My Felix Heaven

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers and other Deitch Studio fellow travelers know that there is a wonderful tradition of Kim making me my very own special valentine each year. It is the most beloved manifestation of my uber Deitch fan status and today I share it with you all.

One recent year Kim drew the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as a cat band for me (that one can be found here) and in 2017 Kim’s work on Reincarnation Stories had our minds focused on our 86th Street apartment building morphing into a rollicking toy museum for me, which in turn inspired the valentine that year. (Reincarnation Stories, that extraordinary missive, can be purchased here should you somehow be without a copy and that valentine post is here.)

Recently, I was strolling through ebay, looking over the array of Felix items and wondering specifically about a certain kind of china Felix I do not collect. Much of it seems to be promotional item give aways made by British Pathé Films. There are small ashtrays, match holders, miniature jugs, and things best described as gewgaws. They must have been universally saved as they are very available, almost a hundred years later.

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Pictorama readers also know that given the confines of our studio apartment (which I like to pretend expands magically to house an infinite number of toys, but in reality not really) and our two felines who race through (and up and down) it daily, I am somewhat discrete in my collecting and try to keep fragile items to a minimum. Therefore, there is a world of early Felix I have not really touched. In addition, there are tea sets and other space hogging items I must refrain from acquiring or threaten to tip the gentle ecosystem of our abode. (I have opined on my vision of a Felix filled home in my post Living the Felix Life which can be found here.)

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However, on this day as I was looking I was fantasizing about a seaside British cottage, filled to the brim, positively sparkling, with all these Felix items. As if somehow this woman collected them all in the late 1920’s and kept them all to perfection. Kim asked about my thoughts for the valentine right at that moment and over my morning coffee I conveyed that vision (very ineptly, I have to admit), to Kim who then somehow managed to translate it PERFECTLY in this valentine. Yay, Kim!

He asked me to do some image research so he could better see what I was talking about. And the real find during that research was this image from Getty below. Wow, wow, wow! This is one of the best Felix photographs I have ever seen. I must find a way to get a real copy from Getty somehow so I can hang it on my wall. (Look at the Felix dolls stuffed in their belts!) The big winking Felix in the middle finds a place of honor on my valentine and I get to wear the cool Felix girl outfit!

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Getty Image photo

 

Although in one sense I art direct the valentine, our largely unspoken division of labor means I generally do not make a lot of specific requests about execution concerning things like color. This year I think I surprised Kim with the request that my dress be orange. I think it mystified him a bit, but he has given me my orange dress and I do love it. Perfect.

Of course, Kim’s version of Felix memorabilia is far more ribald and raucous than any reality. Felix is tooting on a nippy hookah while I serve him tea; dancing animated Felixes make up the tablecloth edge (wouldn’t I love to own that); and Cookie and Blackie (who, as I write is trying to push me off the computer chair) make an appearance. Blackie is behind the hookah and Cookie is behind a Felix urn where she eyes her tail suspiciously. (Cookie, even as a very adult kitty, still chases her tail constantly. I think she’s convinced me that a demon really does reside there that periodically needs subduing.)

Of course, out the window is a jolly scene which is the East River version of my fantasy. There’s a Mickey Mouse running off the page and there will be more about him to come in future posts. (Think birthday gift.) A crazy Felix clock, the traditional one crossed with an especially good Norakuro one we were admiring online. Tea Time! Tea Time!

And there you have it, the 2020 Deitch Studio Valentine and it is a beaut! Thank you so much Kim! I am the luckiest wife in the world.

Meanwhile, I think maybe next year we need to make our way into the Felix tea room those women were beckoning us into…

Felix Fun

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Seldom does a toy have the come hither play with me quality that this jumping Felix does. Like a kid, once I start playing with it I just want to keep going. Look at Felix go! For such a simple toy it mesmerizes. You press the wooden handles together and Felix jiggles and jumps – every few times he tumbles all the way forward or backward. Yay! It has a satisfyingly substantial quality, made of wooden bits and despite its age gives it heft. This fellow was found on ebay and is a belated Christmas gift from Kim as it took awhile to cross the ocean and arrived on our doorstep in mid-January.

The design for this toy has evidently been around for a long time. Light research shows reference to eighteenth and nineteenth century France and China, but frankly no one seems to have the precise lowdown on the inception. These are truly timeless toys. Instructions for making these proliferate even today with Youtube tutorials, but versions of this toy have long been available commercially as well as being made at home. It is loosely defined as a wooden acrobat toy – jumping jack might get you there too, but that seems better reserved for the wooden toys with a string that make the arms and legs go up and down, a sort of kissing cousin of this Felix toy.

