of his feline grinning brethren online – a few identical and a few kissing cousins, likely of the same origin. The general consensus is that he is British and Victorian. The variation that is perhaps more available seems to be just his head, with the bow the actual knocking part, shown above, and identified as the Cheshire Cat. I wouldn’t mind assembling a few more cat knocker variations if the opportunity arises and am a bit tempted by the eBay offer although that one does look like he has been poorly polished at some point.

Yet another variation on the theme available on eBay.

I like my guy best I think, with his full cat body, smile and big bow tie. Hard to see but his grin is a bit toothy and there is an almost worn away whisker or two. The smile is a slightly enigmatic one, his toes tucked together and somehow the knocker gives a sense of a tail which does not exist. He will do a nice job of guarding our house, even if it is from the inside and not out.

Screwy

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little object came across my path on eBay and I snatched it up. Corkscrews have become a popular collectible and I was afraid I might face some stiff competition. I was lucky that it didn’t appeal to the collectors and I acquired him unchallenged.

There’s something perfectly appealing about this kitty and his corkscrew tail, sticking up in the air. This little fellow (or gal) sports a big bow, an arched back and a slightly wide-eyed expression. He (or she – despite the big bow I’m feeling he I think though), has nice heft and stands well on his own. He is easier to hold and better designed (and to pull on) than you might think, although I find this kind of minimal opener requires a sort of brute strength I don’t have and ultimately leads to bits of cork floating in my wine. Therefore, despite being quite sturdy, this fellow is officially retired from the work of cork removal as far as I am concerned. I am eyeing a cabinet which I think he will be quite at home in.

As someone who both waitressed and cooked professionally I became committed early on to a very specific device to removing corks from wine bottles. One of the most useful life skills (aside from extraordinary patience) that waitressing provided me with was the most fail safe methods of opening wine and champagne.

One summer during college I worked in a high end French restaurant (which despite being called Harry’s Lobster House, had quite a reputation for its French seafood cuisine), and this was where I believe I was introduced to this style opener. (I was also given instruction in the careful opening of champagne table side – slowly and wrapped in a towel – so that it would of course pop! but with no spillage.)

Pretty close to what Harry’s looked like back in the day when I waitressed there, but this appears to have been taken a bit later than that. They added outdoor dining in an ajoining area after my days of waitressing there.

For the most part I was a pretty lousy waitress. Friendliness was the best skill I brought to it (in addition to the aforementioned patience), which bought me a fair amount of forgiveness with the customers. Frankly though this made me better suited for working behind a counter, making sandwiches and serving coffee as I had the summer before,

I can still remember how befuddled I was by the specific names of the liquors when people ordered drinks – this was a high-end restaurant and Sea Bright in summer was a drinking beach town. I wasn’t familiar with top shelf alcohol brands and was decidedly unsophisticated in this regard. (Mom and Dad certainly had liquor in the house, but they were fairly mundane in their imbibing.) I did my best to write the order exactly, phonetically when needed, on my pad and report them faithfully to the bartender who, although nice enough really, in retrospect must have thought I was an idiot. Mom tells stories of working her way through college waitressing and it doesn’t seem to be a gene I inherited. (Incidentally Mom was also a record breaking long jumper in high school and a runner – these days while learning to run I often reflect on not having those genes either.)

To be clear, a superior corkscrew to me is a bit like the better mousetrap – you can try to make one, but the bar is high. It is a perfection of a certain kind of ingenuity and design. One should not tamper lightly with success.

These generally have a small knife, at top, to help peel off the cover on the cork and can also be used effectively for opening beer bottles, using the hook on the end.

Anyway, I have been using the same corkscrew since cooking school, mine came with an assigned kit of knives and implements. It has a red nail polish dot that I assigned to all my stuff so I could easily identify them quickly in a crowded kitchen. If you’ve never used one, you quite simply screw it in and then use the other, short, protrusion for leverage at the lip of the bottle and pull the handle – and voila! Bottle opened. Neat and tidy.

Growing up, the largely preferred bottle opener was the one below. I have a fairly good success rate with these as well, although clearly you can’t carry them around and use them as a waitress or cook. (The other folds nicely and lived in my pocket daily, handy for when needed.) This model has a bit less control than my preferred model (I’ve had more corks fall apart with these than the others), but I think one of these still also rattles around in my kitchen drawer. (Because of my former life as a cook, long ago though now that it is, there are some amazing things in that drawer that are rarely if ever used – things to make melon balls, pie crimpers to name a few. My zester recently came back into favor and my olive/cherry pitter lives there and is a much beloved item.)

