Belated

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As is sometimes the case, a birthday post has been nudged forward by the great Deitch Valentine reveal. My birthday comes right before that holiday and has a way of getting mashed up with it. As Pictorama readers know, my idea of a birthday celebration in the before time was for Kim and I to spend the day poking around an antique toy store here in Manhattan, and checking in at a few places I would happily classify as junk stores and then grabbing lunch. (Past birthday posts can be found here and here and always resulted in a pleasant acquisition of stuff.) Covid times do not allow for that and I wonder what merchants of that kind will still be with us when we get to the other side, as well as restaurants.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Kim gave me this rather splendid ancient Halloween toy which I found at auction and is the first of its kind to enter my collection. His head is paper mache and his body is a woolly felt. His red ruff is a bit of silk and he is perched on a wooden handle. He can be moved gently like a puppet and I think he would have been a jolly addition for a child celebrating the holiday and is the right size for that. Unwrapping it in the morning, along with some birthday cards (yes, I still send them via the mail and receive a few in turn) launched the day nicely.

I was born in a snow storm. My mom often tells the story of her decision to go to the hospital as soon as she sensed it might be the day and having a look at the weather forecast. (We Wheeling women are planners!) It was a good decision because the snow piled up rapidly and by the time I was born in the late afternoon, the New Jersey town of her own birth and where they were staying with her parents, was under a deep blanket of snow.

My father brought her a large box of Valentine’s Day chocolates. (Dad always brought us boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day – Whitman Samplers and puffy heart shaped boxes of Russell Stover ones.) As the story goes, the long-standing family doc visited her in the evening (he had not delivered me, an obstetrician had) and sat on the edge of her bed and ate his way through the entire box of chocolates! Much to my father’s surprise when he showed up, the empty box remained and he gave his wife a sideways look (it would have been quite an accomplishment after giving birth only hours before) until she realized and let him in on the demise of the candy.

Carl Schurz Park in the snow the day after my birthday.

Having a mid-February birthday has meant a regular routine of canceled or rescheduled plans over the decades. I won’t say there is snow on the ground for everyone of my birthdays, but several major snowstorms stick out in my mind including one where I stubbornly went down to the East Village to meet someone and incredibly found myself in drifts of unshoveled snow waist deep. A few years later, there was a weekend trip with a then boyfriend that sadly had to be canceled, but instead he booked us into a wonderful old-fashioned hotel in midtown where we watched the snow pile up around us.

Snowy February view from our apartment.

To be honest, I find birthdays a bit overwhelming. When I turned 21 I decided to take matters in my own hands; I invited a friend to join me and I concocted a worthy day of celebration. Once I had a job, my sister insisted that I take the day off from work and to reinforce the idea Loren also took the day and we spent it together a few times. The first time we visited the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (it was endearing to me that she went despite the fact that later I found out that they actually freaked her out) and had lunch together. Loren also had the habit of calling me at the crack of dawn on my birthday, stating that she wished to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday. (A good friend of hers keeps the practice via text and email rather than phone at 5:30 or 6:00 – although the day at Deitch Studio is already well underway by then these days.) I still miss it every birthday.

Many years ago I founded the practice of a series of dinners with friends and colleagues who also had February birthdays throughout the month, a birthday club of sort that embraced people from all aspects of my life. Sadly in recent years it has whittled down to just a few (fellow Aquarians, feel free to speak up!) and of course this year bringing all more or less to a halt. Covid combined with piles of snow! Still, I look forward to catching up with those folks annually and have the space to just relax and check in with each other.

Eileen Travell at a birthday dinner last year.

Somehow even my game of pretending outdoor eating is like being on an Arctic expedition couldn’t meet the challenge of the weather for outdoor dining this year. (My last outdoor meal was at the end of December and there was snow piled on the ground already. We sat under heaters and were offered blankets sealed in bags. My layers and boots combined with the consumption of a hot toddy and hot soup kept it festive for a bit more than an hour before we decided we were done.) My birthday week the restaurants were largely in agreement with me and weren’t even trying as they dug out from what the snow plows dumped in their al fresco dining areas. I think I will bring my own polar fleece blanket if I tried again before spring.

This year I did however take the day off from work and despite being home I really came as close as I have since last March to unplugging. My office was very thoughtful and flowers arrived from one faction and a lovely bag of cheese and treats from another. I purchased a new chair for work as I have been perching on a very worn one sans arms and my back has been in violent protest. (My trainer, Harris Cowan, told me that no arms on the chair was a big no no as he tried to get me to stretch my way out of the lower back pain.) While I had intended to buy it for myself for my birthday my mother stepped in and made it a birthday gift from her. Several days prior to my birthday it arrived and Kim and I put it together which, while challenging, we managed handily.

Cookie in full possession of the new office chair earlier today.

