Flea Market Finds

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: After seeing flea market finds from folks in other parts of the country on Instagram, I got to thinking about the Chelsea Flea Market. It had closed last December, but then I had heard a rumor that it was taken over by someone else so I went online to investigate. Sure enough, although originally scheduled to open in April the re-opening had been delayed due to Covid, but it would be opening in a few weeks, in September. I marked my calendar and last weekend, perhaps week two of its reincarnation, Kim and I wandered over.

Like many New Yorkers, my relationship to this market is as long as my residence here in Manhattan. In the years before I lived here I frequented one on Canal Street which I was very sorry to see disappear, and another small one on Broadway, both on the edges of Soho. (Imagine! Flea markets in Soho – needless to say both gobbled by the rising real estate and gentrification of that area. I wonder if, now that evidently no one wants to live here in a post-pandemic world, we will see flea markets crop up, once again, on lots that would have otherwise gone to over-priced luxury apartments? One can only hope that it will be a byproduct of our unusual time.)

However, it was the Chelsea Flea Market that held the record for ongoing weekend visits over decades. More things purchased at the garage there, which used to boast two floors of vendors, than I can possibly remember – although a few stand out in my mind, like my black cat ash try stand which I happen to be looking at right now. I didn’t really mean to buy it, but the seller made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – and now, many years later, I am so glad!

Old photo of Blackie and the black cat ashtray stand

The Chelsea Flea Market was a constant weekend companion and occupation through several relationships prior to meeting Kim, in fact a sort of an acid test for men I was dating – I mean, there was no long term hope for a relationship that didn’t embrace the flea market, right? With Kim the flea market became a weekend rotation every six weeks or so throughout the spring, summer and fall. The insatiable desire for property to build on nibbled away at the edges and it went from a high I remember of about six scattered locations, to the just the garage (which closed) and the now current (lone) spot on 25th Street, off Sixth Avenue.

In these weeks and months while Manhattan tries to find its footing again, figuring out what the city will look like now on the other side of closing down back in mid-March, we keep our expectations pretty low as things try to start up again. The current incarnation of the market is about two thirds of the lot devoted to sellers, in a vaguely socially distanced way, and the other third given over to a few food trucks and tables. Someone reminds you have your mask up as you enter the lot. (This lightly gated approach reminds me that one of the lots went through a phase which lead to a lot of peering in and seeing if it was worth paying the vigorish to enter or not.)

Sadly, the large indoor market that houses my favorite toy store, The Antique Toy Shop – New York, is closed. His website says he hopes to return at the end of December. I remain hopeful of its return.

At first I thought the sellers were all new merchandise (mask anyone?) of little interest to me, but a slow stroll around revealed tables boasting boxes of photos, vintage clothing, jewelry, and finally even some old books of interest. The table where we purchased this really sort of special photo, glued into its period self-frame of embossed cardboard, also boasted a bookcase of interesting young adult fiction from the early 20th century.

I quickly picked up the volumes below: The Outdoor Girls at Wild Rose Lodge, Larkspur, and Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures. (Ongoing Pictorama readers are aware of my fondness for juvenalia of the early part of the last century. You can read some of those posts about everything from the adventures of The Automobile Girls, and Grace Harlowe to Honey Bunch can be found here, and here, not to mention Judy Bolton, Girl Detective, which can be found here.) I will be sure to report back if any of these volumes reveals a new vein of reading interest.

While waiting for the seller to finish with some other customers Kim and I found the photo. The embossed frame seems the perfect setting for this timeless photo of a family in front of this extraordinary thatch roofed building. It is a pretty huge building really, with large windows which appear to have shelves behind them. A chimney belies a fireplace within, but while I thought this was a home at first I am unsure as I look more closely. The enormous double doors don’t seem residential somehow – was it a store? There is a neat path leading up to the front door and around the side.

Detail of the cardboard framed photo.

The family looks prosperous, mom in a long black dress which could have been found in parts of this country (and Europe) from 1900 through the 1920’s. Both the man and the boy are in suits – the boy is sporting a shiny bicycle though, which appears to be a full adult size and probably a bit big for him. Something slightly illegible is inked on the back – something and John. Could be Linda and John. Kim and I cannot fully decipher it.