Given all of this knowledge, opinion and lore, you would think that I would have successfully imparted this bottle opener knowledge successfully to my family at large. However, for some reason, my father became enamored of every possible variation of bottle opener to be found. He bought them in stores, at garage sales and they represented every conceivable variation on this theme. Some were quite absurd. Many were heavy and complex. Despite my protestations he would deliver them cheerfully to me as well. The fact is they almost never worked as well as my simple device – although in general I will grant you that they were more colorful and interesting, at least in theory.

Dad broke another rule of bottle opening and one evening opened a bottle of champagne which exploded in his hand, top breaking off, and cutting him badly enough that he had to trek to the emergency room for stitches. He did adopt my wrapped bottle technique after that.

Cafe d’Alsace earlier this week for a belated birthday dinner with a friend – they kept us pretty cozy despite the early March outdoor temps.

For all of this, you would think we are popping a whole lot of corks over here at Deitch Studio, but mostly we do not. Kim doesn’t drink and I am currently on a diet. Until earlier this week at a belated birthday dinner (which as my IG followers know was eaten outside under a heater and was actually quite lovely, pulling at the memory strings of what eating out used to be) when I broke down and had a glass of wine; I had not had a drink since December, maybe November. (The alcohol calories don’t make sense for me when I am counting them carefully. I always like to say that being on a diet is not so much fun that I want it to go on any longer than necessary so I try to be extremely focused and swift!)

I do cook with wine (or vermouth – although that’s a screw top) and there’s usually a bottle of something around for that. Pre-diet I enjoyed an occasional glass of wine or Prosecco with dinner – I like an occasional ice cold vodka tonic with lots of lime in summer. However, I am not and will never be knowledgeable about wine beyond what I like and what I don’t. Red wine triggers migraines which eliminates me largely from the erudite pursuit of wine. Nevertheless, when needed I know exactly how I am going to open that bottle.

Hankering for Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Buckle up for a very, very Felix day. For new readers a chance to catch up on part of my collection dedicated to the early representations of the famous animated cat and for dedicated readers some highlights of the past along the way.

I don’t think it would surprise long-standing Pictorama readers when I state that I look at a lot of Felix items and generally have a sense of what is available. Therefore when I come across something I have never seen before I’m pretty sure it is indeed unusual indeed. If I am unable to acquire it I more or less assume I will likely never see it again – we do find there are exceptions. However, it was in this spirit that I must have broken my own rule (one that I generally only write about objects and photos in my own collection), when I wrote a post on a Felix handkerchief that I lost at auction back in November of 2018. (They are shown in a slide show below – these are sadly of course not in my collection.)

I paired the post with another on some handkerchiefs that belonged to my Dad which I carry in my purse, or did in the before time when I carried a handbag daily. (Those two kerchief dedicated posts can be found here and here. Strangely my forays outside, limited that they are, seem to mostly take place with a credit card tucked in the back of my phone now, unless I am required to provide my own shopping bags at the store. No one seems to want cash these days.)

Therefore, much to my surprise, I was able to score this single, but rather wonderful item which I share with you today. Unlike the frolicking, mouse chasing Felix in the earlier post, my hanky shows Felix deep in thought, doing his famous Felix walk. What I think of as Felix’s I’m thinking walk, has its origin in the earliest Felix silent cartoons and was his signature pose -for some reason I always think of Einstein when I see it. Felix knew how to strike a pose and there is also a sort of Ah ha! pose that frequently follows the walking and thinking. (And of course there are the wonderful things he does by disengaging his tail and using it for various purposes. We’ll perhaps discuss that another time given the opportunity.)

Felix sheet music from Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The then very popular phrase Felix Kept on Walking has its roots in this famed animated walk. (Although it also came to have a slightly racier meaning – as depicted on the plate below.) The Felix walk was celebrated in song, sheet music, song of the same name is shown below, but also in pins and other ephemera in the early collectible period. (An instrumental version of the tune can be found here, but in some ways for the full experience of the novelty tune you need the vocals which can be heard here. Or you can just chuckle over the lyrics here.) Some of the stuffed dolls from the 1920’s have Felix with a hump on his back and I have wondered if somehow it didn’t tie out to the bent over walk in deep thought, hands behind his back.