I deeply suspect that buying a desk chair is a bit like buying a new mattress – it can be a very expensive mistake and it is hard on the face of it to judge how spending hours in it is really going to work out. Going to office supply stores to try them out seemed out of the question under the circumstances, nor do I think you can really tell what it will be like to sit in something for hours on end by just sitting down in it. It is a decision you are going to live with and therefore somewhat intimidating to make. I researched them online (there were none without complaints, but I decided on which things I thought I could live with if true), decided on a medium sort of price range (they quickly go from inexpensive to more than a thousand dollars), and picked one. Sadly, I was told about four days later that the chosen one was no longer in stock and I went with my second choice.

Cookie on the former chair favorite, now a lesser perch.

Although I am still adjusting things around it (table height of the drafting table I use as a desk still isn’t right) it was a fine choice. The cats fight me for it daily in fact (they adore it) and as I write this at our “big” computer (I work on a laptop during the week) Cookie is curled up in it. She has been asleep in it since last night and she has one eye half open staring at me wondering if I am going to take it away from her. She and Blackie go to war over it almost daily – war hoops and boxing over the right to claim it. In general I would say Cookie has the edge in the amount of time she spends in it – she is very determined. When shutout Blackie goes back to sleeping on the bed, Cookie often to the chair I am sitting in now – which used to be the chair of cat choice. When Cookie and Blackie allow, I sit in it for upwards of ten hours a day and I am very glad for the arms in particular – especially when work requires I be on camera for long periods of time.

In the spirit of birthday, I also purchased myself the pin below. Last year I had purchased an old school medal which declared, Improvement in this very different year I bought this one with hearts from Great Britain which instead offers Best Wishes. (This purchased from an Instagram seller I am very fond of following, @fiorisfinds. Hey Marco! Thank you!) Nice to give myself encouragement where I can.

I have not resigned myself to the idea that I won’t still figure out a birthday meal of sorts with at least one determined friend, and perhaps at least a call or a Zoom call with another. A few of the elderly ones will have to suffice with cards and emails this year. When the weather warms up even a smidge I will see if Kim and I can’t get out of the apartment for a day in another part of town – everything outside of the immediate environs of Yorkville feels exotic these days. And when we do, I promise to tell you all about it.

Quite a Kitty

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am possibly one of the last people in this country to actually buy something off of Instagram. Somehow, all this time, Instagram has remained sort of pure – few if any ads hit my stream, just an endless stream of mostly interesting and often happy making, (frequently) feline. I follow a few vendors, DL Cerney, maker of vintage inspired clothing (I once wrote about them in a post here), notably among them.

However, for the most part, cheerful consumer though I am, until recently I had never purchased anything off of Instagram. I know people do, I was talking to a friend from North Carolina who said she has spent a fortune on Instagram while grounded from traveling from her job in banking.

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I only add people to the feed occasionally, mostly keeping away from politics and famous folks, and I try to put out in the world what I like to see myself. There are photos of the cats, my neighborhood, toys, art and music. When I traveled for work I posted those photos and I frequently posted from Dizzy’s and other shows.

Like this blog, I do it purely for pleasure and therefore focus on what makes me happy. I have happily watched fostered kitties, Rupert and Pumpkin, join the two glorious gray Persian kits, Bam Bam and Mr. Biscuits, in the cheerfully chock-a-block filled home of the people known only to me as fatfink and Motivated Manslayer. (I knew from day one those kits would join that household permanently. Like my father used to say about my mom, What foster? Cats come into this house but they never leave.) I follow the conservation studios at the Met and keep an eye on what they are working on, see what my friend Eileen is doing in Vermont during the quarantine, and keep track of Eden out in Santa Barbara.

However, I acquired a follower recently who had a nice Halloween cat head as her avatar and the moniker of missmollysantiques. A look at Miss Molly’s account showed a glory of rather interesting item images, including several black cats, and so I made a rare add to my feed. What I didn’t realize is that she is a seller of such items and shortly after adding her she had a sale.

Well, my somewhat latent buying gene kicked back in and I purchased this beauty of a black cat-o-lantern almost immediately. (Several photographs followed subsequently and perhaps you will see those in coming weeks although I am a bit slow for the fast pace of purchasing this way. As I hesitate a minute or two too long an item is snatched away. This is speed buying.) Miss Molly appears to be a young woman from St. Louis, Missouri and she is evidently selling out the holdings from her space in an antiques mall there.

I have known for years that I wanted a specimen example of one of these early paper mâché Halloween cat heads. I remember the first time I saw them was in Cold Spring, New York at an antique store that had a fabulous display of early Halloween items and toys. They were priced far beyond my means, but I was fascinated by them – the jack-o-lantern pumpkins as well as the black cats. I believe it was awhile longer before I saw one of these heads that still had the paper insert and that was sort of another kick in the head revelation too.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Halloween collectibles are a deep and heady genre to themselves and have always been pricey. Despite a prevalence of black cats I have only nibbled around the edges of it. I bought a number of reprints of the turn-of-the-century, do it yourself holiday decorating books by the Dennison paper company. (I wrote about them in a popular post that can be found here.) The arrival of eBay softened the Halloween market somewhat, but at the high-end objects remain dear. I paid up for this item, fair market value anyway I would say. I think it was in part pent up desire, but also it was just there for the buying and bam! It is mine. No buyer’s remorse here.