This Felix came from Great Britain and my guess is that instructions for making this and other models were probably available in magazines like Popular Mechanics or in this case whatever the equivalent was in Britain at the time. When I say at the time I am also a bit flummoxed, but from what I have read I would think  it could have been made any time after Felix’s appearance on the scene through the 1950’s.

The Felix himself is a bit endearingly lumpy in design and there is not real question that he would not have qualified for the Pat Sullivan seal of approval in the day. His tail has a small chip and he has some signs of wear in his black paint – I assume his white face was brighter in his youth as well. Below I share a Mickey Mouse, sans legs, which I found on Pinterest which seems to share the same gray area of homemade versus commercial origin.

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For those of you who, like me, need to see things in motion – a brief clip of Kim mastering and playing with Felix can be found by clicking below. Go cat, go!

Lucky Bucks

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Oh for the days when you got a Sunday paper which had such cool things to uncover and collect! I write this as I prepare to head to see my mom on this Sunday morning, in New Jersey, although she no longer resides in the Butler ancestral home, is still resident nearby. I have written about our local newspaper purveyor and the role it played in collecting our Sunday papers in the years before we began having them delivered. (That post about Wiseman’s can be found here.) The feeling induced in childhood about Sunday morning lasts a lifetime, although somehow the (no longer terribly fat) Sunday New York Times seems like a sad substitute when I think about it these days.

Sunday afternoon and evening had a bad rap as a kid – it tended to stretch a bit toward boredom in a way that Saturday somehow did not. Sunday morning though was an excellent breakfast (pancakes! bagels!) and the Sunday comics. (Okay, Sunday afternoons were occasionally occupied by some really wonderful discoveries of old films on television, but let’s face it, you had to get through all that religious programming in the morning which utterly confounded me.) Hard to beat the memory of post-breakfast sitting on Dad’s lap and reading Peanuts and Nancy together.

In my adult life I have become a very real fan of daily comic strips – decidedly preferring them to their longer, flashier Sunday counterparts – their very dailiness telling the tale of their time. However, as a kid I admit that the daily strips seemed like dry runs for the Sunday fiesta. As a child of the 1960’s and early ’70’s I missed the heyday of comics supplements, but we had two (now defunct) local papers that carried a comics supplement. I loved them and can only imagine the enthusiasm that the weekly installation of Lucky Bucks must have been met.

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I gather at the time of Lucky Bucks the Sunday supplement featured all sorts of things a kid could avail themselves of such as mini-film strips, games, and puzzles. There is a book available dedicated to the topic of Lucky Bucks in particular, but the brief lowdown is that Lucky Bucks were promoted in the Sunday Funny primarily in the 1930’s, with ’32-’34 being prime years. (Interesting to imagine a country in the clutch of a worldwide Depression whose children are clipping fake money from the newspaper. At the time, newspapers were a lifeline for jobs and information and people continued to buy them to the extent they could.)

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Felix was one of those heavily featured, but Popeye/Thimble Theater, Mickey Mouse, Barney Google and even the likes of Blondie were among those available and collected. So widely were these collected that despite their undeniably fragile nature as newsprint which has been snipped out and perhaps even exchanged as kid currency, they are still widely available as collectibles today. I show some Popeye and Thimble Theater currency above and below. Popeye had the big bucks! See a fiver below.

 

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I like the bills that have things written on the bottom: Walking the Blues; Felix the Sentinel (he’s still interested in mice here – something I think of more from the early cartoons when he is inventive, but still more feline); and No Rest for the Wicked. I wonder if kids valued some more than others, like trading cards.

I have seen these Lucky Bucks offered on ebay for years and finally decided to add a selection to my collection. Meanwhile, I haven’t read much of Felix in the comics; he lives in cartoons for me. However, as I head off to Jersey this morning I am thinking about Sunday morning breakfast, a trip to Wiseman’s and some Sunday funnies, and it might be time to take a look at some of those Felix comic strips at last too.

Felix Tallies

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I purchased today’s item for purely aesthetic reasons – I like the design of this blocky, early Felix. His toothiness especially appeals to me and his orange nose and strange wings baffle me a bit. (On careful examination it is actually that he is sporting a very large bow.) He appears to be pointing into his mouth – feed the kitty! Felix is well drawn, but I find no copyright information on this and I suspect it is just an extremely good rip-off.

