Flummoxed by Felix

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I am taking a detour today from my discourse on my London loot and circling back to these fascinating Felix-es I purchased on eBay shortly before my trip. I have labeled this a toy post, but honestly, I have no idea what purpose these served so they may indeed not have been proper toys. However, when I saw them I had to have them and here we are now, on a bright if chilly St. Patrick’s Day morning in New York City, coffee in hand, contemplating them.

For once I believe I really did understand the tiny scale of these pre-purchase – no bigger than a quarter. Of course they came from Great Britain (they call it Great for a reason said the Felix collector) which is still the El Dorado of early Felix items, despite my recent disappointing foray. They are made of wood and appear to have been commercially produced – this wasn’t a pattern in a magazine or someone’s one-of-a-kind. The tiny Felix arm (paw?) on one has broken off. The scale is a tad wonky with the hands a bit enlarged. The bottoms are even and they stand up easily on their own, edges sharp. If they are pieces to a game, the most likely thought – I want it!  Surely they would be considered a choking hazard for small children today – and really, who could blame a small child for wanting to give these an experimental chew? I am sure Cookie and Blackie would give them a gnaw if I allowed it.

Here we are in paragraph 3 and I sort of assume it goes without saying that I have never seen the likes these before. My best guess is that they were markers for some sort of game played by grown ups – like a Bingo variation of some kind. My imagination races – were there Felix game boards or cards? How many variations on Felix are there and, most of all of course, will I ever find the rest of it? These are the most pleasant sort of mysteries of life – small and fascinating hints dropped in my way, leading me on a jolly, if long and winding, path of toy discovery.

Along these lines, I share a photograph I found online recently – it is the box for the Felix game I wrote about recently in my post Chocolate Felix. Just going to show, pieces of the toy puzzle do continue to turn up.





Felix in Translation

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This was such an odd card I decided I had to purchase it. At the top – I hope you’ll keep on loving – it’s good for me!” is the strange declaration, and then the next line translates as Not for you, for my little cat Felix. One can’t help, but wonder if the translation to English was terribly inadequate and they were aiming for a slightly different sentiment? This little girl appears to be holding a bizarre tiny Felix and is placing a bowl of milk down for this other, larger Felix. In addition, she’s in this sort of frame like she is bursting out of something. The little Felix appears to have a very long (un-Felix-like) tail as well, that hangs below her arm. (If I’m being picky, I might also point out that the little girl is actually a bit longer in the body than she should be, about a third longer really.) Both Felix-es are smiling and evidently appear happy about what is transpiring – whatever that is. Honestly, it is like something out of a Kim Deitch story! (Hmm, size shifting cartoon cats mixing with humans – I think we were actually discussing that yesterday morning in bed.)

Personally, I don’t really think about Felix as a milk drinking cat – although perhaps there’s a cartoon or two where he reaches for a bottle of the white stuff. In those early days you were more likely to expect him to be guzzling a bottle of hooch than milk though. Early in my Felix toy collecting career, I thought France and Germany would be the hotbeds of early Felix activity, but England easily tops all, with the US in second – odd but true. France and Germany are way behind. One finds the occasional French item, German even more rare and really it is only Schuco that comes to mind. (Steiff of course being a German American company.)

I do not believe I own a single French Felix item, and if they felt the need to pose with a large, stuffed character from the comics, I have not seen one to date, nor know what character they prefer. A great auction loss I have never gotten over was an Australian photo of people posing with a life size Spark Plug from Barney Goggle. I have never seen on before or since. (My photos of people posing with giant Felix dolls seem to have only come from Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Even the Americans did not seem to embrace that practice. For new readers these photo posts abound in the Pams-Pictorama.com archive.)

The card was never mailed, although someone has written across the back, shown below. Between it being French, the hand writing, and the amount of it I have not attempted to Google translate it – but for anyone who can execute a quick translation I would love to know the general idea. For now I offer this odd little image for your consideration – and I hope you’ll keep on loving – it’s good for me!

French felix back


And the Winner is Felix!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This Felix came up on a Milestone auction and I put a bid on it, and numerous other things, and essentially forgot about it while I got absolutely creamed on a Aesop’s Fable doll that I thought I had in the bag. I am generally pretty philosophical about auctions and you have to be because, much like the rest of life, you are going to win some and lose others. However, as Facebook friends of Kim’s and Pictorama readers may already know, sometimes I howl like a scalded cat about a particularly painful loss. (Or even win – there was the Felix ukulele that I won on eBay and then the seller refused to sell it to me.) Meanwhile, I had completely forgotten that I tossed a bid onto this fellow in the same auction when I received a notice that I won him.