Sadly it is missing a corner and there is a split in the lower right side, but none of that takes away from the overall effect and beauty of it. When I was able to speak to the seller she apologized for the delay. The books were five dollars apiece and much to my surprise and delight, she threw the photo in with the group. I packed it carefully between the books in a bag I keep with me. (Remember when the end of plastic bags in New York was big news at the beginning of March?)

Feeling quite chuffed, Kim and I strolled back to Broadway in the autumnal sun and alighted atop of some highboy tables at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant where we consumed spicy shrimp sandwiches. The sun was out and the Flat Iron Building within view. Thank you New York! Our day was a good one.

Temporary Toys

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Lately I have been considering some photos that require looking closely to find Felix. This one I recently purchased on eBay and if we look carefully a lucky little kid has been handed a nice Felix doll to hold. Felix is sporting a huge bow which for me is a bit of a giveaway that he is a prop rather than a beloved object, dragged into the photo. The card is in excellent shape, was never mailed and has nothing written on the back. It came from Great Britain.

While borrowed finery in clothing dates back to early portraits, photos of children have often depended on toys on hand to quiet a child and add something to the proceedings. I have speculated previously that more than once it must have been hard to separate a small child from a prop toy handed over for a photo. (I can assure you I would have put up a fight if they handed me that Felix and then wanted it back – I’ll just say I would!)

Although this youngster clutching Felix looks like s/he is enjoying him or herself I don’t see an argument brewing over its return. (I’m stuck on whether that one is a boy or a girl – I was strongly leaning boy until I looked at the shoes, Mary Janes, and now I am leaning girl. Therefore for the purpose of this post I will say girl.) None of these children look as though they are the type to revolt.

These three are clearly siblings with an unusually strong family resemblance.  Unlike many of the photos I collect, which strongly suggest seaside spur of the moment appeal, this one appears to have been a less fly by night studio than most. It is a photo postcard, but these children appear to be dressed for the occasion, the little girls’ hair curled to perfection and the boy’s also just so. Everything about the set up a tad more upscale and in sort of good taste.

However, the small girl is perched on a splendidly faux rock, as if at the shore, sailboat at her feet – clearly a toy that has been little played with. I don’t know why, but this poor imitation of a boulder appeals to me. The top has been nicely flattened for a seat. The background is a wuzzy, cloudy affair.

Perhaps it was being the daughter of a photographer, but like the cobbler’s children who went without shoes, my family rarely posed for a group photo and other than our requisite school photos and prom pics, never had professional photos taken. Maybe in reality most families don’t – I will let others weigh in on that. Ours was not a sit on Santa’s lap or line up at Sears for a photo family however.

Ultimately, this family did such a nice job with this photo that all these decades later it, with its small Felix doll, has earned a spot in the Pictorama collection.

 

Find Felix in the Photo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is always a very fine day at Pictorama when a Felix photo postcard wanders in the door. Of course one never knows when an opportunity to purchase one will occur, and never have I seen one for sale outside of eBay with the exception of the one (rather glorious) occasion when someone contacted me via this site to sell me a cache of them directly. (This rather interesting tale can be found here.) This is a photo postcard and it was never mailed, nothing is written on the back.

Arguably, I probably like the shots of larger Felix dolls and one or a couple of folks gathered around him. I have long had an affinity for people posing at carnivals or seaside with Felix. (I’m also partial to people posing with moon cut-outs – folks just brought a special energy to those photo moments in life – photos being a bit more rarified in the pre-phone camera days. An early post with a moon photo can be found here.)

IMG_1545

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As I study today’s photo I have to wonder if it is an extended family gathering or one of another nature. Somehow all the women dressed in white have migrated to one side of the photo, the arches of an arcade coincidentally creating a greater visual division – somehow their white hats bob into the black spaces just right. As a group, the women are largely hat wearing, while of course their beach attire would qualify as cocktail wear in our more casual day. (And I refer to our day in general, not these bunker life days when we rarely get out of sweats and wear trousers with buttons it seems. A dress that requires ironing seems like something from another age indeed.)

