Weakness

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Okay, so I admit I have a problem. I cannot seem to contain myself if an early Felix toy might be sold cheaply without attempting to acquire it. It’s an addiction and I am an addict. That is how I came to purchase this fellow recently. Yes, this is another Felix purchase post.

I am the first to say I do not really know what is going on with the cradle, shown below, or baby bottle attached to his hand, as it was sold. My thought is that Felix was just plunked in there and bottle tied on. Upon receiving it, I am not sure. I am open to any information or suggestions.

Meanwhile, additionally there is the question of how old this Felix is. His condition is so clean and mint that I did wonder if he was some sort of re-creation or even new old stock. Upon careful examination however there is a seam that has been re-sewn on his back (hard to see here) and his bow is quite old; his eyes appear to be glass. He is made from a fabric that reminds me more of a fine chenille than mohair, but I’m not an expert on fabrics. He is not jointed as his slightly larger free-standing brethren of this design, in my experience, generally are.

Felix back

Is it possible that he was really designed for this bizarre crib of a sort of faux Wedgwood design? The cradle is made of a hard plastic material and the pillow, mattress and blanket appear to be commercially (reasonably well) sewn – I had thought I would just find some cotton and fabric stuffed into it so I was surprised. I guess Felix could have been some sort of a carnival prize, tucked into this crib – and that preserved him unusually well. It was his extraordinary state of preservation, and a very low starting bid, that perked up my collecting instinct. It was sold by someone in Great Britain.

Obviously I would be happy to hear from anyone who knows more or who even has a strongly held opinion. Perhaps it goes without saying that if I found this little number at the Fireman’s Fair I would have been all over my date to win it for me (I am remarkably unskilled in those types of games so there would be no hope of my winning it for myself really) – and probably would have spent at least as much as I did buying him on eBay. But what a prize that would have been!

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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.

 

Tiny Mug of Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Sometimes I run into Felix items online that just surprise the heck out of me. And after looking at Felix china in various forms for years I thought there will be nothing new – until there is. Not surprisingly, it is often the Felix loving Britons who seem to cough up a surprising new tidbit and today’s purchase is no exception in that regard.

This mug is unmarked, but unlike my prior post Dishing Felix, which featured a bowl I deeply suspected was hand painted, this little item may have been factory made. The Felix is charmingly off model and there is some smudging of the glaze, and when I look very carefully there is a extra daub of blue on the handle. which means even if it was made in a factory, it was likely to have been the product of human hands. (Felix seems to have been a cottage industry there. I imagine lines of early 20th century British women seated and painting scores of these.)

I was quite surprised to discover how small this cup was when it arrived. It is a bit larger than doll size or toy size, more like the size of a cup of espresso, no saucer. There are no factory or maker marks on it anywhere. I especially like the way Felix’s ears and paw touch the lip of the cup, like he is ducking under. His whiskers are jaunty as well and his design seems to be stenciled on rather than painted freehand, like the bowl mentioned above.

If I had hopes of sipping my morning coffee out of this guy, it is disappointingly small, although charming. I don’t remember playing with a tea set when I was little, but think I would have found this cup endearing at any age. It leaves me wondering if there was a full set that went along with it – coffee or teapot, saucers. However, this may have been a sole gewgaw that sat on a shelf, or perhaps someone did indeed drink small bitter coffees from it. Since I am known for wading in deep, plentiful cups of coffee (for an ode to my love of coffee a post about it can be found here at Coffee) this tiny mug will not serve my purposes. If I want to drink my daily joe from an ancient Felix mug I will need to continue my search.

 

Felix mug 2JPG

 

Christmas in July – Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I decided that this summer weekend deserved some cooling down with recent Christmas finds. For many years when I worked at the Metropolitan Museum they had Christmas in July, a preview of the holiday line for the gift and bookshop. It would be set up in our boardroom and senior staff would be invited up to have a look. Anyway, the phrase stuck with me and ignited the holiday feeling with the British Felix card I shared yesterday. (It can be found here). Today’s treasure is a card that I saw a variation of quite awhile ago (same set and different photo? I wish I remembered), but it was priced very high. I snagged this one for considerably less.

Although this was a photo postcard it has traces of photo album paper stuck to the back of it. It does not appear to have been mailed. However, written neatly on it is Erma & Fred from Millard. While I think we can assume that Erma is the little girl perched on this grand beast, who is Fred? Is he dressed up as Santa? (Don’t suppose he could be the reindeer?) If you look carefully Santa is atop a box to make him sufficiently tall for the composition of this photo – and perhaps also to make him a little bit more grand?

If  you look carefully there is a small sign, on a little stand, which reads 1237 – December 1937? or a number to track which photo take this was to attach it to a person later? Of much more interest however are the toys scattered below, including a small Felix doll which is one that I neither own nor have seen previously. The dolls are generic from my perspective, but I say that understanding that perhaps to others they are as fascinating as Felix is to me. It is in some ways a sad and dry little set, yet I bet from Erma’s perspective it was pretty great to be there.

My own family wasn’t one for posed, studio holiday photos. We never sat on Santa’s lap for a photo or to tell him what we wanted for Christmas. We celebrated Christmas (and Hanukah), but in a secular way, and additionally we were never taught to believe in Santa Claus. My mother (raised Christian, but agnostic) thought lying to children about such things was an awful practice and told chagrined stories about her brother leaving the front door wide open on Christmas Eve to accommodate Santa better. My dad, as an atheist and ostensibly Jewish, was extremely ambivalent about the holidays and therefore no unnecessary pageantry was added. (Additionally, my younger brother Edward was born on Christmas Eve so we added a birthday party in there as well.) I don’t believe as a kid I felt like I missed much by not having the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap or to mail lists to the North Pole.  We had a tree, there were toys and big family meals – but alas, no toy-filled Santa photos!