In addition to the bridge score the following is written on the back in tiny letters, Halloween Bridge party given by Ginny, Lillian, Lowthur & others. Oct. 19 – ’29. Five tricks. The player was Betty W. at table 1 couple 2. Their score totaled 1224 and I have no idea at all if that is good or bad. A very quick look at bridge scoring would lead me to believe it is good. This card was either kept and still exists almost 100 years later because of a high score or the charming Felix. (Most likely both?) However, I know less than nothing about the game of bridge and a quick look at it online made my head ache this early in the day.

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Among the small bits of information I have about bridge are that while it is still considered popular it was once wildly popular, and it was a social necessity to at least play adequately. (Those of us who watch films from the ’40’s or even read a certain kind of novel from that period know this.) I have also been informed that it is generally highly competitive and a poor partner or player will not be countenanced – despite whatever your relationship is to that person otherwise. However, I assume that it is a bit like tennis in that you would like to play with people slightly better than you so as to improve?

From what I read and have been told, I think your relationship to your bridge partner is at its best the ability to intuit each other. Part of me wonders if this lead to a lot of affairs among bridge partners – not to mention divorce amongst serious players whose spouses were not up to snuff or went off the game. Bridge is played competitively and for money by some I gather, although not a gambling game. A quick search tells me there are three public bridge clubs in Manhattan, but many, many private ones. I remember being told of two private clubs years ago by elderly friends who were devoted to the game. I can remember bridge columns published in the local newspaper when I was a kid.

We were not a bridge playing family – in fact aside from the occasional game of Parcheesie, Candyland, Go Fish or Monopoly as kids, we were not a game playing family at all. As the children of immigrants neither of my parents were raised in an atmosphere concerned with that layer of society. It is just as well, my limited exposure to games leads me to believe it is not a skill set that would be easily developed in me.

Meanwhile, Felix as an image and totem seems to have crossed over with the bridge craze, and although this is the only piece of Felix bridge ephemera I own, I feel as though I have seen other Felix bridge related items for sale over time. Perhaps other tally cards? Card holders? An internet search does not turn much up in this line, but Pictorama readers know I always have a weather eye cast.

Winding up Felix

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This post is the tail end of a bunch of Felix posts that were pent up for awhile, awaiting their turn at publication. While last, he is by no means least, and although his mechanism is a familiar one (from the virtually archetypal cymbal playing monkey, who can be seen doing his thing on Youtube here), I have never seen this model of Felix before.

He has an almost homemade look to him, although ultimately we know he is not. The design screams off-model however and really, he barely passes for a Felix. I purchased him from a US seller on eBay.

For me, it is a bit of a surprise that there are not a few more Felix toys with wind-up mechanisms in general, mostly a few variations on walking ones – trying to capitalize on Felix’s specific animated motion. I show a few of mine below, although none walk much these days. I also have the remnants of this scooter Felix, although my example is sans mechanics. Still, given the popularity of Felix – I would have thought they might have proliferated further.

 

In my mind, the wind-up is to toys what animation is to drawings – I love when things come to life. In that regard might have been quite happy with a career in animation – or tinkering with wind-up toys, making things move. (Instead I watch cartoons and purchase and play with toys which is a nice option too.)

This Felix fellow has no markings aside from his key (permanently affixed to his back) which is the giveaway as it is marked Schuco. His motion is not as enthused as some I have seen (I show my own bad film of this below.

He appears to have received a certain amount of hard, loving use. I don’t remember having these solid sorts of wind-up toys as a child and perhaps that explains my fascination in part.

I have made up for lost time by purchasing numerous Schuco wind-up toys in the past few years however. A relatively recent purchase was this wind-up pig which was featured in a 2018 birthday post. (It can be found here.)

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I am frankly a bit surprised that Schuco is his maker as I hadn’t realized they made the cymbal playing monkey. I cannot find a single other example of this model by searching for wind-up Schuco Felix the cat and wonder if there is a war-time production, unlicensed explanation. However, given how prolific Schuco was it is surprising more of these aren’t still knocking around.

I wrote a little bit about Schuco, a German company founded originally in 1912, it found its groove with this Pick Pick Bird toy, one of my own first wind-up acquisitions and which I wrote about back in 2016. (You can find that post here.) These are such solidly built toys – they have great heft – and their movement is expert. I am a sucker for them when I see them move.