Felix Keep on Walking plate, Pams-Pictorama.com

Kim believes Buster Keaton satirized a few minutes of the Felix walk in Go West, 1925. An animated Charlie Chaplin, who obviously had his own trademark walk, does the Felix walk in the rather splendid Felix cartoon, Felix Goes to Hollywood. (It can be found on Youtube here. All these external links only good at the time of writing – they tend to come and go, especially the Youtube ones.) The Felix walk was known by all, a popular culture icon of the day. And, despite numerous redesigns over the decades, some remnant of the deep in thought walk stays with Felix right on up to the newer cartoons I watched as a child in the 1960’s.

Felix Lucky Bucks cut-out. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.
Pams-Pictorama.com Collection. Felix making clever use of his tail.

The handkerchief I acquired is small as seen here, definitely child-sized, and not quite as white as the image appeared in the photo provided. No matter about the condition of course and what to expect of such a fragile item which is rounding 100 years in existence. Hard to imagine a time when small children were encouraged to carry a hanky – and perhaps the lure of Felix helped keep them from losing it? I especially like the thought marks emanating from his head.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

This handkerchief, like so many other fascinating early Felix items, hails from Britain. The embroidery is fairly small and concise. I don’t know much about embroidery but my guess is that it is hand done, but probably by an adult. Although I have not seen the evidence, I assume there were some sort of kit or template you could acquire. I wrote about an embroidered apron, also lost at auction, which must have similar root. The Felix apron post can be found here, also a 2018 post. It was called Breaking the Rules and I would be perfectly happy to have another shot at purchasing it too!

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

Krak-R-Jak: Keeping the Biscuits Fresh

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It likely won’t surprise Pictorama readers to know that I am the sort of person who embraces an opportunity to outfit a new space or venture. While I have bad things I could say about the pandemic induced change to working at home, one bonus is I have had the chance to equip an entirely new desk. I devoted some previous post space to my desk at my office in Columbus Circle (one of those posts can be found here) back in the before time, but a new desk where I spend my days here in the apartment called for some judicious acquisition. Some bits found their way back from Columbus Circle on the one or two trips I made there (the lucky waving cats are with me and remain on the job with me; their post can be found here), but for the most part I picked up some bits and pieces to make it more functional and of course fun.

Another earlier Miss Molly purchase. She specializes in Halloween items.

The most significant item is this large-ish tin box for Krak-R-Jak Biscuits. I purchased this from my new Instagram source who resides in the middle west region of our country, known to me as Miss Molly (@missmollystlantiques) who has supplied me with an array of interesting photos (one of those posts can be seen here) and some Halloween items (one gem seen here), but she is also the purveyor of several interesting boxes that now hold my office supplies.

This large tin box, which I gather kept generations of biscuits and bread fresh, holds my collection of greeting cards which were transported early on from Columbus Circle. I have long been in the practice of purchasing nice cards (or especially funny ones) whenever I see them. In the before time when traveling for work I would often wander into a card store in a new town if I spotted one. As a result there is a card shop in San Francisco I have frequented for years and another in Boston. (There is also a lingerie store in Milwaukee and a nice junk shop in Santa Barabara, but those are other stories.)

Of course I have my sources in Manhattan, although frankly even pre-pandemic they were already rapidly closing down and getting sparse. I cling to the one near us just above 86th Street on Lexington, there are two others, further down Third Avenue, or at least there were. Therefore, if you have received a greeting card from me its origin may have been Manhattan or it may have been Chicago, or another destination along my annual work route.

I actually spotted this large tin in a post Miss Molly did for some other items and asked about it. While technically not on the block for sale, she was willing to sell it and now it not only holds my greeting cards, but also holds up the stand for my iPad which (for a variety of technical reasons) is usually what I do my Zoom meetings on. It brings the iPad to a relatively ideal height, although the bookshelves behind me distort and it looks like Kim and I reside in a very long, narrow library.

As it turns out, this is not a rare tin and if you desire one you can probably purchase it for about what I paid for mine by looking online. Pristine examples might get up there a bit, but one like mine which has some good sides and some less good ones won’t run you too much. One person has assigned this to the 1930’s which I could find neither confirmation nor contradiction.