Children clad in a variety of modes line up in front , a few brave swim togs, but most also tend toward dresses, hats and one little guy even has a tie. The bright prints of the girl’s dresses are a relief to all the white. The men are darkly suited up – a minimum of tie and vest. The gentleman wearing a suit in front is also sporting a very large rolling pin and of course the meaning of or reason for that is lost to us now. Two girls near him appear to have some sort of canes or croquet mallets or the like. A series of flag poles draw our eye up and back to some delightful looking buildings on a nearby bluff.

It is possible to miss Felix at first. He blends surprisingly well with the kids all around him, a bit short perhaps, but one of the gang. However, he poses dead center in the group so eventually he emerges into our consciousness. Once I saw him, it became a Felix photo and it has earned a place in the collection here at Pictorama.

Felix Beach photo

Somewhere in Dixie Land

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Long time readers know that I am a bit of a sucker for photos of men and cats. While affection for felines was certainly been a requirement of Pictorama paramours predating Mr. Deitch, it still especially pleases me, and even surprises me a bit, when the male of the species scoops up a kitty for a photo like this. (Other photos in this Pictorama sub-genre can be found here, here and here.)

This photo, which is dark and a bit grimy by any standards, hails from a seller in Columbus, Ohio. There is no address or postmark which means it was likely stuck in an envelope. In a strangely light blue ink and carefully neat hand it says, Your Ever Loving & Affectionate Son Fred. XX and below that, Somewhere in Dixie Land. (It was also marked for previous sale at $20 which means someone took a loss as I paid a lot less.)

Of course the recipients, Mom and Dad, knew Fred in the photo but sadly we do not know which of these strapping young fellows he is. I would like to imagine he is the one who grabbed kitty in the middle, unruly hair somehow escaping the camp barber. In some ways it is the patterns of those cans, the tiles and even the door that give this photo a visual interest. (Given our current bunker existence I will admit to eyeing those pyramids of canned goods in a way that pantry envy may not have tapped me previously.)

Our quartet of guys are in casual army issue garb. Somehow it manages to look hot and muggy without specific evidence other than donning shorts and the rolled up sleeves of their shirts. Not sure this was actually KP duty or an adjunct of working in the pantry. Kit, who is hard to see, but I would gamble a guess is a tuxedo, probably lived a pretty high life between treats from the humans and a pleasantly steady high protein diet of mice.

I imagine there is a chance that these fellows left the relative comfort of the humid American South for the more dangerous and decidedly uncomfortable existence of a WWI soldier elsewhere in the world, probably a century ago now, and at a time much more challenging even than our own.

 

June 1927

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Frankly I don’t remember exactly when this Felix family photo wandered into Deitch Studio, but when I was clearing a work space for myself it turned up. It is a small photo, sort of 3″x5″, and June 1927 is all that is written, in ink, on the back.

There is great contrast in this photo between the family sporting their best summer bib and tucker and the pleasantly rundown and overgrown yard they pose in. Why they have grabbed up these two good size composition Felix-es is of course also utterly mysterious. Each is held by one of the be-suited men. The third man has one of the women perched on his knee and the second woman is tucked between them, all posed on these inviting broad steps – just meant for sitting on.

The porch is inviting, or at least it is to me from the limited environs of Deitch studio at the moment. There is a deep wooden rocking chair almost out of sight and a less comfortable chair where a newspaper was hastily abandoned in a heap atop of it – the reader perhaps hopping up to pose for the photo. The early summer is unfurling into lush, green overgrowth around them. I think of upstate New York, but it could be many places. (I tried to check but I cannot find a purchase history to see where it even shipped from.)

The phenomena of having your photo taken with Felix is of course the original premise of this blog. However, even as someone who has collected many photos of people posing with Felix (usually the human-sized stuffed ones of seaside resorts and fairs – an example can be found here if you are new to Pictorama) these sorts of family snap shots with Felix remain a bit cryptic to me. Had they just won them at a fair perhaps?

I remain somewhat baffled by family photos where folks just snatch up a Felix statue or toy for the family photo – was the message that Felix was an important part of the family? Or just such a part of the times – they probably didn’t realize that it would eventually mark their family photo as somewhat iconic of the period.