I never buy pieces like this because we have little space for them and they are too fragile to survive easily in the general melee that I think of when I consider our one-room, office to Kim and home to us and the two cats. Stuffed animals survive better than china and while I do make exceptions (such as the plates in my post Living the Felix Life, and the occasionally family heirloom such as featured in Ann’s Glass) even celluloid toys give me the willies, as mentioned in Fear of Celluloid. Still, I like this little fellow and I was pleased to have him show up right before Christmas which made him a gift to myself. He has the early Felix features that are pointy and just a tiny bit crude – toothy and like he might just take a bite out of you. He has found purchase (and hopefully safe haven) on a book shelf near the above mentioned family heirloom.

I show his back below and his markings. Other than Made in England I cannot make out the rest. Please let me know if any of you smart folks out there know more. The listing for him said he may have had restoration, but frankly if he did they did a superb job. I cannot find any. He appears to be seamed along the back which must have something to do with the mold he was cast from.


Evidently I come by my ferocious love of auctions genetically. My father’s mother (Grandma Butler to me, Gertie to others) was an auction addict and I often reflect that she would have adored eBay as much as I do if had she lived long enough to see it. Instead, auctions in her day were the kind where you went and sat in dusty rooms and bid in person. In that way, she accumulated large ornate furniture – carved and inlaid cabinets and desks, ornate lamps and side tables, mirrors and outsized Persian carpets (those having once graced hotel lobbies if I understand correctly) all of which I grew up with first in her house and then in our own after her death. This furniture was in stark contrast to my own parent’s taste which ran to the simplicity of early American furniture, but somehow we mashed it all together into coherence.

I could have learned to love visiting auctions and the excitement of bidding in person I am sure. My options of what I collected would have been considerably different however, since virtually all I buy comes from far flung countries, or at least far and wide across this one. Felix items and photos in particular seem to have flourished primarily in Great Britain and Australia as far as I can tell. Additionally I have the convenience of bidding on auctions at all hours of the day and night, often clad in my pj’s. (Full disclosure, I am wearing them now as I write this.) Given my work schedule it does allow me to do more auction perusing than visits to auction houses could possibly allow.

Nonetheless, I am sure that like all things, something was lost – perhaps the other bidders who you get know in a casual way or only by sight, or perhaps the tactile advantage of being able to examine and handle something in person before bidding. Knowing my grandmother she attended those auctions dressed in a brocade suit (she favored pattern and color) make-up done, red lipstick and hair piled high – bright with jewelry both real and costume – she loved both. I will never know the day in and day out of that experience, but I do know that the Butler clan is an auction loving one and this addition to the Pictorama collection is further evidence of it.


Echo Point, Katoomba

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I ask that you put aside your party planning and New Year’s resolution composing and spend a few minutes in the Felix past with me today. I am continuing to report on the holiday haul with this mini El Dorado of tintypes from Echo Point, Katoomba. I have written about tintypes from Katoomba previously (most recently, Vacation Felix and Another Aussie Felix), but I have never purchased more than one from a single sitting.

The story of how I came upon these photos is interesting. While wandering around down South with the Jazz at Lincoln Center band for earlier this month, I was set up in a hotel room in Florida working furiously on some things for the office via my laptop in a rare post-gym and breakfast couple of hours in my hotel room. I had my personal email in the background as I first conducted a job interview with a candidate in Chicago and then tried to sort out some thorny issues around our April gala invitation. Between these I saw an email from this Pam’s Pictorama site, a fairly unusual occurance. When I finally remembered it was there and had a look at it a few hours later, I realized that it was interesting indeed.

Someone named Calvin was writing because he had Felix photos and he wanted to know if I was interested in buying them. (Of course I was!) Initially I thought he had a collection like the ones I posted yesterday (On a Sunday Morning in Swainsthorpe in case you haven’t been following along) and it took an exchange or so to realize that he had tintypes from Echo Point, Katoomba a resort in New South Wales, Australia. Regardless of my geographic location or my lack of sleep, I was certainly interested. He asked me to name a price, and then of course I needed to see them first – my experience with these being all over the place in quality, mostly dark from light exposure, sometimes to the point of illegibility. Over the course of the next twelve hours or so he sent them – as I was waking up the next morning I think – they were very clean and nice looking indeed. There were several of the same little girl and then others with an arrangement and re-arrangement of others. Presumably all of the same family. No identification or dates on any of them.