Of course I immediately assumed that Krak-R-Jak was somehow a forerunner to the candy corn, Cracker Jack. I would mostly be wrong as it turns out, at least as far as I can tell. This spelling of Krak-R-Jak seems to take you only to the Union Biscuit Company of Saint Louis when searched online. The actual history of said Union Biscuit Company is not readily available, or I have failed in finding it. Although my tin tells you to always ask for Krak-R-Jak Biscuits my online research mostly turns up a perhaps more popular slogan, Keeping the biscuits fresh.

The etymology of Cracker Jack or crackerjack according to Merriam-Webster is easiest to share in its entirety and is as follows: The late 19th-century pairing of crack and jack to form crackerjack topped off a long history for those words. Cracker is an elongation of crack, an adjective meaning “expert” or “superior” that dates from the 18th century. Prior to that, crack was a noun meaning “something superior” and a verb meaning “to boast.” (The verb use evolved from the expression “to crack a boast,” which came from the sense of crack meaning “to make a loud sharp sound.”) Jack has been used for “man” since the mid-1500s, as in “jack-of-all-trades.” Crackerjack entered English first as a noun referring to “a person or thing of marked excellence,” then as an adjective. You may also know Cracker Jack as a snack of candied popcorn and peanuts. That trademarked name dates from the 1890s.

Therefore, while I think Krak-R-Jak plays on this same term, it is in this case evidently not linked to the eventual creation of the candy, which appears to have been introduced to the world at the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and later perfected and marketed by Fritz and Louis Rueckheim. This recipe for candy corn and peanuts was already in existence and merely perfected (they figured out how to keep it from sticking one big mass) and marketed by them. I wonder if companies like the Union Biscuit were forced out of using the term eventually, although their logo cold easily pre-date the Cracker Jack candy use. Meanwhile, they were just using what would become an archaic term for pointing out that they had excellent biscuits.

A few of Kim’s drawing pencils seem to have found their way onto my desk which is an old drawing table.

While I thought I would also meander onto a wonderful little velvet covered box from Clark’s Spool Cotton Thread, which now houses paper clips, and can be spotted in the above photo, I will save that for another day. The Pictorama desk is full of delights to be revealed.

Boo!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: A happy Halloween to all! I am wrapping up my series of seasonal posts with a final nod to Halloween today. These tiny jack-o-lantern style candy cups are paper mache and may have sported handles and paper inserts – one still contains an insert. I assume they would have been filled with candy corn and the like, although frankly I am a bit unsure precisely what small candies would have been offered when these might have been new.

Pam’s Pictorama.com collection

These candy containers are miniatures of the larger ones kids carried to collect candy in. Like my cat version below, they would have paper inserts for eyes. (A post about that acquisition can be found here.) Until recently I thought these were meant solely for decoration, but recently I have seen period photos of kids carrying them for candy filling purposes.

Pam’s Pictorama.com collection

I have long desired possession of some of these Halloween wonders for my own and I have not yet gotten my hands on a large pumpkin to complete my collection. I would happily accept another cat if it had the right expression – twist my arm, you know?

My introduction to these paper mache decorations was a shop in Cold Spring, New York. A couple of hours from Manhattan on a Metro-North train will deliver you to the heart of this lovely little town on the Hudson. I used to make the pilgrimage each fall to look at the changing leaves along the river on the train north and then spend the day wandering around antique shops. One store had an amazing collection of these early Halloween decorations, all being sold for much more money than I could hope to amass at the time. It whetted my desire for them however and it is only getting sated now – this opportunity provided by my new provider in the middle of the country and due to a certain amount of internet trolling I did not previously indulge in.

Meanwhile, when I consider candy from this period I am going to guess that a fair amount of it was probably still homemade when these pumpkins were new, perhaps in the 1920’s. I just finished reading a book from 1915, Miss Pat and Her Sisters, where the author Pemberton Ginther indulges in a lengthy description of homemade candy preparation. Although I understand that somehow it was brightly colored and lots of sugar was involved I really know no more than I did when I started and don’t see it in my mind’s eye at all. Did it look like homemade Necco Wafers?

While I have certain bone fides in the kitchen and can hold my own in the world of soups, pastas, stews and even baking to some degree, candy has long failed me. (Some of my cooking related posts, cheesy olive bread and a one-bowl chocolate cake can be found here and here.) My childhood reading of early juvenile novels (which Pictorama readers know continues today) inspired me with fantasies about homemade candy making, at least pulling taffy or making fudge. However, it was a miserable failure each and every time we attempted it.

Cheesy Olive Loaf is a favorite here at Deitch Studio.

