Pam’s Pictorama Post: The other evening I wandered in on the late side after a pop into Dizzy’s to get some folks settled before a sold out show for the Christian Sands Trio. Although someone would have found me a seat and fed me, my day had started early so I headed back uptown where I could curl up with Kim and the kitties for a bit. I found Kim on the couch having just finished his dinner. I raided the fridge for something fast and while a thick slice of rye bread was toasting wandered over to my desk and found this splendid card and nice note which Kim had left where he knew I would find it.
This Halloween gem found its way to Deitch studio via a Facebook friend, Rick Barrett who hails from Houston, Texas. His note identified him as a comics/underground collector. After a look at his FB page it is clear that he and his wife are fellow travelers in the world of collecting and gathering of stuff and we are so pleased he thought of us.
For my money, Halloween starts to get scary when the pumpkins start to walk around and have bodies. It wasn’t until I started to look at early Halloween ephemera that I started to see these; I feel lucky to have been spared them as a kid. Man, they would have given me nightmares! This scary fellow is no exception, despite the sparkles and that funny little cap. Something about that sideways look, and that mere suggestion of fingers and toes that is just a tad terrifying. And there is also his leering, toothy not quite grin, with a sparkle filled mouth. What could he be looking at? His pupils and the sparkles tell two different stories.
A nice black cat is below the image and another peering out from behind the tree the swing is hung on. There is an owl in the tree and a bat flying. Mr. Pumpkin seems to be in a somewhat mysterious mount landscape, despite the single tree from which he swings. I especially like the gold stars that dot the sky. For my money, along with the pattern around the border it has a slightly Deitchian look, yes?
The card is addressed on the back to a Miss Lillian Garrett, Bedford St, Trimble, Colorado, Route 2. The note is hard to read and seems to convey that the person writing (Florence?) got home safely, is tired, baked bread – she wants to get a false face to wear to the party – which in my mind is a sort of odd way of saying she is buying a mask. It is a bit mysterious that the card is addressed, but there is no postage or postmark. Perhaps after preparing it she decided that this handsome card deserved to go in an envelope after all, helping to preserve it for us all these years later.
So a Deitch Studio thank you to Rick for thinking of us and please know that this card is now happily ensconced in the Pictorama library.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: The Halloween season is upon us and brief morning trips to run in the park have revealed some serious dedication to decorating for the holiday. I used to enjoy seeing the townhouses near the Met decorated for the season – some would really pull out all the stops and put on a show. I am less often over there now, but one townhouse near Carl Schurz Park is really throwing down the holiday gauntlet with this tableau of a chain of skeletons climbing down the front of the house from the attic!
The Mansion Diner, on the corner of 86th Street and York Avenue, has long dedicated themselves to decorating their entire building for the holiday. They were a little late getting them up this year and I wondered if, short handed, they would skip it, but the decorations appeared earlier this week.
It’s interesting that I only rarely had reason to frequent The Mansion pre-pandemic, but now it is a regular stop for breakfast sandwiches post run and frequent meetings with a Board member from work who lives around the corner. I spent the summer eating ice cream outside while talking with him about work, Frank Sinatra being piped out loudly for our listening pleasure.
But if part of your collecting gig is black cats this is a great time of year. I think I have mentioned that my collecting has blossomed thanks in part to an online dealer from the Midwest, Miss Molly (@missmollysantiques). My friendship (consumership?) started with purchasing a black cat jack-o-lantern head. (You can see that post here and the kitty below.) Overtime I have also purchased photos from her (the most recent of those can be found here). And she nicely gives me a heads up on cat items before posting them, but once in awhile it is the stuff around what she is posting that catches my eye and she sold me the wonderful Krak-R-Jak Biscuit box that sits on my desk. (That is a sort of oddly outrageously popular post that can be found here.) I have a rather spectacular Nestle chocolate tin box to share in a future post as well, but today we are talking Halloween.
The fact is my yen for these early paper mache cat JOL’s goes way back. I remember visiting a store in Cold Spring, New York that had a huge collection, but very expensive and utterly out of my reach. (Fall is a beautiful time to visit that area, an hour and a half or so up the Hudson, right on the water. It is a picture perfect little river town and Kim and I spent one night there for our “honeymoon” there, 21 years ago this past week.) I had resigned myself to never owning one, but the internet has become a great equalizer and prices are lower – and I spend more money!
All this to say, recently she came up with this cat jack-o-lantern and it entered my collection as my second such item. Like the first one I purchased, the paper inserts remain intact. It is hard for me to imagine safely putting a candle in these, but I guess that was the idea. There is no evidence of this on the inside, but there is a wire on the top for hanging it and that would have been jolly indeed.
He shows some signs of wear, especially the tips of the ears, which I guess if you were hitting the hundred year mark you would too. It is a common design and I assume it is a black cat sitting on a fence post, green eyes and red mouth glowing. His fur and whiskers are embossed. (The molds that these were made around must have been great – would love to see one of those.) He would be just the right combination of scary and wonderful. I get the vague idea that these are German in origin, although upon reflection, do the Germans even celebrate Halloween? It would seem that it is a recent development (according to Google), so perhaps these were German American companies? Anyone who knows how all that works give a shout and let me know.