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This post was written several weeks ago for posting while I was working in South Africa. I apologize for any unedited mistakes. More from the US soon!

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This is one of those lovely occasions when I get to write about acquiring something I have wanted for ages! Today it is this wonderful Felix toffee tin turned toy pail.

Allow me to start by saying that I love toffee. Seriously, caloric concerns are thrown out the window as soon as I see sticky toffee…followed by virtually anything written on a menu. It is a little known fact about me, but a fact nonetheless. I came to it late in life, but I think that has more to do with having had limited exposure to it when younger. I believe if I had been introduced to it earlier I would have been a life-long toffee fanatic. Somewhere in a parallel universe I am simply ruining both my teeth and my waistline contentedly stuffing myself silly with toffee.

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So if nothing else for me the vision of this delightful pail stuffed with British toffees is a wonderful one indeed. Oh the gluttony! Oddly and somewhat mysteriously, the tin bears no label for said toffees sold, only the maker of the tin, E.T. Gee & Sons and this pail is always advertised by that name. One might imagine that a toffee maker of the time like Mackintosh’s might have filled it. The candy descendants of Macintosh’s Toffee exist today and are the makers of Rolos and other delights. Macintosh was definitely selling similar pails of toffee, but those are all emblazoned with their name leaving me wondering and somewhat stumped. It is possible that the lid had a name embossed inside perhaps, or that there was a paper label/sticker. One version online seems to have the remnants of an odd sticker that says …sweet little babies.

E.T. Gee & Sons is not especially well documented as a company – I could not find much history on them. However, I find tracks showing they made a whole line of similar candy containers that were also tin toys once emptied of their confectionary treats so this must have been the side of the street they were working. Although the Felix pail is the most prevalent one, I found evidence of two others online and sadly could only fine this single small image of the house which held creams. (Google images revealed no larger photos nor additional examples.) The house, doubling as a bank, is a photo from the Worthpoint auction site and the biscuit tin wagon from an auction site called Bukowski’s.

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At auction on Worthpoint, a toffee tin that doubles as a bank.

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A biscuit tin that doubles as a toy truck, image from the Bukowski auction website.

 

Meanwhile, I have been admiring this Felix pail for a number of years now, stealthy hunting of it on eBay, tracking prices and failing each time to be the high bidder. A version in condition only somewhat superior to my own, but with the top (shown below with this mischievous Felix whose tiny rendition of the toffee pail is stuffed with toffee – mine does not have the top sadly) went for more than $3,500 just several years back at Hake’s. I have lost several on eBay that went for much less than that, although probably all without the top. My example does come from Hake’s – just a bad day at auction?Maybe, but clearly for whatever reason the price of them has dropped considerably. I paid a tiny fraction of that for mine.

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From a Hake’s auction catalogue, lid to the Felix pail which mine is sadly missing.

 

The decoration is decidedly and delightfully cryptic – the scenes are certainly comical, but you really have to wonder where they came from. On one side Felix rides a white horse or pony (sort of Felix as Lady Godiva in my mind) along the water’s edge. He is being chased by a young boy (with an outsized head) brandishing a spatula? Or perhaps it is the shovel to a sand pail? The boy seems to be running full speed while the awkward drawing of the horse seems to have Felix at a slower pace. (His toes curling upward in an interesting manner.) Most bizarre of all however, is the female Felix in an old fashioned bonnet and dress, taking the scene in at the water’s edge. A broken fence in the foreground leads the mind further down the path of an unknown narrative. The horsey hardly looks like he’d break down a fence. Curious indeed!

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My very own Felix toffee pail! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

The more benign scene on the other side is my favorite – a large family of Felix-es, Mom, Dad and three babies – having their photo portrait taken! Of course as someone who collects photos of people posing with Felix on the beach this is a very funny inside joke. They are dress for the occasion – the Dad in a vest, mom in a long dress – in this alternate universe Mrs. Felix evidently dresses like a Mennonite. One child splashes in the water with a small sand shovel, the other getting his feet wet while a small girl perched on a rock beckons to him. The photographer, complete with tri-pod, camera with bellows and (I think in my mind) long exposure film, appears to be a young boy. Daddy Felix is gesturing approvingly to the camera. A toy looking sailboat appears in the distance. A splendid Felix walking decoration rings both top and bottom of the pail.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

My version of the pail is about 8″ high and I understand that there is a slightly smaller version with a single row of Felix around it. (I’m glad mine has those!) It has a satisfying sturdy handle for holding and swinging merrily as you walk, and I think it would make a jolly pail at the beach, although I am pleased this one doesn’t appear to have spent much time in that capacity.