Meanwhile, I cannot imagine the equivalent for my family growing up. (Despite having been the daughter of a photographer we didn’t do a lot of family photos and they were sort of starchy compared to these folks and their Felix dolls. There are no photos of me and Barbie – there is only one of me with a toy that I can think of and I wrote about it a long time ago here and I once again share me and the much loved Squeaky below.) I have a clutch of other photos from the late 1920’s and early ’30’s with Felix joining the family for a photo. Off the top of my head though, I want to say those photos are all from Britain and it is usually a stuffed Felix that gets the place of honor. (One of those posts can be found here.)

Pam w: Squeaky

Me with my beloved toy dog Squeaky, probably around 1968

 

Whatever the early 20th century motivation for posing with Felix toys, I am glad to see these treasure turn up today – sometimes finding new ones in my own apartment. Let’s see what else turns up here at Pictorama, shopping in our own closet as it were, for items of interest while enduring and also enjoying bunker days here.

Brighton Mickey

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Ah! Brighton in the early in the 20th century. This is the setting of many of my beloved photos of happy seaside visitors posing with a giant Felix doll. (See any number of posts, such as here and here.) My imagination turns to another universe where I am happy ensconced as an itinerant photographer, set up at the shore, busily snapping photos of happy tourists. Another fantasy I indulge in is that I travel to Brighton and find one of the intact Felix dolls in a dusty closet there – and take it home for my very own! (The seller identified this photo as Brighton; the photo is entirely unmarked.)

 

There is a history of Mickey Mouse dolls for posing with as well. Perhaps because the copyright was held a bit closer, most of those Mickey’s are off-model indeed, at least among the ones I own. (Some of those post are here and here.) I offer an especially unidentifiable example from a prior post, taken at the Chicago World’s Fair, from my collection below.

 

 

Today’s photo is a very proper looking Mickey Mouse – he doesn’t even have that sort of fang-y look I like that many of the British Mickey’s I have, influenced by the design of Dean’s Rag Company. I share one of those below. Someone paid up for this Mickey stand-in and purchased the real thing I think.

DWRX9MgUMAE9rjq

Today’s photo is quite tiny, just a very few inches across, about 2.5″x 1.75″ including the border. It has a reddish cast to it (I have enhanced it slightly, increasing the contrast) which Kim tells me looks like sun contact prints he used to make as a kid. It is printed on a thickish paper, somewhat brittle paper, unlike what one expects from more contemporary photo paper or even and early photo postcard. While I cannot really pinpoint the precise process, I believe it was some sort of a simple early contact print, made in a camera. Obviously it was fixed and not entirely fugitive, as it is with us almost a century later.

This photo is a rather homemade affair overall, and the fellow seems to have been persuaded to stop, well-dressed (short trousers, cap and tie), briefcase and all and perch on this primitive seat with Mickey. He’s thrown an arm around Mickey’s shoulders. There appears to be another camera on a tripod behind him to one side, and the shadows on this beach are long. To me it feels like early morning rather than evening.

I like the woman behind him most of all. There’s something about the casual way she is captures that especially appeals. A bath house of some sort is shown in the distance, just beyond her, a wooden beach chair too if you look very carefully. Unlike the Felix photos there is no evidence of a numbering system to return the photo to the person posing so I can’t imagine how that might work. I wonder a bit if this wasn’t either just someone sort of stealing a photo in passing, or someone the photographer knew. A summer long past, for me it tugs at a certain yearning for the early mornings and quiet evenings at the beach where I grew up, enjoyed before or after busy, tourist and family jammed days.

 

Gussie

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Poor Gussie deserved a better photo in my opinion – the photographer was poor in various facets of execution. The exposure is bad (and I have helped it a tad), but the development and printing manages to be even worse – blotchy, cockeyed and cutoff. (It is also, to be frank, dirty and missing a corner.) I assume that it is the product of a nascent photographer and is a credit to the process of early home photography that it was made at all.

