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!

 

 

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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.

Pam’s Felix Frolic Continues

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I am aware that we have been having a very Felix-y time at Pictorama lately (aren’t we lucky!) and to some degree that is just a reflection of buying opportunity and inclination, although admittedly we are well-documented Felix fans. I believe I own about 50 or so variations on photos of people posting with an array of Felix, and about two thirds of those are these posed photo postcards.

I have come to realize that my readership does not perhaps (inconceivable to me) value or enjoy these images as much as I do. Quite simply expressed however, it is my feeling that I should own all of them. And I never, ever tire of them nor find one that I do not consider fascinating. As I have previously opined, I envision a book devoted to these photos someday – perhaps just a self-published or a publish on demand, so at least I can admire them all in a handy way. (Although that implies a sense of completion which I am unwilling to consider.) Sadly our wall space falls well short of being able to display them all. So, while I can hear some of you tsk, tsk-ing and saying, “She’s at it again” I plunge ahead with this latest discovery. It is my intention to move on next week. (I have a beaut of a photo for movie fans.)

So, now to our photo. Darned if I can figure out what junior, posing here, has in his hands. I am going to settle on it being a ball. I can’t say that he looks especially charmed by Felix either which is too bad. Little did he know that it might be his only shot at immortality. (I say this with all due respect and as a guesstimate of course, as I have no idea who he is or might have grown into being.) The stairs and strolling folks in the background create a nice dynamic. This jaunty “adult size” sort of Felix is my favorite and the type I would want to pose with. (Yes, I have spent time considering this.) He is pleasantly enormous and a close look reveals some wild whiskers on him. Someone has written 1924 on the back of the card along with a short column of numbers that don’t make sense. Somehow it doesn’t look like it was written at the time though and 1924 seems a tad early to my thinking.

So I leave you to contemplate this one woman’s obsession – and a nod to those of you who might actually share it.

 

 

 

Funny Little Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Even I wonder occasionally at the objects d’Felix that I acquire and those I pass by. I own a few variations on this celluloid fellow and I have written about my general antipathy toward celluloid. (These can be found at the aptly named Fear of Celluloid and the recent Tiny Toy Felix Fiesta.) This guy caught my eye and I scooped him up. I confess I thought he was going to be about thirty percent larger, but I liked him even more in person than in the photo.

Celluloid Felix back

He is marked Made in Japan on his back. Perhaps his Japanese origin in some way explains his attachment to his umbrella which he clutches in one hand (paw? does Felix have hands or paws?) while he holds the cord to the handle in the other. He has landed at my door in surprisingly good condition with only a bit of one foot missing and a few minor dents. His red paint is quite fugitive and he must have been a bit more of a dandy in his day, with red umbrella and ears – not to mention a toothy white smile we can’t quite see. He is lighter than a feather and although he is designed to stand well on his own feet, the smallest breeze would knock him over. As always I wonder how he survived child clutching and play and made his way through many decades to my door.

I do not believe that plastic as fragile as this was used in toys in my childhood. Many of the plastic toys of the mid-to-late 1960’s are probably alive and well in a landfill today. Plastic to my generation was utterly indestructible, not to mention those of my brother, almost decade later. I have a distinct memory of stepping repeatedly on brightly colored figures and objects that belonged to him as a tiny tot.

I do remember being deeply engaged with a series of plastic horses and cowboys which, if memory serves, came in clear plastic bags. These must have been purchased at a variety of five and dimes or “dry goods” stores of a type that used to be plentiful. It seems like a strange choice in retrospect, but I am sure my mom probably grabbed them as a cheap option to keep me and my sister occupied on trips to my grandparents and the like, perhaps more focused on the horses than cowboys. I don’t particularly remember Loren playing with them (or with me with them) although it seems unlikely she didn’t. And my parents may have gotten more politically correct, or they were less available by the time Edward arrived on the scene as I don’t especially remember him playing with the likes of them.

I took a genuine interest in the horse and cowboys, and while I remember that damned if I can remember what was going through my mind playing with them. If memory serves they came in variations of green, red and yellow live in memory as shown below. The yellow in particular sticks in my mind. I don’t remember Indians, although logically they were also there – I probably just lumped humans into one category and horses into another. Below are similar ones of the types. Just another mystery of childhood I think.

s-l225

Period cowboys and Indian plastic toys for sale on eBay.

Rule

ruler 2

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I am focusing on a nifty little item I picked up on eBay recently, this child-sized ruler sporting these animated and instrument playing Felix-es. As I write this I pause to wonder if children are even expected to have and use rulers today – it seems so old fashioned. Yet really it isn’t like the functionality or need has much changed much in the decades since my childhood. Someone with children, please do weigh in on this.

This item, made by the American Pencil Co. made in the U.S.A. has seen a lot of wear and the inked Felix-es are blurring on one side a bit. The numbers still read clearly, but the edges are a bit soft from use. Our friend Google tells me that the American Pencil Co. is alive and well today, eventually purchased by Faber-Castell, which was in turn swallowed by something called the Sanford Corporation. A variety of American Pencil Co. pencils are still available today.

For my part this ruler brings back memories of a series of 1970’s neon colorful plastic rulers – not nearly as nice as this one. Additionally, I remember being asked to purchase the occasional compass which I don’t remember ever really using or learning to use. I was always sort of vaguely waiting for that day. However, my childhood was before the time of long lists of specific school supplies being issued annually. Generally we bought the same thing from year to year with the occasional specific request. (I do remember once in high school being kept after school for having purchased the wrong sort of divided notebook, as if it were a wanton act of civil disobedience on my part. Yep. And that was public school folks. Edith Holton was a piece of work.)

My relationship to measuring things is actually dubious. What I mean is, I have never learned to use a ruler well or probably properly. Once you get below the half inch mark it all blends together for me and my ability to be precise seems to swim a bit. A sixteenth of an inch you say? Hmm. An effort was made to instruct me in this, I know. At some point, there was even a somewhat ham handed attempt to shift us to metric measure – although more of a sort of ambidextrous, you should be able to do both things which probably didn’t help the mental muddle I already had with the subject. I never could have had a career in graphic design as a result and have never cut a precise mat either. When something needs to be measured perfectly I readily and preferably defer to others.

Still, that is not to say I don’t depend on rulers and, to some degree, tape measures. I constantly reach for one at home to check sizes for frames and the like. At work I keep a wooden ruler on my desk primarily to help me proof copy. I have never found anything as effective as proofing each line of text with a ruler under it, a trick a friend taught me many years ago now. As my eyes age it is something I am more not less dependent on over time. I purchased this fine one with the intention of taking it to work for that particular role. Although I’m not sure that I will depose the one that I have been using for many years, of wooden and of simple long ago anonymous school brand, metal edge along the top, this jolly Felix one will entertain me. People seem to be surprised at the omnipresence of the old wooden ruler on my desk, probably because my job doesn’t require much measuring, not by inches at least.