My sister Loren was usually a part of these culinary explorations which is notable because after a certain age we didn’t indulge in a lot of mutual activities. Loren ultimately became a good cook in her own right – leaning towards success with breads, another area I have not achieved too highly in – but she could get a bit experimental and was known to throw random ingredients in if you didn’t keep an eye on her – but it wasn’t her fault we failed. Our fudge, regardless of recipe, never hardened and our taffy was a sticky monstrous disaster. (May I add, candy thermometers have always seemed extremely exotic – coated in sticky, hot sugar on the stove. Why doesn’t the heat make them explode? I have always wanted to own one but I suspect it would be disappointing.)

In retrospect, I assume there are some tricks to pulling taffy we just didn’t have in our repertoire, but I will never understand where we consistently went wrong with fudge. It is my understanding that fudge should be easy – children should be able to make fudge. After multiple attempts over a long period of time we gave up on it. To this day I cannot eat fudge without duly noting our failure, tugging at a corner of my mind though.

Like many American children of the mid-twentieth century, my imagination was kindled by the concept of Turkish Delight in the C.S. Lewis book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Perhaps this candy was well-known by the British children of a previous generation, but I have to admit this kid from New Jersey was well into adulthood before coming across Turkish Delight in person. It turns out that I like it, although admittedly it was never good enough that I imagined being inspired by it to sell my siblings into witch-dominated servitude. (However, it goes without saying that sometimes just living with siblings would have you ship them off without so much as a Mary Jane in exchange.)

I believe I was actually in London the first time I had Turkish Delight, although I think that was just by chance as I have subsequently had it here on many occasions. A plate of it came with bitter black coffee at the end of an excellent meal in a Greek restaurant. I also remember that my friend Don turned my cup over when I was done, sludgy grounds sliding onto the saucer, and then proceeded to read my future from the designs made by the grounds on the inside the cup. That was a first too – maybe the only time I have had my coffee grounds read. Anyway, Turkish Delight was the rare candy event that successfully survived the leap from the literary world to the real one.

Meanwhile, a quick search reminds me that licorice was popular at the beginning of the 20th century. (Mom and Loren were fans, I never was and would eat the red version only, if pressed. If Dad and Edward had a preference I cannot recall it. Ed?) In the day when these pumpkin containers would have been stuffed, candy corn was indeed already around, as were Tootsie Rolls and Hershey’s chocolate.

On the more homemade side there were sugarplums (also called cream filberts and later, yikes, were known as mothballs – um, talk about a fall from grace), potato candy (a homemade Depression era treat made with potatoes and peanut butter – really?), and my favorite, toffee. (I opine a bit on the delights of toffee when celebrating the purchase of this Felix toffee container below. Read that post here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Strangely it turns out that candy cigarettes have been around since the late 1800’s. I was fascinated by them as a kid and only ever saw them if they turned up in my Halloween haul. As I remember them, in addition to chocolate ones, there were ones made with white sugar and those came in lovely red and blue plastic “cases” – the candy cigs had little bright pink ends like you were smoking with lipstick on – who can make things like that up?

Pumpkin Head

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Picking our very Halloween run of posts back up today, I share with you all a candy container which just turned up here at Pictorama. (May I just add that the very phrase vintage candy container thrills me?) He is an odd duck and a bit more fragile than I thought he would be. I have not yet found the best final spot for him in the new bookcase, among the black cat toys. I had planned for him to live with some of his Halloween brethren, but in addition to being fragile he rolls dangerously. Right now he is resting against one of my extremely off-model Felix toys, nestled safely into his side safely on a lower shelf.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Mr. Pumpkin has a few dents which can be forgiven considering his advanced age. He is marked simply on the bottom, German, and nothing else. (I don’t know how much they actually celebrate Halloween in Germany but there was a time when they were making some of the greatest Halloween items being sold in this country. Strange, right?)

Pumpkin Head appears to be paper mache, or a close relative, lined with cardboard. I can only imagine what a glorious thing it would be to show up for a Halloween party and find an army of these fellows, stuffed with candy on a decorated table! Or perhaps he was dropped into the candy packed pillowcase of some lucky child – who loved him so much he has survived the long march of time this far.

Side view, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

He is pretty friendly looking with just a touch of madness. I confess to a bit of intimidation by some pumpkin-headed figures. Even as an adult, I admit that they fill me with some unease – my idea of a horror film, being chased by mad pumpkin-headed figures, legs and arms seem to make all the difference to my psyche.

