Felix in the Palm of Your Hand

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As a determined and fairly thorough collector of Felix the Cat items, variations on these dexterity puzzles have come and gone over the years without my taking the plunge – or at least never landing one. I am always a sucker for this question mark tail pose myself and I have always liked Felix a bit squared off as he appeared in his earliest cartoons and reproductions. (He gets rounder and rounder over the decades until he is looking like Mickey Mouse by the 1940’s or early ’50’s – this seems to be an issue with cartoon characters as they age – they round off over time, a sort of gelding in my mind. I will write about this at greater length some time – I have theories!) He is also toothy in his early incarnation and I like the fiercer, cattier version of him best.

Here is is shown in quite a mood indeed. A (presumably) empty bottle labeled scotch whiskey at his feet with these sort of exclamation lines radiating out from his head. Felix is ready to take on all comers! Not so much angry as just very wound up. The scraggly mouse figure next to him exclaims, What O! Felix has the Kruschen Feeling! At the bottom is also marked Germany. There is no further information on the back.

Our friends over at Google inform me that Kruschen Feeling was an advertising campaign for Kruschen Salts, a popular packaged remedy of the day. This series of ads boasted visuals such as elderly gents leaping around and exclaiming something along the lines of – if this isn’t you it should be! The product and the company still exist today. In case you are wondering the salts in question are ingested.

The whole thing sounds a bit wretched to me, but evidently they turned the trick for Felix. This image and saying was also used in a series of game cards that were made with Felix. The version I have and have written about were more like premiums that came with chocolate and I wrote about them here. These were made of a flimsy not-quite-cardboard paper. As below, the top two are mine and then there was a boxed set you could purchase and those images are taken from the internet, the box from a Hake’s auction. These same images were also repurposed for a series of popular postcards that remain widely available but pricey.

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Box for Felix card game, not in Pictorama collection.

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Felix playing cards, not in Pictorama collection.

 

It is not clear to me that this item was a premium to advertise the products, although I admit it is certainly a possibility. Weirdly the feeling I get is that it was a popular phrase of the day and aptly described the early ill tempered version of Felix and they adopted it. I sort of like the scrubby mouse as a sort of alter ego for Felix. He does chase mice in the cartoons – presumably with the intention of eating them. This one is remarkably undefined – ears, tail and whiskers readable, as are five fingers on each hand (unlike the four fingered look that most animated and cartoon characters sport) and even toes, but no face. There was no fear that the Mickey Mouse crowd would get their backs up with this fellow, if that was a concern.

This toy has seen many years and miles in pockets and undoubtedly in the grimy mitts of small children. It looks a tad more fragile than it actually feels and I immediately started trying to place the three balls. (It is hard to see, one needs to land in his mouth, one in his left eye and one at the bottom of the question mark.) It is harder than it may look. So far I have failed to nail it, but I have all the time I need to figure it out.

Toy Love

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

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

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

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

 

Little Red Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today I return briefly to the topic of toys and I offer the final piece in the Christmas of 2018 haul with thanks and a nod to Kim. This little fellow showed up right around the holidays and we snatched him up. Research reveals that he is a Schoenhut, fun flex Felix. He is a smidge worse for having knocked around for the last ninety years or so. He would have had a tail at one time, made of the same (once) bendy fabric. Some of his brethren smoke a jolly little pipe, but he did not. Although I feel as if I have seen this red version before, an internet search turns him up in black and a bright lime green (shown below), rather than the red. I have a dim memory of once seeing a line up of red, green and yellow ones for sale for a princely sum, but perhaps it is false and I was dreaming or smoking something?

I knew this fellow was small, but I had thought maybe he was 30% larger than he is. I am sorry he is no longer sporting his chest sticker which would have read copyright & patent FELIX by Pat Sullivan. Despite this declaration there is something a tad off model about him, the ears giving him a slightly exotic cast. I have a large and what I think of as a more traditional Schoenhut Felix I wrote about a number of years ago in my post Felix the Poser (which can be found here) and that is what I think of as the iconic Felix toy. Mine shown below. (I also toss out mention of my post on another tiny wooden Felix, A Surprising Tiny Felix which can be found here.)

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From the Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

In many ways the color and size of this little guy appeal in particular to me. I am sure if he was my childhood toy he would have probably suffered a loss of limbs and maybe even fragile ears from too much love and carrying him around. The universal practice of carrying toys around by children both fascinates and frightens me, although obviously as noted I too certainly did it. I was thinking about this on the elevator to the Q train the other morning. I never take the elevator, but it was there and I was late for work and in a rush from the gym. As I squeezed in, next to me was a little girl of about four who was crying (I came in late to the scene so I do not know why she was unhappy) and I noticed that grasped in her hands was a number of small toys – four or five, plastic animals of characters, not familiar to this adult Pam. Notably and for an unknown reason she ceased crying as soon as the doors shut.