Calvin had purchased the lot of them from a postcard dealer, at a flea market I think he said. He went online to research them and stumbled onto Pam’s Pictorama and thought to see if I wanted to purchase them. Since it is my feeling that I really need to own ALL the Felix tintypes (and photo postcards, just to be clear) of course I wanted to purchase them. I named a price that multiplied the average price I have paid for such photos in the past. Calvin accepted and these were speeding their way to me and we arrived in New York at almost the same time. It is the first time Pictorama has attracted its own post material. My delight knows no bounds!

Judging by the cloche hats being sported by the female subjects these could loosely date from about 1922 to ten years later. It is hard to say if Australian fashion tracked US fashion exactly in this regard, it my have trailed us by some years. There is no identification, nor dates on the photos as seems to be typical with these souvenir tintypes. Meanwhile, oh to be such a lucky little girl and have so many nice tintypes made of yourself with Felix! I am so jealous! Although I know from making tintypes myself that they are by their very nature one-of-a-kind images, nonetheless it is difficult to find the differences in these three images, they are there if you look carefully however; the images must be just moments apart. It did occur to me to purchase only one of the little girl (he could have easily sold the others on eBay) or that I can ultimately sell two. Still, Pictorama readers know of my obsession with keeping family photos together and certainly for now they will stay as a group.

My favorite photo, the one featured at top, is of the large group. There is an early car behind them and some sort of an awing that reads Echo Point, Katoomba behind that. (If you are trying to read it, remember it is backward as this is a tintype and a mirror image.) The woman in the middle gets to hold this nice big Felix in place! In the subsequent photo of just her and the man with the hat, he holds Felix sort of haphazardly around the neck and doesn’t show him to full advantage. We get a glimpse of the tropical foliage behind them, as we do with the photos of the little girl, who for some reason isn’t included in the group photo. Felix is just her size and they stand together like old buddies. She is more warmly dressed than the others with a nice fur trimmed coat and sports a cloche as well. These clearly sat together some place, out of the light, well preserved.

Finally, I would like to note that we get a good look at the Felix doll here and he is a bit worn. Most interesting to me is his somewhat extra large (and I assume weighted for balance) feet making him slightly out of proportion. It has always been my assumption that all, or at least most, of the giant Felix dolls made for posing had one origin, but now I doubt that as I look at some of the variations on the wall of them across from me where I sit right now and type, those predominantly from Great Britain. What is even more interesting is that out of the five or so from Echo Point, Katoomba (outside of this group) only one seems to be the same doll. I guess there was a lot of wear and tear and many Felix replacements, or even multiple dolls being used at the same time. Here at Pictorama we continue to fervently hope that someday we will indeed find a giant Felix we can purchase for our very own!


On a Sunday Morning in Swainsthorpe

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Pictorama readers better hold onto their hats because, this holiday season mysteriously revealed the opportunity for some really extraordinary acquisitions! As a Christmas gift Kim’s help fund these and stretched my resources considerably. I am planning to post about them more or less in the order they came to me.

Both groups (the other to be posted tomorrow) were extraordinary opportunities to buy a series of photos of a single family and keep them together. The first photo in this group was brought to my attention by a Facebook friend, Bren Luke. While I was still trying to figure out the origin of the photo I stumbled across the lot of the six of them for sale on eBay. They were being sold separately, by a British seller, which meant high bids had to go on all in order to secure the whole lot. Prices ended up all over the place, but I paid up and purchased all. I am glad they will stay together. They are much more interesting that way.

I was shocked by the size of them when they arrived. They are tiny – only about 2”x3” and I am unsure what sort of film and camera would have been used. (Kim is guessing 120 film via a brownie type camera?) They are undated and cut from where they had resided in a photo album. Written in the same hand as the one titled here, there are dates of  ’24 and ’25 from other photos on the backs, so we might assume these fall loosely into the same period. Sadly this little boy with a horn is not named, only cousins Kathleen & John get identified. Our other tidbit of information is Swainsthorpe on a Sunday morning. The internet reveals Swainsthorpe to be a tiny hamlet in Norfolk, England, population 360 as of the 2011 census. A close look at clothing shows that the whole lot was likely taken on the same day.

My favorite photo is the one featured at the top – the little boy tooting on his horn next to Felix. This was the one sent via Facebook and worth the price of admission on its own. Felix seems to be listening to that horn, smiling up at the kid – perhaps propped up by the wheelbarrow handle.

As the little boy doesn’t actually interact with Felix I wonder a bit if it is indeed his affection for it that has placed it in the photos or some other more general family fondness for Felix? Maybe the person behind the camera. It is a nice big Felix (one that I would be pleased to have I might add) and he comes up to the little fellow’s waist. I especially like the way he is looking at the little boy playing the horn, the tiny wheelbarrow (child-sized) makes a good counterpoint, the beautiful old stone house in the background. A miniature lawn mower appears in a subsequent photo and, although those are somewhat lesser photos, the light is beautiful in them.