In addition to the well-documented ongoing black cat addiction, I went through a period of purchasing Halloween decorating books of the aughts and teens, originals and reproductions. As a result a brief examination of the Dennison’s decoration empire can be found in a 2015 post here. Founded as a maker of jewelry boxes in the 1840’s, Dennison’s was the first maker of crepe paper. They were the reigning king of holiday decorating for over 100 years, starting in 1897. Their Bogie Books fulfilled every curiosity I harbored about the details of early 20th century Halloween celebrations.

Original Bogie Book, Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Even as a kid I was somewhat fascinated by Halloween of yore. I remember insisting on bobbing for apples at some Halloween party and I can only say it is perhaps a skill that one develops over time. (And clearly not one to revive in this Covid year of contagion.) Perhaps this was a regional thing and some of you readers were routinely bobbing away. My Halloweens were ones of unromantic plastic pumpkins and pillowcases for candy, uncomfortable masks of hard plastic that were purchases out of boxes and were hard to breathe in and even harder to see out of, especially in the dark – they always seemed to poke you in the eye a bit.

I am not sure if a renewed interest in Halloween items is speaking to me this year because of unexpected availability or perhaps fulfilling a different yen during this oddest of years. Maybe it is a desire to mark the changing season in a year of remarkably similar days. (My new mid-West supplier Miss Molly seems to be the reigning Queen of Halloween and has turned up a surfeit of items – she occasionally even sends me things to look at while she is in the parking lot of a flea market, somewhere in the environs of St. Louis. Seems like a glorious way to spend your weekends actually. I enjoy vicarious pleasure in her ventures.)

When I was a young adult I continued to carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns much as I had since I was a child, wielding the knife now however – and cleaning up the huge mess. The last time I did it was the first Halloween after Kim and I got together. What I remember best is that my cat Otto loved the smell of the pumpkin guts, rolled around in them and insisted on eating it. (Incidentally, canned pumpkin can help at cat clear hairballs out of their system. Just a kitty tip in passing.) Sadly, I did not have the foresight to document the Deitchien influenced creation.

Trick or treating in Manhattan is an odd ritual with the kids of our high rise building going door-to-door to apartments who have indicated that they are welcome. Local businesses also get into the spirit and hand out candy to the kiddies. This year, a sort of ham handed CDC recommended fashion, the building will forego and instead offer pre-filled bags to the offspring of the building. Regardless, we are on the countdown to Halloween ’20 however, and I have at least one more small Halloween treat up my sleeve to share next week.

The Royal Oracle of Tailors

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Although I generally keep my advertising purchases to cat related items, I tossed this onto a photo order I made on Instagram over the summer. This is an odd little bit of advertising lore which has evidently long outlasted the company. (I was unable to find any reference to the Royal Tailors online, despite their more than 57 years in business, as per the brag of this card, and an obvious love of robust advertising.)

No city of origin is mentioned in this pamphlet which might have helped as it is a phrase which brings up a lot about a Korean serial drama of the same name. Very nominal references seem to exist for it in the 1920’s out of Chicago and New York, although they boast about a presence in cities all over the country. As printed on the back, this particular item seems to have been handed out by Carl Mee, 104 E. Rockwood Avenue, Rockwood – this may be Rockwood, PA according to Ms. Google.

On the cover slightly dwarfish men labor over the handmade suits, one at the bottom presents some fabric options to a well-dressed customer. The spinner on the front lands on a variety of oracle answers which are interspersed with gems like Yes, on schedule and no disappointments and Royal Tailor suit to individual measure for $30. They claimed to be in 10,000 cities and given their advertising flair I am surprised not to find traces of old advertising for them aside from this. Perhaps someone could search it better than I have.

The idea is that you choose a question inside and then spin the arrow on the outside to have it answered. (Kim says it almost works and I would say that it is a surprisingly accurate description.) I find the sheer amount of imagination and effort wonderful. Inside we get four jolly and sartorially impressive gents going on about their well-dressed business throughout the four seasons – sporting a tennis racket for summer, an overcoat in winter and just some blowing leaves and a bird on a branch to suggest the remaining two. On the back, a less dwarfish (and less interesting) man appears to admire himself in his Royal Tailor suit.

