Friendly with Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For any Pictorama devotees who are less than enchanted with my collection of photos of people posing with outsized Felix the Cat dolls, the next several weeks may present something of a challenge. So sorry! While today’s post focuses on one that I have pulled off our wall and have owned for years, I have acquired two more that are winging their way toward me even as I type. Yes, pleasantly enough, I have a small wall devoted to these and frankly I have about as many I could hang and have not yet. I could cheerfully fill a room with them.

Frankly my appetite for these photo postcards remains utterly undiminished. Even I am a bit amazed that I remain as enchanted with acquiring each new one as I was by discovering my first. My reaction is the same every time – I love it and I’m amazed and gratified that it even still exists. That’s not to say some of these aren’t better than others – I especially love the one I am sharing today – but in the end each has its own charm for me. Each person, couple or group, frozen in time, the remembrance of lovely day gone by. Everyone with a different version of an over-sized Felix.

For one thing this is a well composed photo and not every wandering picture taker who bought a huge Felix (and still I ponder – where are those dolls?) knew how to put a photo together. This photographer certainly did, although some of it was luck. I love the composition in front of these columns – the striped dress on the one woman is somehow happily repeating that pattern. The bricks provide another pattern, as do the fabrics of their clothes and hats. I like the little slice of action behind the other woman and the long look behind them of other columns giving it great depth. It is my single regret that somehow it is the tiniest bit over-exposed and the one column disappears a bit at the top. We could use the tiniest bit of line there and over the white hat.

These women are dressed in lovely spring-summer costumes for their day out. White shoes and stockings! Pretty dresses and hats! It makes me want to go out and buy a spring dress. (Honesty compels me to confess it is not a hard inclination to create – this time of the year I positively yearn for spring dresses.) They are holding this enormous, slightly tipsy, lop-sided Felix up by the arms. He looks like he’s has a decided list to one side and his arms are very long indeed. Still, he has a great Felix face and large nicely pointy ears. Unlike some of these fellows, he’s in good shape and doesn’t look as if he has been dragged over hill and dale as much as some I have seen recorded. There is a mysterious form – shadow? – in the lower right corner and if you look carefully, bits of developer down at the bottom which has left some white spots. Although this is a very nice photo, those are a reminder that these were done in haste, somewhat sloppily, unlike a studio photo.

Anyway, I offer it to you today, on what is one of Manhattan’s first truly spring-like days. Cats dozing by an open window, winter on the run at long last. A visual reminder of another perfect spring day, somewhere in Great Britain past.

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Tiny Toy Felix Fiesta

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I will blame this purchase on my travel too as I saw these and put a bid in while I was away and won. Pictorama readers know I have a uncomfortable relationship with celluloid – it is so fragile! This has been documented in the past posts, Fear of CelluloidHappy Life Toy and most recently in Ding Dong Kitty. Nonetheless, I bid on these on a whim – a single one was being sold close to these three, I figured why not bid on the three at the same amount as I would one, and here we are. (Total Pam logic on that one.)

They are identical except one still sports his tiny Felix copyright Pat Sullivan tag on the sole of his foot. Unlike yesterday’s Felix-es, these do not stand independently. One has a tiny hole in the bottom of his foot, but otherwise they are in remarkably good shape with no dents. An indication that they were produced in Japan is embossed on each if you look closely. The strange almost non-existent weight of them somehow brings a visceral sense memory of holding such toys as a child.

Felix foot photo

Tag on Felix’s foot, collection Pams-Pictorama.com

 

As mentioned above, I have already opined on the frail nature of these items and my wonderment on how something so breakable, an inexpensive toy a child would have played with, can make it through some many decades (blasting toward the century mark) relatively unscathed. It is amazing – and probably a credit to mass distribution in part. I would get the same feeling when at the Met I looked at the rare piece of Roman glass which somehow made it down through time unscathed – I mean, I can barely keep glasses in our apartment un-chipped or ultimately smashed, especially with the kitties. Those items somehow survived not only household pets and drunken guests, but fires, earthquakes and wars. Fascinating.