My second favorite photo is the one with the little girl with the long hair holding Felix while the boy (her brother perhaps?) toots on that horn. There is a dreamy quality to this one and I even like the overexposed edges for the effect it creates. Is that a tiny keyboard between the girl and boy? It is hard to know exactly, but the toy lawn mower is great too and these toys create a sense that this is most likely a somewhat privileged family. There are a few other photo variations with these toys, and then the two with cousins. Kathleen looks willing enough, but John appears mostly like he is being coerced into staying still long enough to pose with his cousins, let alone put his arm around him in the one photo. Felix is a bit cut off in one, but he makes a splendid appearance as the fifth member of the family, grinning toothily as always, in the other group photo.


Having a Rocky Time

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Stick of rock, Blackpool rock or Brighton rock – the British love their rock candy and since they loved Felix in the 1920’s it was natural that these would go together. Given the survival rate of these cards from various seaside resorts across Great Britain I would say it was a popular marketing concept at the time. I have been eyeing variations of this card for quite awhile when I took matters in hand recently and purchased this version, complete with this nicely pointy Felix, sporting his toothy grin, and which I would hazard a guess was not produced with the knowledge of nor with access to the talent of the Pat Sullivan Studio. To drive the rock candy and beach resort points home, Felix is stepping on these water colored rocks along this beach-y shore. I love the proportion of the roll of rock candy to Felix, slung cavalierly over his shoulder like a workman with a 2×4. There is something compactly compelling about his four point design.

The card was produced (exclusively) Celesque Published by The Photochrom London, Tunbridge Wells. It was sent by Doris on the evening of August 17, 1926 from a place called Redcar, a seaside resort in North Yorkshire, England. Doris writes, complete with swirling curls and luxuriously crossed “t’s” – Having a jolly time at Redcar. Will write later from Easton. Nellie Spot & I are going for a stroll along the beach. About E & CS are…the last bit is illegible and squeezed into the bottom. It is signed (Doris) – I do not know what the parens are for. It is addressed to Miss Mary Dixon, School House, Fontburn, Ewesley, Maspeth Northumberland.

Evidently the hard rock candy in questions is made from boiled sugar in mint flavors (I was disappointed – I thought it might come in fruit flavors or perhaps even be peppery) typically has a pattern inside like the swirl shown here. My teeth hurt just thinking about it, and I immediately see a vision of my dentist sharpening the tools of his trade when I contemplate consuming it. Meanwhile, the talented candy folks have even perfected the art of writing on the inside and I offer the illustration from the Wikipedia site below. The candy is still made in numerous forms today, and for the truly curious, there are opportunities to see the process on Youtube. I skipped those videos, I admit, although I duly note that evidently the pieces of candy can be as much as six feet long before cutting and Felix would appear to be carrying a chunk about three or four feet long here for his part. All in a day’s work for Felix.




L’il Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Another toy today – and celebrating the acquisition of a new and unusual Felix no less. This fellow hails, at least most recently, from the United States. I have never seen this variation previously.  I spotted him on eBay and, although the bidding was robust, I would have been willing to pay more than I did for him. It is unusual for me to find a design I have never seen, given how much time I devote to looking at them I have seen most I think.

Some of the aspects of this Felix that are not immediately evident are a solidly sewn thread at the back of his head, and printing on his little red ribbon. My theory is that this Felix was a carnival prize which hung from that thread, now torn. (See back view below.) I wish I could read his ribbon, but maddeningly I think one half of it has smudged over time. I think it actually reads Made in… He is about seven inches high. If this gentlemen was a carnival prize, unlike his British counterparts which exist in large numbers speaking to broad popularity, he was not one that was widely distributed. His arms move, his legs and tail were meant to stand him up tripod fashion, although he seems to need some help. It is a very simple design, although the moving arms, glass eyes and felt ears speak to some care and expense.

Felix back

However, this benign faced fellow does not seem to belong to the same clan as those somewhat malevolent toothy grinned Brits. The argument could easily be made that he actually isn’t Felix, but a generic toy cat, but in all the looking at Felix I have done I believed immediately that he was someone’s off-model rendition, cheaply churned out for a cheerful Felix obsessed public. This mild mannered fellow has already found his spot on a bookshelf in our living room – a space that is starting to absorb the toy overflow from our cramped bedroom. Needless to say, I would have been very happy indeed to have won him at a fair. I can see a thrilled, small me, gripping him in one hand, perhaps some cotton candy or a candied apple (love those!) in the other. However, given my skills at those kinds of games, maybe I would have spent as much as I did buying him anyway.