Yet for all of this that the photo survives is touching. In addition, there’s something charming about it – even the way Gussie & cat is written with a period at the end. A series of people cared enough to keep Gussie and his cat so I have entered into that line of holders. Obviously for me the attraction is that Gussie is proudly showing off his nice tabby cat. This is a photo postcard and it was never mailed, nothing is written on the back.

While the erstwhile photographer didn’t have his or her chops on exposure or printing they had something of an eye for composition. The boards make up a very pleasing horizontal and vertical design, as does the board he is perched on, and Gussie is captured with his rollicking charm fully intact. I like his shadow self behind him. If you look carefully you can make out the food and water bowl for the kitty. It is clearly a cat domain.

The ongoing mulling I do over the meaning, value and saving of photos is more than I think my readers or I want to tackle on this Sunday morning. As I have mentioned before, my intention is to eventually collect these photos into a book. I like to think that all these photos of families, soldiers, men in hats and Gussie will end up together in a long chapter on beloved family felines.

Time for More Men in Hats with Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo postcard was purchased several weeks ago and put aside, found and remembered today as I was having a quick paw through my piles of photos currently waiting to be deposited into storage containers or, more rarely, in line to be framed up. This postcard is in remarkably pristine condition for such an old card, never mailed, written on, nor put in an album.

The photographer had a good eye for setting these gentlemen up perfectly in front of this interesting house with bay windows and porch. (I have a soft spot for a good porch and I am ready to curl up on this one with a book for the afternoon. In fact I am slightly in love with this house in general and would love to explore its nooks and crannies further.) The upper story of the has these octagon shingles that I find especially cheerful too. I admit to being uncertain about the purpose of the post they are posed near – for horses perhaps? I never understood how horses were patient enough to stay casually looped to a post. I always feel that, like dogs, they probably should be leashed more tightly but, at least from watching westerns, evidently not.

However, most notably, the men have chosen to display this interesting early bike and to scoop up their kitty to include as prized possessions. Unfortunately, the cat has moved with feline impatience and is just a blur. I like the shot of the bike very much. (Watching American Pickers has given me an interest in the aesthetics of early bikes I admit.) Unintentionally, these fellows have given us a visual tour of chapeaux of the day – two variations on bowlers, fedoras and a newsboy cap. I think it is fair to say that the hats are largely worn at a jaunty angle by all. Four are clad in suits of various design and fit showing the sartorial options of the day – from baggy to quite tight – our biker sporting a more casual turtleneck sweater instead.

A subset of photos of hat-sporting men photographed with cats makes up a small portion of my collection. (Some posts about those can be found here, here and here.) I am a sucker for them. From soldiers, to guys sitting on a bench or a lone gentleman scooping up his kit for a snapshot, I am pleased that man clearly does not live by canine alone.

 

Peggy and Ruth

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I just found this photo, purchased a little over a year ago. Somehow it has been overlooked, but today seems like the right day for it finally. For many of us this past week was smacked with a weather front we now refer to as a polar vortex. While it plunged our compatriots in the midwest into negative double digit weather, closing offices and schools and terribly even killing a number of people, here in New York it was just very, very cold, requiring many more layers of clothes than we wanted to wear and waddling like down covered penguins as a result.

In the midst of it we experienced something called a snow squall, which I admittedly liked the name of very much, but the experience of a bit less. I saw it from a conference room at work, overlooking the south end of Columbus Circle and within view of the southwest most corner of Central Park. We could barely see out the window and the wind was so bad it snowed upward! For a little more than an hour it poured snow and pounded Manhattan. Visions of pioneers struggling through sudden deadly storms came to mind, although we remained safe in our office tower perch. It resulted in a sheet of ice covering all the sidewalks which somehow the denizens of buildings responsible for snow removal didn’t see fit to address.

Of course my relationship to bad weather was quite different as a child, as I am guessing is true for at least most of us who experience childhood in the suburbs. For me, childhood hurricanes brought floods caused by the nearby river and had a holiday effect, a cause for excitement as water rushed around the house and under the floors, chilling them, ducks quacking at the backdoor. (I think about that now and how my mother was often home alone with us, three small children, when it happened – Dad off at work in New York or traveling as often as not. Mom was and remains, one tough cookie.)

