Playing the Black Cat Game

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A peak inside the box. Black Cat Fortune Telling Game, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I know it is hard to believe, but I warned you! The huge holiday haul continues today with this late entry purchased days before Christmas, but arriving to Deitch Studio with time to spare. How appropriate for one of the first post of the New Year to be this black cat fortune telling game. Kim found this one on eBay and he snatched it up for me. I have always wanted one of these – devoted readers may remember that I have some of the stray cards which I wrote about previously in the post It’s in the Cards, so I will not spend a lot of time on the history of the game (created by Parker Bros. in 1897), but I will say that I am enjoying having the full set along with the (somewhat complex and confusing) instructions. Oh the joys of having my fortune foretold by this series of black kitties! I have chosen the one card image that was missing from my prior post The Present a nicely beribboned black kitty with mouse catching kitten. I do think it might seem like a somewhat foreboding image (especially if you are a rodent) to represent as The Present.

 

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On the back of each card is a long list of phrases or sentence fragments which I gather you mix and match together with the other cards as you lay them down. They include such phrases as Manners don’t pay the Tailor’s bill and mystically, In the glass whenever opportunity permitted. My personal favorite and most likely to apply to yours truly, Your stubbornness is offending many whom…” Since childhood I have been known for my stubbornness – a family trait I might note I feel I definitely come by honestly. Over time I have tried to learn to not so much deny it, but to mitigate the effects by applying it where it will do the most good. As I dig my heels into making my new job work I have had occasion to reflect on that often.

There is no time better than the beginning of a New Year to take stock of oneself, and this year I am reflecting on the first months of my new job. At the dawn of 2017 my job was not even a twinkle in my eye yet, something I was reminded of constantly in December, first as I traveled with the band (something I really couldn’t have imagined twelve months ago), and then as I finished the calendar year, always a busy time in fundraising. At the Met the final few weeks of the year were often busy to the point of being harrowing, and I would end the holidays and start the New Year a frazzled wreck. For better or worse, the incoming gifts this year never reached nearly the fever pitch, nor the complexity that they did at the Met.

This has left time for some reflection as well as a sense of tooling up for the next leg of this adventure. I knew that there were challenges when I took this job – and solving those problems were (and remain) of interest to me. I have been acquiring a sizable bag of fundraising tricks over the years and applying them to a new set of problems is an interesting challenge. Challenges, of course, are more fun when they are an intellectual exercise than when they are a reality and I have spent my share of nights awake at 3 AM running through the Jazz at Lincoln Center contributed income to date through a back of the envelope calculation in my head. And like a mom with many mouths to feed and feet to shod, I worry about how to make all the ends meet by June 30 fiscal year end.

That aside, there is the larger question of exactly how I raise money for this endeavor. I share below a snippet that I wrote in early December while freezing on a bus somewhere north of Atlanta and on our way to Chapel Hill:

I have written about how I got to be the Vice President for Development at Jazz at Lincoln Center (if you are just tuning into Pictorama that can be found at Leaving the Met) but even that does not fully explain why I am on this bus, far from home, eating vending machine junk food.

I guess what I am really writing about today is how I do my job. Like anything else, there are any number of ways to raise money, areas of specialty, different approaches. After almost 30 years of raising money for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the question of how I will approach this new gig lingers, but for me it all starts with falling in love. This was easy at the Met. I had been in love with it since childhood. After 30 years my approach was more than just a well oiled machine, it was embedded in me. The Met was family – a part of me and fundraising flowed from that naturally.

Having started to ignite my own love affair with this new endeavor, the hard question is how to deliver my experience to others. How to introduce my audience not only to the music and an extraordinary array of educational programs, but the commitment, charm, and ideals – in short, how do I make the magic happen on command when needed? How do I share the love?

Full disclosure, I am writing this on New Year’s Eve, anticipating a trip I need to make next weekend which will cramp my blog posting time, so my mind is much on the turning of the year and the year past. Yesterday was the anniversary of our friend Rich Conaty’s death (memorial post to him at Rich Conaty) and somehow I always think of him when I think of my new job, and the decision to take it, given that he did so much to introduce me to jazz and the early dance band music I love. So as 2018 and the fortune (as told by the black cat cards or not) of the future lays out before me this, is what I am thinking about, and in part I suspect I will depend on that well documented stubbornness to help me succeed.

 

 

 

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It’s in the Cards

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Pam’s Pictorama: I purchased these during a long-ago trip to London. They were part of a multi-item bundle purchase which included tobacco tins and cigarette boxes with cats on them (featured in the post Smokin’ Cats) and a series of Felix tobacco cards and enamel pins – future posts! At the time I had never seen them before and did not know that they were part of a popular Black Cat Fortune Telling Game made by Parker Bros. in 1897, three years before they introduced the infinitely popular Ouija board as a mass market game. I just liked the black cat pictures when I saw them. These cards sit on a crowded shelf of black cat goodies in our living room, usually with The Past sitting on top.

I gather that fortune telling games were quite popular at the time and this one functioned somewhat like tarot cards. The cards fell into the general category listed as the header on each of the cards and then relating to the fortune listed on the back, resulting I am told, in each person getting six fortunes per read. I was quickly able to find the game listed in the collections of the New York Historical Society and the V&A in London. Below is a photo of an original game cover grabbed off the internet.

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NY Historical Society image of original box

 

Over time I have seen the pieces sold, the cards here, the box there, on eBay over the years. It is widely reproduced however and the reproduction game can be yours for a very modest amount. The cover of the game box is reproduced widely on everything from cigarette holders and necklaces, to miniature versions for your dollhouse – if I had a dollhouse I would want those. I would have loved this game as a kid, although not sure how I would feel about a gypsy fortune teller whipping them out.

I am very fond of the wise and serious looking fellow sporting his big, red bow, The Past. However, as I study them now Danger with those hissing kitties chasing away the dog is pretty spectacular (one scared fellow has gone up a pole it seems; we can’t all be brave I guess). Love Matters illustrates kitty affection, but also indifference, alas. The Future is both an older cat and some kittens, but curiously a caged bird in back. Whew, not a promising future for that bird clearly. Lastly we have General Advice where our red-bowed kit is teaching the beribboned little ones among what appear to be scattered cat toys. Interesting. As you can see, the backs read with fortune snippets such as, Utmost to interest you in an enterprise and You have been spending your money too or Your desires are too extravagant.

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Image from Catwisdom101.com

 

As a black cat collector (not to mention being the cat mom of our almost entirely black cat, the aptly named Blackie) I have long take the position that they are indeed good luck. A former post devoted to this idea is my post, Lucky Black Cat which highlights pamphlets selling good luck totems, etc. So as we head toward the Halloween witching hour, remember to honor the black cat gods of luck!