I worry sometimes about whether I am the best steward for certain items. I do not collect what I really feel I cannot care for, keeping china to a minimum for example; paper mache gives me pause occasionally. Those who have visited Deitch Studio know that this is far from being a glass cabinet-ed, dust free facility. Toys are actually pretty much stacked around us, tumbling (especially with the help of cats) onto the bed with some regularity. Somehow we co-exist, the collection and us sentient beings, but as this is a single room I do wonder about the ultimate tipping point. However, for now, these Felix toys are tiny even if there are three of them, and they live quietly on a shelf propped up by a mechanical mouse, in front of a clutch of film books Kim requires access to only occasionally.

 

Flummoxed by Felix

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I am taking a detour today from my discourse on my London loot and circling back to these fascinating Felix-es I purchased on eBay shortly before my trip. I have labeled this a toy post, but honestly, I have no idea what purpose these served so they may indeed not have been proper toys. However, when I saw them I had to have them and here we are now, on a bright if chilly St. Patrick’s Day morning in New York City, coffee in hand, contemplating them.

For once I believe I really did understand the tiny scale of these pre-purchase – no bigger than a quarter. Of course they came from Great Britain (they call it Great for a reason said the Felix collector) which is still the El Dorado of early Felix items, despite my recent disappointing foray. They are made of wood and appear to have been commercially produced – this wasn’t a pattern in a magazine or someone’s one-of-a-kind. The tiny Felix arm (paw?) on one has broken off. The scale is a tad wonky with the hands a bit enlarged. The bottoms are even and they stand up easily on their own, edges sharp. If they are pieces to a game, the most likely thought – I want it!  Surely they would be considered a choking hazard for small children today – and really, who could blame a small child for wanting to give these an experimental chew? I am sure Cookie and Blackie would give them a gnaw if I allowed it.

Here we are in paragraph 3 and I sort of assume it goes without saying that I have never seen the likes these before. My best guess is that they were markers for some sort of game played by grown ups – like a Bingo variation of some kind. My imagination races – were there Felix game boards or cards? How many variations on Felix are there and, most of all of course, will I ever find the rest of it? These are the most pleasant sort of mysteries of life – small and fascinating hints dropped in my way, leading me on a jolly, if long and winding, path of toy discovery.

Along these lines, I share a photograph I found online recently – it is the box for the Felix game I wrote about recently in my post Chocolate Felix. Just going to show, pieces of the toy puzzle do continue to turn up.

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Felix in Translation

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This was such an odd card I decided I had to purchase it. At the top – I hope you’ll keep on loving – it’s good for me!” is the strange declaration, and then the next line translates as Not for you, for my little cat Felix. One can’t help, but wonder if the translation to English was terribly inadequate and they were aiming for a slightly different sentiment? This little girl appears to be holding a bizarre tiny Felix and is placing a bowl of milk down for this other, larger Felix. In addition, she’s in this sort of frame like she is bursting out of something. The little Felix appears to have a very long (un-Felix-like) tail as well, that hangs below her arm. (If I’m being picky, I might also point out that the little girl is actually a bit longer in the body than she should be, about a third longer really.) Both Felix-es are smiling and evidently appear happy about what is transpiring – whatever that is. Honestly, it is like something out of a Kim Deitch story! (Hmm, size shifting cartoon cats mixing with humans – I think we were actually discussing that yesterday morning in bed.)

Personally, I don’t really think about Felix as a milk drinking cat – although perhaps there’s a cartoon or two where he reaches for a bottle of the white stuff. In those early days you were more likely to expect him to be guzzling a bottle of hooch than milk though. Early in my Felix toy collecting career, I thought France and Germany would be the hotbeds of early Felix activity, but England easily tops all, with the US in second – odd but true. France and Germany are way behind. One finds the occasional French item, German even more rare and really it is only Schuco that comes to mind. (Steiff of course being a German American company.)

I do not believe I own a single French Felix item, and if they felt the need to pose with a large, stuffed character from the comics, I have not seen one to date, nor know what character they prefer. A great auction loss I have never gotten over was an Australian photo of people posing with a life size Spark Plug from Barney Goggle. I have never seen on before or since. (My photos of people posing with giant Felix dolls seem to have only come from Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Even the Americans did not seem to embrace that practice. For new readers these photo posts abound in the Pams-Pictorama.com archive.)

The card was never mailed, although someone has written across the back, shown below. Between it being French, the hand writing, and the amount of it I have not attempted to Google translate it – but for anyone who can execute a quick translation I would love to know the general idea. For now I offer this odd little image for your consideration – and I hope you’ll keep on loving – it’s good for me!

French felix back

 

Foxy Squirrel?