As a child who grew up on the shores of the Atlantic ocean I know a little something about playing in the sand at the beach and I can assure you much could be accomplished with a nice little pail like this, accompanied perhaps by a small sand shovel. One could dig deep caverns, carry water to fill moats or to dampen sand into the proper consistency for the construction of castles and related buildings. One’s pail was essentially a ticket to hours of beach fun and this would make a splendid addition to any discerning child’s collection.

 

Pinned

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little tidbit has been sitting under the computer waiting for its turn at bat in a blog post and here we finally are. I have never seen this particular Felix pin before. In an attempt to research it I did find another for sale – I am pleased to say for that one for more than I paid for it. Score!

Other than this very dapper little Felix gracing it, the interesting features of this pin are that it is made of cardboard and it is quite old. I have never seen another pin made of cardboard in this fashion and a quick internet search did not immediately turn up additional ones, although I assume it was a genre.

Previously I have trumpeted my affection for the Hake’s auction catalogues (I devoted one post to it here) and one of the joys of that catalogue are the obscure, often ancient political and premium buttons that generally make up the front section of those catalogues. Unlike this little gem, those tend to impress me with the gravitas of materials – daguerreotypes, non ferrous metals metals and a range of reproduction processes – they fascinate me. This one goes in the opposite direction – simplicity and cheapest of materials. In that regard it is a bit amazing that it has survived so long in fairly pristine condition.

The Felix on my pin is somewhat primitive and off-model so this may not have been a fully sanctioned Felix affair. It would have been a very natty fellow indeed who would have sported this in his lapel or on his tie. I purchased it from a seller in the US and my guess is that it was made here although there is no marking of any kind.

As a child in the ’60’s and early 70’s I was fascinated by the metal buttons of the day – and it was a button-filled time. I remember someone giving me an early Smiley pin and I was crazy about that. I would have owned dozens of those if they crossed my path. Meanwhile, my father brought home piles of election buttons of the day for me – his job as a news cameraman putting him in a rather unique position to acquire them. Being pre-political myself I judged them on a purely aesthetic level, although I was known to hold a grudge against Presidential candidates who I felt had taken my father away for prolonged periods, Nixon was one of these. Somewhere I have a few signed political photos from the period. These were not sufficient to acquire my forgiveness; I was a hard child. The buttons below are of the type I remember having.

I don’t know how these things are done now, although with the general porousness of news media and the ability to broadcast easily from virtually anywhere I am sure it is different. At the time of my childhood, a camera crew like my father’s covering national and international news, would be dedicated to trailing a significant Presidential candidate from more or less the time they declared through the primaries, or if they dropped out of the race sooner. (This as in the case of Edmund Muskie who my father, a generally somewhat apolitical they-are-all-bums kinda guy, had a mysterious fondness for. Dad felt strongly that Muskie had been railroaded out of the race in what was later known as the Canuck Letter incident – this somewhat verified by the Watergate investigation. It always left me feeling that Dad, who had traveled with him for months and was generally politically cynical, must have been onto something.)

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Election years meant Dad traveling virtually non-stop all the way through the cycle which could even be a bit longer than twelve months. As a result I hated those Presidential election years as a child, missing my father who was frequently gone for months at a time including birthdays and holidays.

In those days news was still captured on film and messengers were used to fly it back to New York daily. A camera crew at that point was made up of an opulent four or so people (dedicated sound, film, lighting, reporter and a producer), whereas at the end of my father’s career he had what he called a one man band and he would cover stories alone with the reporter – the monster camera managing sound, lighting, recording and of course sending to a satellite for transmission. If I remember correctly, in the early days of satellite transmission they plugged into phone lines. I would imagine they have done away with that – I see news vans here in the city with a sort of satellite dish on top, perhaps a variation of that.

These days I collect on the occasional button. However, I do keep on of these Kim Deitch Sunshine Girl pins, reproductions created for a gallery opening several years ago, on my desk at work to remind me of the denizens of Deitch Studio while I am away for the workday.

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Sunshine Girl pin reproduction.

 

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Original Sunshine Girl pin.