Snow was of course the best because it resulted not only in a day off from school, but in ice skating (that same river flowed into smaller tributaries that froze solid) and sledding. Now, before I create an image of a sylvan childhood of Rockwell-like jolliness, I will state that as a child the meteorological conditions seemed to rarely result in weather that both closed school and was prolonged enough and appropriate for skating and/or sledding. It seemed to be something you were always waiting for that rarely occurred – making it all the better when it did.

Born in February blizzard, I have experienced many snowy birthdays. I will not opine on them right now, but frequently canceled birthday plans created a love-hate relationship with the white stuff. However, I do remember getting a new sled for, I believe, my eleventh birthday, and even without snow on the ground that year it remains a splendid gift that lives in memory.

While this photo was taken twenty-one years before I popped onto the scene, it could very easily been me and my sister Loren, and our cat Snoopy. We owned this very type sled and peaked caps, just like Peggy and Ruth. Snoopy was white with black cow spots, instead of this nice tabby type, and I believe Loren and I at 19 months between us, were closer in age than Peggy and Ruth appear to be. (A nod to Edward who would have shown up on the scene later in the game.) I have trouble imagining a photo of us this angelically posed – I believe most of the snow photos of Loren and I have us fighting, appropriately enough. Still, I purchased it thinking of us.

Unsurprisingly, at the moment the long-range forecast has precipitation predicted for my February 11 birthday. Last year it was a torrential, icy rain – none of the jolliness of snow I am afraid. I am working next weekend, but taking my birthday off to enjoy with Kim and cats here, snow or not, at Deitch Studio.

 

Cat Ears

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I resisted this photo as long as I could because it was expensive, but had to purchase it. (Full disclosure: Kim has tweaked the contrast on this in Photoshop which improves it considerably.) There’s no explanation on the back of this card and it was never sent, but it does speak for itself. I must say, with perhaps one exception (second girl from the left end), as a group they don’t appear happy about what I consider to be their jolly cat costumes. And my goodness, poor #6, in his enhanced, darker costume doesn’t look happy at all. Even mom doesn’t look thrilled. It’s a glum group of kitties. (A careful look leads me to believe the adult is at a minimum related to the child whose hand she holds and #6.)

In addition to his number label, #6 is the only one sporting a nice set of whiskers and has a high contrast version of the cat suit. It is hard to see, but they do also sport tails – a pity that we don’t see those better. One set of ears was sewn to look more elfin that cat, third in. It is almost impossible to see, but each also sports a tiny horseshoe pin – pointing down I’m sorry to say, all that luck pouring out. Mom wears one too. There’s something I especially love about the line up of shoes peering out, the trouser legs sewn differently at the bottom of each. There is that reluctant version of hand holding that children do – with a complete refusal of the two on the end. Ha! Gotcha. Take that you grown ups!

Personally, I have long loved a good animal costume and I tend to think I would have been more than happy to have been dressed up like this, especially if I was #6 – I would have been jealous of those whiskers and sharper black suit if I was one of the others. A tail is a great thing too and I have often thought I would like one. For myself, I am very fond of a pair of cat ears on a hairband I own. (This combines a good hair look with, well, lovely pointy cat ears – if only I could make them move independently like Cookie and Blackie do in inquiry and annoyance.) Our cats seem to find my cat ears alarming and repugnant however.

I remember when I first got the cat ear hairband years ago and put it on to show my cat Otto – who shrank away and with an expression which could only be described as the sort of disapproval and disappointment she’d have reserved for my holding forth with a racist joke – how could you? Evidently cat ears are the equivalent of kitty black face. It also seems you have, in their eyes, been transformed into a huge monster cat. Frankly, they appear to find hats distasteful too in a similar way – although it must be said that Cookie and Blackie are forgiving of Kim’s outsized cowboy hat he wears daily. However, I get the kitty stink eye for a knit cap in winter on my way out the door.

Unlike the Metropolitan Museum, it is interesting to note that many of the folks at Jazz dress up for Halloween. I was surprised the first year, but this past year I did bring cat ears to work. I only wore them for a short time, but it is clearly one of the perks of the job.