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Al the Squirrel Aesop Fable doll from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictoram Toy Post: Oh joy and bliss! My first of several post-birthday posts is devoted to this utterly magnificent birthday gift from Kim, the most unusual of the Aesop Fable dolls in some ways. This toy came to me via a lovely toy dealer in Belgium, Regine Beghin, who has been the source of several holiday and birthday acquisitions in recent years. I will hope that my travels eventually land me nearby so I can say hello in person one day. (That does of course have the potential to be a very expensive trip indeed.)

Unlike his brethren, this is the only one of the dolls I know of with a very different body type, a strangely long skinny neck and puffy tail. As seen in this publicity photo below, the others are largely interchangeable bodies, different heads, clothes and expressions. So now comes the big question – what animal exactly does my new friend portray and what is his name? Looking at my prior research, presented in my post Mine, all mine…at long last – a personal favorite post – I listed the names for those characters as identified on the back of the photo, but realize this fellow remained nameless!

Aesope's Fables toys

Photo from the Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Google remains stubbornly inadequate on information about these Aesop Fable toys. In fact, it has gotten to where Google images on the subject are mostly my toys and posts! I reached out, deep into the toy network, and tapped a friend who I consider the Kingpin of Toy Lore. Mel agreed that he had always thought this was a fox (Max Fox perhaps?), but in examining the Aesop Fable hankies book – he owns his own copy, but some of you know this was recently the subject of some covetousness on eBay by yours truly – all the characters are laid out and identified. It would appear, as shown below, that this fellow isn’t a fox (or a wolf) after all – he is evidently Al Squirrel! (This and some much more can be seen at melbirnkrant.com.)

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Collection of Mel Birnkrant – melbirnkrant.com

 

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Collection of Mel Birnkrant – melbirnkrant.com

 

I must say, on the face of it a squirrel seems like a strange animal to attempt immortalized as a cartoon character. I kind of like the fact that they gave him such a straightforward name – Al. Upon reflection, perhaps a wolf or a fox carries negative cartoon connotations. (Think Three Little Pigs for starters.) Squirrels, on the other hand, are industrious, hard working little fellows. I suppose more likable – although the image above is anything but, holding a dead rabbit and a ditty about shooting a bee. Hmmm. Bottom, line, he is clearly a bit of a stretch aesthetically – more foxy than squirrelly  however.

I will note that this little fellow of mine seems to have replacement eyes (as above all of the dolls with open eyes have flat black pasted on ones, mostly but not all pie-eyed) and as a toy collector I should care about that, but his eyes are very fitting and I admit to liking them very much despite being later replacements. Otherwise his is in very good shape overall.

Al 3

Detail, Al the Squirrel Aesop Fable doll, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

In the process of writing this post I realized something else – in the above photo the Countess, the character at the far right, has different feet than all the others. I own two (yes, two – for the most recent acquisition see the post about that variation on a theme Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) Countess dolls and neither has those strange feet. Additionally, in what I now think of as true Aesop Fable tradition, my friend mentioned above also noted that his “hankie book” had a different cover than the one on eBay.

Finally, to muddy the waters further, below I share a photo of a partial doll I have, given to me by my friend Zach Sigall a few years ago. This was clearly another variation on the Wolf, Fox, Squirrel figure and is substantially different than our friend Al. Although his tail is missing, he doesn’t have the skinny neck and there’s no indication he had the fat tail. Unlike the other dolls his eyes are painted on and could not come off at all – other dolls seem to have eyes that are very firmly attached, but applied on. If we are using the hankie book as a reference or guide this fellow does not seem to have a match – perhaps there is a Max Fox after all.

Not Al

Mystery doll fragment, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

I remain totally enthralled and fascinated by what appears to be the mix and match mysterious nature of this enterprise. I cannot help but wonder if, like the East End shop I wrote about that churned out many of the more off-model Felix toys I enjoy today, this was not also a fairly small company that just randomly combined pieces to assemble these toys. Meanwhile, as for me, that means that I can dream about there being almost endless variation on each of these toys I can hope to some day find!

On a Sunday Morning in Swainsthorpe

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Pictorama readers better hold onto their hats because, this holiday season mysteriously revealed the opportunity for some really extraordinary acquisitions! As a Christmas gift Kim’s help fund these and stretched my resources considerably. I am planning to post about them more or less in the order they came to me.