I will also point out that inside, in a childish hand, To Viola Green is written in pencil. On the back in the same scrawl it says, Walter Heerd. A gift from Walter to Viola? As a kid I would have thought it a pretty nifty one, I admit Walter might have gotten over on me this way. Was it Viola who kept it these many years?

For me the world is a less interesting one without advertising efforts such as these, although perhaps I am just not the target audience for what does exist. As a tot my dad would bring me light up trucks from Hess Gas to my delight – dishes, mugs and whatnot wandered in the door from all sorts of vendors clamoring for our attention. Banks not only offered lollipops (a practice I would like to lobby them to consider a return to), but all sorts of enticements for opening savings accounts, checking, or (my favorite) the Christmas Club savings accounts which helped you put money away for holiday gift buying. I seem to remember getting some nice little version of a special holiday passbook for that. (Despite the seemingly political incorrectness of Christmas Clubs they evidently still exist today – online versions, but still under a Christmas moniker.)

From the same lot I will return to some cat advertising in a near future post. If you cannot wait a past cat post can be found by clicking on: Crinkle Cat.

Felix and The Ebony Room

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little item is about twelve inches high, homemade out of a thick piece of wood, at least two inches fat. It has just enough accumulated grime to make me think it sat on a wall somewhere, undisturbed for a long time. The whites are somewhat yellowed, although if you look closely you can still see the ancient pencil lines used for the lettering. I have no idea how old it is. The eBay seller hails from Indiana which may indicate this sign’s place of origin – or not. A quick search of Indiana clubs with The Ebony Room in their name turns up a Facebook page for an Ebony and Ivory Dance Club there, although meanwhile for all I know this sign sat proudly in a home bar or rec room or other bar.

Felix’s tail is a bit fluffy and his nose is a bit off kilter. The overall design used makes me think of a late 1940’s or 50’s Felix. Having said that, the execution is neatly done and I want to say there must have been some sort of a semi-professional template used. A glossy paint finished him up and there is a long toothy wall hook on the back for secure hanging. I love the red lettering, so neatly and painstakingly done in a sort of faux Gothic style.

I admit I am unsure what made me purchase this. (I’m not sure, but I think Kim sort of looked at me sideways when I unpacked it.) Granted it didn’t cost much, but anything larger than a photo tends to get some consideration in our cramped quarters. I am unsure of the impulsive exception made. There is something about these homemade items that I like though, slightly off-model and askew they show the hand of the maker and remind us that copyright or not, Felix was a cartoon cat of the people. It is a one-of-a-kind, homey piece of popular culture. It just makes me think about sitting in a dimly lit, but cheerful spot with a draft beer in hand.

As bookshelf building is still hopefully in our (post-bunker life) future I have not considered where and if we will sport this item on display here at Deitch Studio. Still, it has found its niche here, among the ever-growing collection of Felix items beloved.

Stuck on Felix

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My guess is that many of us have had the odd sticker, card or bit of stationary which has somehow and for a truly unknown reason survived, unused, year in and out until a decade or more has passed and somehow, despite relocation of home and hearth, and perhaps amongst the loss and damage of more meaningful things, certain items seem to persist unscathed. It is some strange law of averages it seems. However, most of these such items cannot, yet anyway, lay claim to being almost 100 years old like I suspect these Felix the cat stickers of being. While many (most) of the items I collect share a similar history, few are as ephemeral.

This pair of tiny stickers (just a few inches each) traveled to me from Australia, found on ebay earlier this year. In design, they are very similar to a series of series of British chocolate cards, although sketchier. I wrote about my small accumulation of those in my post, Chocolate Felix (It can be found here. I also have a some chocolate cards featuring Felix from Spain and a post about those can be seen here.)

 

It isn’t the same hand making the art, but a reasonably close fellow traveler in Felix forging I would say. Felix is with his girlfriend, Kitty, here or as I tend to think of her, the White Cat. I have never warmed to Kitty. It isn’t unprecedented that they are a carton or comics couple which appear to be different species of cartoon cat-to-cat with strange proportional difference, but it annoys my aesthetic sensibility. Create a world image and stick with it dammit, I say!

Wikipedia says that Kitty’s first appearance is in 1919’s Feline Follies and she is prominent on the Felix tea set of the day as well. I own one plate, shown below, but the same image appears on all. I wrote about it in a very early post back in 2015 which can be found here.

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Felix Keep on Walking plate, Pams-Pictorama.com

 

This illustrates that it isn’t just Kitty – the dog is also rendered realistically. It appears that Felix exists as an outlier even in his own world, the odd cartoon mouse notwithstanding.