 

 

Christmas in July – Part 1

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: A month or so ago, someone on Facebook sent me some photos via Kim of really unusual Felix Christmas cards. They were not for sale, but on a site where they were on display as part of a collection. I had never seen them or anything like them before and loved their strangeness. I save the images for my own edification (shown here above), but unfortunately have lost both the link and the name of the person who sent them. (Apologies – and if you remind who you are I will happily update this post!) Shortly after, in that way that the universe seems to have sometimes, one of them turned up on eBay, in mint condition although used, and I snatched it up.

These cards are British and there is a tiny embossing at the bottom of the back of this one which says Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd. Publishers to the King & Queen Produced in England with a crest of sorts which is very hard to see. A quick check online tells me that Raphael Tuck and his wife Ernestine, started the business out of their home in Bishop’s Gate in 1866. They received the royal nod in 1893 and carried the royal imprimatur from that point on. Evidently the company rode the crest of the Victorian novelty postcard and book craze and published the likes of my friend Louis Wain. The business stayed in the family, first bringing Raphael’s brothers in, and then Raphael and Ernestine’s sons. It flourished until their headquarters was severely damaged in WWII during the Blitz and, although they stay in business until 1959 they never fully recover.

Also, printed on the back is “Felix – Pathes Famous Film Cat” in tiny black letters. The outer wrapper is the glossy printed image of Felix and the inside is a separate piece of paper – held together by the ribbon like a tiny four page book. The inside is printed on slightly different stock. In case you cannot read it, under the black and white cats it reads, Snice World this! It is not technically the most festive holiday card I have ever seen – the front, Felix gets the Bird! Lucky! anyhow! doesn’t exactly scream Christmas to me. It is a nice, early Felix though, squared off and pointy the way I like him. Those exclamation points emanating from his head are cartoon great and embody his spirit nicely. If it wasn’t for The Compliments of the Season on the inside, and in spite of the jolly red ribbon, we would never know to mail this for the December holidays. This card, in splendid condition, was used and is simply signed on the left, inside, from Frank, in neat script.

inside xmas card

The other cards, supplied from the original link and shown on a loop above, are also super strange images for holiday cards, but nonetheless bear tidings for Christmas and the coming New Year on the inside of each. It almost seems as if the company printed a random series of Felix illustrated outsides and then neatly, if somewhat haphazardly, tied them together with holiday greetings insides. Felix being so popular at the time that appropriateness of message and image mattered not perhaps? In one, Felix with a sort of strange turnip which looks like a monster; Felix wearing a radio headset, and of course mine where he talks to a bird. The messages on the front of each are equally odd, Felix Gets the Bird! Lucky! anyhow! on mine and the others A Turn-up for FelixGood Luck to You! and Cherio! The supporting characters, inside and out, appear to belong to an entirely different inking hand. More mysteries of Felix here to uncover, but jolly for a Christmas in July I think.

 

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.

Breaking the Rules

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I am breaking a fundamental rule of Pictorama, I am posting entirely about an object I do not (and sadly it seems, never will) own. I ran across this pinafore the other day on eBay and was fascinated by it. Kim thought I had lost my mind, and in a sense he was right. Although I have collected vintage clothing to wear, I have resisted purchasing items that I cannot wear – costumes and the like – for the simple reason that I really do not have the space to store things of this kind properly. Of all things, old textiles require some care and a bit of room for storing. I briefly considered putting it on one of the stuffed toys (I have both Felix-es and a Mickey that are more or less the size of a toddler) but Kim, rightfully, gave me a skeptical look at that suggestion. So, in the while I bid on this beauty, in the end I did not really pursue it recognizing that I am not the best steward of this item. Nonetheless, I find it so amazing that it is my desire to record and ruminate on it a bit.

It goes without saying that it was in my opinion, a profoundly lucky mite who got to sport this pinafore. Oh to boast this over my pretty dress to keep it tidy while I played! What a fashion statement for a toddler in the 1920’s in Great Britain. It is hard to tell, but Felix is embroidered. I love the red ribbon on his neck and I have no idea why he is carrying a doctor’s bag, but he is. (This was decades before a later Felix had a bag of tricks.) The scalloped bottom is particularly agreeable I think. The only thing I might have asked for is a toothy grin on Felix which I always enjoy. I assume that, like so many items from this time in Britain, that this was unlicensed, but they did an excellent job rendering it. As a matter of practicality, I believe it would have been slipped over the child’s head and tied on each side for easy access. It has a lovely little pocket to hide something special in. A clever item all around.

Having grown up in the era of indestructible Danskin clothes (I swear the tops and short sets I had in 1968 are faded, but still essentially intact somewhere in a landfill – there is one of aqua blue stripe that I remember in particular), I cannot imagine living in a time of ironed pinafores. Messy playing and painting occasionally required one of my father’s old oxford cloth shirts frayed at the collar and almost dress length when I was little. Wearing those were a habit I subsequently maintained through college and beyond for messy work. (I am wearing one in my high school yearbook photo, taken on a pottery wheel.) I’m sure tiny me would have likely balked at such an archaic addition as a pinafore in my rough and tumble life, but perhaps my someday self would have known it was mighty special.