Both groups (the other to be posted tomorrow) were extraordinary opportunities to buy a series of photos of a single family and keep them together. The first photo in this group was brought to my attention by a Facebook friend, Bren Luke. While I was still trying to figure out the origin of the photo I stumbled across the lot of the six of them for sale on eBay. They were being sold separately, by a British seller, which meant high bids had to go on all in order to secure the whole lot. Prices ended up all over the place, but I paid up and purchased all. I am glad they will stay together. They are much more interesting that way.

I was shocked by the size of them when they arrived. They are tiny – only about 2”x3” and I am unsure what sort of film and camera would have been used. (Kim is guessing 120 film via a brownie type camera?) They are undated and cut from where they had resided in a photo album. Written in the same hand as the one titled here, there are dates of  ’24 and ’25 from other photos on the backs, so we might assume these fall loosely into the same period. Sadly this little boy with a horn is not named, only cousins Kathleen & John get identified. Our other tidbit of information is Swainsthorpe on a Sunday morning. The internet reveals Swainsthorpe to be a tiny hamlet in Norfolk, England, population 360 as of the 2011 census. A close look at clothing shows that the whole lot was likely taken on the same day.

My favorite photo is the one featured at the top – the little boy tooting on his horn next to Felix. This was the one sent via Facebook and worth the price of admission on its own. Felix seems to be listening to that horn, smiling up at the kid – perhaps propped up by the wheelbarrow handle.

As the little boy doesn’t actually interact with Felix I wonder a bit if it is indeed his affection for it that has placed it in the photos or some other more general family fondness for Felix? Maybe the person behind the camera. It is a nice big Felix (one that I would be pleased to have I might add) and he comes up to the little fellow’s waist. I especially like the way he is looking at the little boy playing the horn, the tiny wheelbarrow (child-sized) makes a good counterpoint, the beautiful old stone house in the background. A miniature lawn mower appears in a subsequent photo and, although those are somewhat lesser photos, the light is beautiful in them.

My second favorite photo is the one with the little girl with the long hair holding Felix while the boy (her brother perhaps?) toots on that horn. There is a dreamy quality to this one and I even like the overexposed edges for the effect it creates. Is that a tiny keyboard between the girl and boy? It is hard to know exactly, but the toy lawn mower is great too and these toys create a sense that this is most likely a somewhat privileged family. There are a few other photo variations with these toys, and then the two with cousins. Kathleen looks willing enough, but John appears mostly like he is being coerced into staying still long enough to pose with his cousins, let alone put his arm around him in the one photo. Felix is a bit cut off in one, but he makes a splendid appearance as the fifth member of the family, grinning toothily as always, in the other group photo.

 

L’il Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Another toy today – and celebrating the acquisition of a new and unusual Felix no less. This fellow hails, at least most recently, from the United States. I have never seen this variation previously.  I spotted him on eBay and, although the bidding was robust, I would have been willing to pay more than I did for him. It is unusual for me to find a design I have never seen, given how much time I devote to looking at them I have seen most I think.

Some of the aspects of this Felix that are not immediately evident are a solidly sewn thread at the back of his head, and printing on his little red ribbon. My theory is that this Felix was a carnival prize which hung from that thread, now torn. (See back view below.) I wish I could read his ribbon, but maddeningly I think one half of it has smudged over time. I think it actually reads Made in… He is about seven inches high. If this gentlemen was a carnival prize, unlike his British counterparts which exist in large numbers speaking to broad popularity, he was not one that was widely distributed. His arms move, his legs and tail were meant to stand him up tripod fashion, although he seems to need some help. It is a very simple design, although the moving arms, glass eyes and felt ears speak to some care and expense.

Felix back

However, this benign faced fellow does not seem to belong to the same clan as those somewhat malevolent toothy grinned Brits. The argument could easily be made that he actually isn’t Felix, but a generic toy cat, but in all the looking at Felix I have done I believed immediately that he was someone’s off-model rendition, cheaply churned out for a cheerful Felix obsessed public. This mild mannered fellow has already found his spot on a bookshelf in our living room – a space that is starting to absorb the toy overflow from our cramped bedroom. Needless to say, I would have been very happy indeed to have won him at a fair. I can see a thrilled, small me, gripping him in one hand, perhaps some cotton candy or a candied apple (love those!) in the other. However, given my skills at those kinds of games, maybe I would have spent as much as I did buying him anyway.