It must be the toy collector in me, but my immediate reaction to seeing children on the streets of New York grasping their beloved toys is anxiety that they will drop and lose them, and I reflected on this while the elevator carried us down its single flight. After all, it is the sad fate of many toys, found on the streets and subways of New York and it is tragic to imagine the loss of a treasured toy.

 

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Ah yes, a New Year and Pictorama is back to the toys. Christmas came late this year at Deitch Studio and these two splendid entries found their way from Belgium just before we rang in the New Year. Forget spoons, oh to be the youngster born with these silver rattles in their mouths!

I have bid on Felix rattles once or twice before and have always been bested so I leapt at the chance to purchase this hotsy-totsy one. Those of you who follow my ramblings know I have a special soft spot for off-model, primitive Felix-es like the one employed here. The rattle is marked sterling and I have shined him up a bit to have his photo taken although he is somewhat fragile. There is evidence of some dents that suggest gummy gnawing, although not really any deep dents. He is in an interesting semi-profile pose. (I was given a pocket watch that was my great-grandfather’s a few months ago. I took it to the jeweler to have a chain made so I could wear it that way, and he pointed out a dent where someone had bitten it. He said it was very common to see in gold pocket watches. I gather people would sort of mindlessly chomp on them. I have been puzzling over that adult form of teething ever since.)

The mother of pearl ring is very beautiful. Extremely elegant! If it wasn’t so fragile I would be tempted to wear it as a necklace. It does still rattle as well, a fairly quiet sound, although perhaps a bit noisy for a necklace now that I think about it that way.

The deal was already struck on Felix when the dealer, someone I have now known for a number of years, sent the photo of Bonzo and asked if I would be interested in him as well. Of course I was. After a short conference with Santa in the form or Mr. Deitch, we snatched him up too. Although the rings are more or less the same size, Bonzo is much bigger than Felix and a robust three dimensional rendition. Sleepy Bonzo clutches a baby bottle (you’d never see Felix with one of those I don’t think – not with milk in it anyway) and he has a rattle that is much more like a tinkling bell. (When I took him out of the package Cookie’s eyes lit up at the sound. She was clearly thinking that a lovely antique silver cat toy had just been delivered for her delectation and her attention needed to be directed elsewhere.) Bonzo’s eyes are just barely open, and if you look carefully, his lip is curled in a smile on one side.

Bonzo is less fragile than Felix and really could perhaps even resume his duties as the recipient of child chewing, although we will not test that theory. (Nor will we let Cookie take possession of him.) He is not marked sterling so I will assume he is plate – although he shined up nicely as well, the plate in good condition – after all, how much time did anyone devote to keeping their child’s rattle polished I wonder? A quick internet search shows that the Bonzo rattle is the more available. Although as I say above I have seen Felix rattles, none turn up immediately in a Google search.

I have never purchased a silver rattle as a baby gift, although price notwithstanding, now that I think of it a silver rattle like these is a rather wonderful gift. A quick check informs me that Tiffany is not offering a silver rattle this season – let alone one of Felix or Bonzo. However, the Tiffany bear below appears to be of recent vintage and can be yours on the Tradesy site for prices ranging from a mere $250-$650. I think I will stick with copies of The Story About Ping and The Cricket in Times Square (posts of those favorite childhood books can be found here and here) as my go to baby gift, but I must say the Tiffany bear is a very fair offspring to Felix and especially Bonzo. For those of you with deeper pockets and a generous nature, you might consider such an investment in the future of a baby you know.

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Little Yellow Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: No bigger that half the length of my thumb, this little guy caught my attention the other day. I’m generally not a collector of these little lead figures, which are myriad and prized enough to be expensive in general, but I had never seen one like this guy before. I love his little yellow sweater and especially the jolly script Felix across his chest. He reminds me of a bumble bee. I usually like my Felixes of the pointier design variety. I also own a more typical one, shown below, by I admit I was very charmed by this little guy.

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Pams-Pictoram.com collection

 

The genesis of most of these types of toys seems to be a company known as Pixyland-Kew. The history there is in short that there were two companies doing mostly the same thing, Pixyland started in 1921 taking the lead on characters such as Felix and Pip, Squeak and Wilfred as well as nursery characters such as Old Mother Hubbard and Little Red Riding Hood. Meanwhile, in 1926, Kew started producing similar items pursuing cartoon characters aggressively, including Bonzo (must find one of those now that I know about them!) and other Daily Mirror strips. They also produced a line of farm animals and both seemed to be top players in the toy soldier market. Kew seems to have bought out Pixyland around 1929 and everything went swimmingly until lead was pulled for the war effort. The market for these little gems never recovered post-war and the company is later absorbed by another called Timpo.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As you can see, the scale on my two toys differs widely. I can’t find much drill down history to have a sense of where my two guys fall in the grander scheme of the two companies. Alas, my larger Felix is missing his tail, which would steady him and allow him to be freestanding. I bought him at a bargain price, probably for that reason. Although the small scale proves amenable to our tiny Manhattan digs, the exorbitant prices of these has mostly discouraged my collecting. Also, in the visual noise of an apartment where a riot of toys, photos, art, cats and Kim and Pam exist, it is hard to find an appropriate perch for little fellows like these. For now they reside in a small mirrored cabinet, at the foot of our bed (on what I like to think of as the famed shelves of Felix and other toy cats) where the tiniest of toys make their home here.