For those of you who don’t have a mirror handy, shows Kitty, the siren kitty waving and her come hither remark is, You needn’t be shy with me Felix. The second one offers him very good advice, If you can’t be good Felix – be careful! Indeed!

Little Orphan Annie, Again

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers know that Little Orphan Annie has made a few appearances in posts recently and that with Kim reading his way through the strip that Deitch Studio has been immersing itself in many, if not all, things Orphan Annie. (And just between us, I doubt this is the last Annie post – such a marvel of marketing was that strip!)

While making another recent acquisition (see that post of a really splendid oilcloth Annie doll purchased to match a Sandy acquired a ways back here, and a ways back I wrote about an Olvatine mug I purchased – that post can be found here) I ran across this sheet music, however it wasn’t in full color. A few weeks of patience and the color version turned up in time for Kim to buy it for me for Christmas and here we are.

While this sheet music isn’t exactly rare, information about it and the music within does not abound. I have spent the morning down several rabbit holes resulting in a handful of interesting facts and tales to offer. Written and published by Ambrose J. Wyrick in 1925, the year the strip was born and like the strip it came out of Chicago. I could not find a recording of the tune, nor any mention of a record. (A later song, recorded by Coon Sander’s Nighthawks in 1928, with words by Gus Kahn and music by Joe Sanders, is all but a standard of the period still today. It can be heard here on Youtube.)

The sheet music sports a nice photo of Harold Gray. (Creator of Little Orphan Annie and noted that it is a Butler Photo Chicago – no relation, in 1925 my grandfather was just settling in NY as a young man whose name was changed to Butler at Ellis Island, no interest whatsoever in music, photography or Little Orphan Annie.)

In the lower right corner and a small insignia of a pig that proclaims, Oink! Grunts himself in person!) in the upper right, presumably drawn by Gray.

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Grunts the piglet was an early character in the strip. His origin story is found in dailies on March 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, 1925. He seems to stick around a bit, but as he didn’t ultimately make much of an impression on Kim, I assume the character doesn’t develop beyond a point and wains out of the strip.

Annie and a young Sandy grace the front, banging out said tune (I assume) on the piano, the strange doll character acting as page turner for her. Sandy is singing from his own copy of the music. The back of the music shows Ralph Olson and his Orchestra (A Jack Richardson Unit) plays Little Orphan Annie and other Wyrick Songs. Those other titles (Compositions of Merit) are shown in part there as well.

 

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Any legacy of Ambrose J. Wyrick has been largely purged by time, even on the vast internet of today. Not only could was I unable to find a recording or record of this tune, but barely a tidbit of information on Mr. Wyrick himself. It would seem he was as much performer as musician or publisher and he seemed to have a popular talk (ironically perhaps in retrospect) about music and business which he toured with – the published volume of the talk appears to be available for a sum. Only the poster below could be found, declaring his skill as, Distinguished Composer *Author*Actor*Orator*and Tenor…Attraction Extraordinaire. (This courtesy of the University of Iowa archive.)

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Oddly enough, I was also able to find his autograph for sale with a portrait of him, shown below. On the other side there was an autograph with a photograph reproduction of Preston Bradley, a fellow Chicagoan lecturer and clegyman.

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Today’s tooling around Youtube looking for this I ran into much Annie lore to be considered on its own. There are readings of the poem, Little Orphant Annie, a poem penned in 1885 by James Whitcomb Riley, and thought to be the inspiration on some level for the strip. The poem (which is pretty interesting) and its history can be found on Wikipedia here or one of the Youtube readings of it here – but I suggest the read over the listen myself. Youtube also turns up a truly ancient silent cartoon which is honestly not quite visible – we’ll hope that one day a better print turns up.

Finally, best of all perhaps, Kim turned me onto Chuck McCann (WPIX NY television host) doing Little Orphan Annie, in a dress with white disk eyes and all. An image of that, which speaks for itself, snatched below!

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This sheet music, little gem that it is, will be going up on the wall in a place of honor here at Deitch Studio. I include the music with the somewhat less than memorable lyrics in case anyone is ambitious enough to want to play the tune or is curious about the lyrics. (So keep your grit and fight for your own and soon You’ll find a Home Sweet Home…)

Meanwhile, as above, stay tuned for more Little Orphan Annie to come as I certainly have my eyes peeled.

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