Going Sideways

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It is always a great day at Pictorama when I get to share a new Felix and a few have arrived at our welcoming shores recently. Due to a bad case of life in general Christmas arrived a bit late at Deitch Studio this year, but that made these acquisitions no less beloved as additions to the Felix family. The collection has grown so over the years it can be a bit difficult to find toys that are distinctly different enough to add, but these are worthy additions indeed.

These Felix-es hail from Peter Woodcock, the dealer who recently sold me the simply amazing Dean’s Felix this past fall in an online British toy sale. (That post can be found here.) In late December I threw myself on Peter’s mercy to supply both Christmas and birthday (February!) gifts this year and he responded splendidly with three Felix toys, the first which is being featured today.

A friend recently told me in an email that I was the first person to ever take her into an antique store. I am not sure I was aware that it was among my accomplishments, nor do I remember the occasion, however we went to college together so I assume it was during that time. Given a reasonable proximity to antique stores or even junk stores (New London, Connecticut was more junk than antique by far), it is hard to keep me out of them so it seems distinctly possible – putting aside for the moment the question of who hasn’t been in an antique store before reaching young adulthood?

Celluloid firefly in the Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Meanwhile, I had been nattering to her about my recent affection for insect jewelry of the early years of the 20th century. (Subject matter insects, not made of insects – which yes, does seem to have been an early 20th century thing – I am more celluloid firefly than Felix depicted in butterfly wings. All about insect jewelry posts can be found here and here.) She pointed out that my aesthetic and interests had always converged on the dawning years of the 20th century.

Felix pendent made of butterfly wings. Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection. (The concept kind of creeps me out!)

Pictorama readers know that in recent decades that interest has been directed largely to things early Felix the Cat and perhaps most especially those items which celebrate the somewhat off-model, askew evidence of the human hand. The revelation that some such a work force on the East End of London, (made up of indigent women as a social service scheme) in the 1920’s was one of the favorite fun facts I have ever turned up in my research. (That post can be read here.)

I suspect that maybe today’s little fellow hails if not from that collective perhaps from a similar British enclave of toy production. He is the second entry of a horizontal Felix in my collection and if I have seen many more I do not remember them. Christmas of 2015 brought the first to Pictorama, shown below. A post devoted to him, for those of you who are a bit completest like me, can be found here.

A Felix Christmas gift from 2020. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Today’s featured fellow is smaller, a scant five inches or so. He is made of a plushy velveteen-y fabric. His head is (was?) somewhat swerve-able. He maintains his sparse but prickly looking plastic whiskers on both sides; his pointy ears are an ancient felt. While he has glass eyes like the one above, his have a slightly more insane expression (right?) and his black nose maintains its gleaming black. I like his sturdy tail which sticks up, almost like a fifth leg. His muzzle has also kept its mohair fluffiness.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Although Felix as an early cartoon entry certainly spent a fair amount of time in a catty horizontal run, we tend to think of him in his anthropomorphic semi-human vertical form. While my previous acquisition was a bit more catty than Felix usually is, this one captures the spirit of the cartoon in that regard – Felix in motion.

Newly transplanted to the shores of the United States, this little guy joins the Pictorama collection with a place of pride on a Felix devoted shelf near my desk where savvy visitors via Zoom get to see him featured daily. Thank you Peter for parting with him!

Handy Felix

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have done much blogging about some of my more obscure Felix items (with more to come!) and this puppet is another. There are many items I pay up for, but my constant combing occasionally pays dividends with an item that is great and that no one else seems to want. This was one of those. I have never seen another puppet exactly like this it, and I bought it for a nominal amount uncontested on eBay many years ago. It interests me that the Steiff Felix puppet goes for a fortune and this little guy didn’t even earn a nibble. My good fortune.

I assume this is mostly likely one of those East London Toy Factory Felix toys that I wrote about last year. He most definitely has a handmade, slightly less than professional appeal. He is awkward to use – I realized this when trying to take his photo on my hand – and isn’t balanced quite right for ease of movement.

He is very endearing however and he instantly became a favorite of mine. I have not found an optimum way to display him. He hangs out with the other Felix dolls on the shelves, just folded in half. I like to take him down one in a while though – he looks well loved, and despite his flaws he was clearly a much loved and well used toy, which in turn was well preserved these many, many years. Thank you British child somewhere!

East London Toy Factory, Ltd.

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This parade of multiple off-model Felix fellows advertises the East London Toy Factory at 45, Norman Road, E. 3. It is unused and undated. A quick look around and I found this out about the history of this factory on the site Grace’s Guide:

WWI. Sylvia Pankhurst opened a new toy factory as an answer to the dozens of tiny failing workshops where women were paid a pittance. Toys were no longer being imported from Germany, so Sylvia’s factory employed 59 women to fill the gap. It was a haven for them. First they turned out wooden toys and then dolls: black, white and yellow, followed by stuffed cats, dogs and bears. One day, Sylvia took a taxi full of her wares to Selfridges new store in Oxford Street and cajoled Gordon Selfridge himself to become a stockist. 

A further listing says that in 1922 East London Toy Factory was noted for exhibiting Soft Animals with Voice…and Riding Animals on Wheels. By 1947 they were listed with Animals with Electric Eyes. Hotsy totsy I say!  An undated ad on another site declares, East London Toy Factory, Ltd, high-class soft toys, artistic rag dolls, mascots, fancy toys and all kinds of novelties. Fancy toys and novelties indeed – let’s talk! I am not absolutely positive, but I think there is a very good chance that my Felix below is a East London Toy Factory fellow. As far as I can find out, they did not place a maker’s mark on them. The company was liquidated in 1952.

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Sylvia Pankhurst was a real pip. In addition to opening the East London Toy Factory, which as above, employed women and at a higher wage (not to mention supplying off-model Felix dolls to the masses) Sylvia Pankhurst was a suffragette, born of a family of reformers and left wing activists. She started life as a painter, illustrating the plight of poor women and families and then she became an activist and reformer with a vengeance. In addition to the toy factory, she opened food distribution centers, and a free clinic. Shown below, she is being arrested for protesting WW1.

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Subsequently, she moved to the countryside and lived with her Italian anarchist paramour where they opened a cafe and she wrote what one website calls subversive literature. (This seems to mean Communist.) She was against marriage and taking a man’s name and when she gave birth to a son when she was 45 – it is unclear if it was the child of the Italian lover of if she had moved on by then – her refusal to marry resulted in her mother never speaking to her again. (So much for being a liberal parent – I guess there were limits in 1927.) Later in life Pankhurst was a supporter of Ethiopian independence and moves there in 1956. Continuing in the same lifelong vein, she opens the first teaching hospital there and supports anti-imperialist causes. Sylvia Pankhurst dies in Ethiopia, where she is given a state funeral, in 1960 at the age of 78. Clearly I am not able to do her full justice here, but there are robust sites devoted to her that are well worth the read. Fascinating! I am very pleased that Felix took me down this particular road, and I offer it to you today as a slightly unusual Mother’s Day fare.