The Boys and Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have periodically opined on how much fun it would be to have your photo taken with a nice Felix the Cat doll and this one looks like a third child in the photo. Felix is such a handy size I wonder if it is a prop (probably) or actually belongs to these youngsters. I know if it was I as a tiny tot, I’d have been bellowing for him to come home with me; greedy, thankless child that I was. These two kids look quite jolly, the older one downright debonair – perhaps best not to meet him as a gent (or cad) around town later in life. The younger one appears to be trimmed out in fur which seems all odd from today’s standards. Even in our own decadent times – fur trimmed outfit for your toddler?

This photo seems like the sort of studio shot taken for the purpose of eventually ending up on grandma’s table of treasured family photos. My mother’s mom had studio portraits, large ones, of my mother and her brother, both in graduation cap and gowns, as I remember. The one of my mother had hand colored tinting, and it was the first time I ever saw that in a photo. As a kid I was endlessly fascinated by it. I can see it in my mind now, hanging in the dining room (housing a table which occasionally held food, but we absolutely never ate at – that was done in the kitchen with a table and space which both somehow magically expanded to fit an infinite number of family members as required) on a flocked print wallpaper, gray with a green design. The photo did not look like my mother, mostly because her nose was broken and not set properly shortly after high school when the photo was taken. I didn’t know that until I was older and wouldn’t have thought to ask for an explanation for the transformation. My uncle looked exactly the same – his Howdy Dowdy resemblance following him into adulthood and beyond. As the younger brother his photo was true color and his bright red hair and freckles stood out.

When my grandmother moved out of her house and into a nursing facility, much was disposed of and a small number of things were absorbed by my mother and uncle – who by that time was living down south, but collected a number of things. I do not know what happened to the photos, my mother was not overly fond of hers so she clearly did not claim them. I do not know if my uncle did. I must think to ask my mother when I call her later today.

 

Pop Goes Felix

Pam Photo Post: This photo interested me and I went to some trouble to acquire it. It is a bit mysterious. The photo is large, about 10″x12″ and the surface is a photo paper with a slight toothy gloss. On the side of the box the girl is seated on it reads C. Bennett Moore, No. 3. If you look carefully, you can see that the actual box is open and empty and the words have just been dropped in over the shadow from it.

Meanwhile, C. (Charles) Bennett Moore is evidently the name of the photographer. Mr. Bennett (1879-1939, although one online source has him die in 1936) was ultimately known best for hand painted versions of his own photographs of New Orleans. Born in Minnesota, he served in the Spanish American War before showing up in New Orleans and going to work for a photographer named Emil Rivoire, ultimately taking over his studio and renaming it for himself after Rivoire’s death. A contemporary of E.J. Bellocq, but with a sensibility which ran to architecture and portraiture, he did not achieved the same level of fame. (He should also not be confused with the younger civil rights photographer Charles Moore.)

I can’t say I am a fan of the painted photographs. Whatever interest or charm the photos might have had is sufficiently destroyed with what it would only be slightly unfair to refer to as ham-handed painting. There is evidently however some market for them, but we will just agree to disagree on that point. Meanwhile, and more to the point, Kim senses that my photo is a generation lost as well and I see what he means. That could just be a negative increased in size, or maybe it is wholly reproduced. It appears to be on photo paper, but a thick one, so I remain unsure. The size is also so strange. There is also a weird sense of manipulation to it – not just the added words but a soften quality to the image.

The seller of the photo speculated that the girls were actually young women dressed as girls and a close look confirms this. The seller goes on to further consider that they were likely vaudeville performers or even silent film actresses – I am more inclined to agree with the first than the second thought. One sports boyish garb with hat and dandy gingham tie, while the second is very girlish.

Mr. Moore might be advertising himself, albeit subtly, using this prop with his name neatly in script on the side. For me, it was of course this really splendid Felix jack-in-the-box that caught my attention. I love that toy! I was the kind of kid who never tired of my jack-in-the-box, musical as I remember. Hers has a sort of strap for handy transport. It appears the Felix just pops up – my childhood version was wound up by a handle. The stuffed dog on the leash is pretty nice too. That Felix though – a great toy which I have never (not yet anyway) had the opportunity to make my own. This brings me a bit closer.

So, I wonder – was this photo some sort of advertising for C. Bennett Moore? There is nothing written on the back, but a slip of paper included with the photo dates it to 1923 which seems like a reasonable guess-timate for the year, although I see nothing to support it. Was it used somehow in conjunction with these young women and their show? Once again, those details are most likely lost to the sands of time, but I am content since I am in it for the toys.