 

 

On one hand these jack-o-lanterns (I think of this as a cat-o-lantern) are somewhat primitive by the slick standards of today. However, the paper mâché is strong and these have held up to decades of use with only signs of wear around the edges and ears. It is fragile, yet oddly sturdy too and the inside smells of age and paper glue. I believe this kitty was likely made in the 1930’s, a generation or so after the introduction of such items, some coming from Germany and others made in the United States.

I cannot imagine how putting a candle in this did not result in a fire, but it is early for there to have been another light source option. (There is no evidence of candle use inside this one. As you can see if you look carefully, I have employed my cell phone flashlight here.) Miss Molly was offering this cat and another, cat head on a fence design which I liked, but the condition on this one won me over.

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Inside the cat-o-lantern, no evidence of lit candle use.

 

I might have given him a few more whiskers if left up to me, but he is nicely molded around his eyes, nose and mouth and the back of his head is shaped like a pumpkin. (Imagine a line of these and some pumpkin heads lighting up a nighttime window while you trick or treat.) I might have been tempted to lavish more orange paint details on him, but once you see him with a light inside you realize all that is unnecessary. He is in his glory in the dark and lit up from the inside!

Advertising

Pam’s Pictorama Post: We at Pictorama and Deitch Studio interrupt this blog for an advertisement – and a Kim Deitch beaut no less, always a cause for celebration. I unveil for you my new Pictorama business card, appropriately drawn and penned by Mr. Deitch himself.

Yesterday I went looking for an early post and was reminded that the blog is now more than four years old, and with little exception, has published a minimum of two posts a week, Saturday and Sunday, every week since August 2014. Today’s post is number 499! Therefore, and considering we are on the cusp of Halloween (a black cat favorite holiday here at Pictorama) it seems like an auspicious time to post this.

Truthfully, I never did find what I was looking for yesterday, but was charmed anew by many of the photos and toys. As Kim once said, if he saw the stuff in his storage unit, he’d buy it all over again – I feel the same about my photos and the blog was originally conceived as a way of organizing them and easily sharing them. (I surpassed our ability to display the photos in our tiny apartment long ago, although the toys are generally on view and enjoyed daily.) Clearly I haven’t done so well on the organizing aspect or I would have found the post I was looking for – but I have had a lot more fun with the writing aspect of this than I originally considered.

Over time I have found myself talking about Pictorama to folks and decided that what I needed was a business card so they could find their way here more easily – although I do appear to be the only Pam’s Pictorama when Googled. However, increasing our readership is a part of our mandate – spreading entertaining early photos of cats, jolly antique toys and tales to as many folks as possible.

So I put in my request for a card with Mr. Deitch back in the spring, realizing that it would have to wait until after Reincarnation Stories, the new book, was completed and scanned. (No preferential treatment for the staff or wives here please know. We wait our turn.) As it happened, my card was deferred until after a Twink album cover – and even awaited a new story for the next book made its way into roughs before it was complete. I share it first with you, dear readers, today. And it was well worth waiting for – a big, jolly Halloween kitty, dancing kitties and Waldo behind the camera! Kitty is based on one of my earliest toy acquisitions of a stuffed Halloween cat, one that I found a purchased a matching partner to shortly after. I immortalized them in a Halloween post back in 2015 called Two of a Kind which can be found here. The card captures the spirit of Pictorama perfectly.

This week I will find my way to a printer and hopefully the next time you meet me in person I will be able to share one of these splendid cards with you. It is my plan to venture into the world well supplied with them henceforth.

 

 

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!

Two of a Kind

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As we continue on with our Halloween theme, I present two splendid kitties from my collection. The first of these cats was among my very first purchases in the world of black cat toy collecting, and it is still among my very favorites. He, along with another excellent, much earlier cat (a future post) were scored in an antique store in Red Bank, New Jersey – near my ancestral home, while on a weekend junket to visit my parents. The second was purchased on eBay. That seller told me that it had been a prize his or her grandmother had won on a push pin board game in a store, and that it was from the 1930’s, which seems about right. This seemingly appropriate example of one of these prize boards is below, grabbed off of the internet.

punch board

There was great excitement from Blackie and Cookie when I took these cats down to be photographed! The arched back, tail and ears is enough for them to read angry feline and react in-kind. In addition, these cats in particular, still carry the irresistible smell of attic and mysterious old things. The combination really wound these guys up this morning.

Both toys are in pretty superb condition – one maintains his bow – and sport magnificent fluffy tails, and virtually no bald spots on their plushy fur. The eBay one has a few condition issues – he does not really stand on his own any longer and his tail lists permanently to one side. Pretty good for a couple of elderly fellows though. They are the cheerful guardians of my cat shelf. I admit, I couldn’t pass one up and would contentedly buy additional ones if I found them. I mean, who wouldn’t?

black cat w/ bowebay cat