Meanwhile, Halloween is the seasonal gateway to fall and then winter. I have already started eyeing warmer running togs and dreading those very cold mornings to come. Nonetheless, I think I probably have a few more Halloween collectible posts in me this season. More from Pictorama to come.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I’m not sure what to say about this rather singular item I picked up a few months ago. I say singular because I have never seen one before – and after all I spend a lot of time looking. It is about five inches in diameter, about 2″ deep. It is strips of a thin wood, maybe balsa, wrapped and stapled into a container form and a lid popped on. Since it is orange and black I wonder if it was meant for Halloween candy – although the jolly theme on the top is less than Halloween scary.
Felix, who does seem to consider himself a musician (most frequently found singing loudly on a back fence) is strumming a banjo on this box. The curling string of the somewhat primitive instrument is a curious touch. Felix has his earlier design where he is much more squared off – blocky feet and arms, pointier face – in the style I prefer. A curious mouse is doing a dance.
This mouse makes occasional appearances on items and his animated cousins appear in some of the early cartoons. He’s sort of an Aesop’s Fable mouse who stumbles into Felix land. See my Felix pocket toy where one of his relatives appears below! (That toy post can be found here.) However, the dog is strange and I don’t know what he’s about or where he came from.
The scale is pretty odd on the box image – dog smallest with a Felix who is perhaps the size of a small child and mouse the size of a cat!
I purchased it from a US seller although the design is more of a British one as Kim and I were just discussing. Having said that, if it is indeed a Halloween item that places it in this country as well. There are absolutely no markings on it, although there is a place where a sticker might have been on the bottom.
Although it is solid it is very light and therefore somewhat fragile, therefore I am unsure what I will ultimately keep in it – after all boxes are for storing and tucking things away – maybe even hiding things in them. It has spent the first month here sitting on a table next to the couch and near the television while I consider it. It is hard to see on a shelf.
Boxes and containers are always tempting to me. I think I imagine that they will help me organize my life – after all, I have maybe things laying around that could benefit from a permanent home. It never quite seems to work that way, but the attraction remains and a box, a small cabinet or other romantic vintage container is like catnip to me. Small pieces of jewelry might make its way into this perhaps. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, this evening is our rain date for vacation cartoons outside and sadly the weather is cloudy and remains threatening. However, I have purchased our tickets and I think we will make the trek, sans extended ferry ride, via train later today and hope for the best. It has been a rainy vacation I am afraid. (Last week I kicked vacation off with a hurricane warning post which can be found here.) I paused my daily run yesterday for drizzly weather and think I will just take it on today and hope for the best. The damp humidity is making the newly mended breaks in my fingers whine a bit. At the very least the weather has cooled from a very roast-y few days in the 90’s.
I remind myself that like most things, vacation is a state of mind so I will attempt to continue to occupy mine with things other than work as the second week of vacation ticks forward.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: A happy Halloween to all! I am wrapping up my series of seasonal posts with a final nod to Halloween today. These tiny jack-o-lantern style candy cups are paper mache and may have sported handles and paper inserts – one still contains an insert. I assume they would have been filled with candy corn and the like, although frankly I am a bit unsure precisely what small candies would have been offered when these might have been new.
These candy containers are miniatures of the larger ones kids carried to collect candy in. Like my cat version below, they would have paper inserts for eyes. (A post about that acquisition can be found here.) Until recently I thought these were meant solely for decoration, but recently I have seen period photos of kids carrying them for candy filling purposes.
I have long desired possession of some of these Halloween wonders for my own and I have not yet gotten my hands on a large pumpkin to complete my collection. I would happily accept another cat if it had the right expression – twist my arm, you know?
My introduction to these paper mache decorations was a shop in Cold Spring, New York. A couple of hours from Manhattan on a Metro-North train will deliver you to the heart of this lovely little town on the Hudson. I used to make the pilgrimage each fall to look at the changing leaves along the river on the train north and then spend the day wandering around antique shops. One store had an amazing collection of these early Halloween decorations, all being sold for much more money than I could hope to amass at the time. It whetted my desire for them however and it is only getting sated now – this opportunity provided by my new provider in the middle of the country and due to a certain amount of internet trolling I did not previously indulge in.
Meanwhile, when I consider candy from this period I am going to guess that a fair amount of it was probably still homemade when these pumpkins were new, perhaps in the 1920’s. I just finished reading a book from 1915, Miss Pat and Her Sisters, where the author Pemberton Ginther indulges in a lengthy description of homemade candy preparation. Although I understand that somehow it was brightly colored and lots of sugar was involved I really know no more than I did when I started and don’t see it in my mind’s eye at all. Did it look like homemade Necco Wafers?
While I have certain bone fides in the kitchen and can hold my own in the world of soups, pastas, stews and even baking to some degree, candy has long failed me. (Some of my cooking related posts, cheesy olive bread and a one-bowl chocolate cake can be found here and here.) My childhood reading of early juvenile novels (which Pictorama readers know continues today) inspired me with fantasies about homemade candy making, at least pulling taffy or making fudge. However, it was a miserable failure each and every time we attempted it.
My sister Loren was usually a part of these culinary explorations which is notable because after a certain age we didn’t indulge in a lot of mutual activities. Loren ultimately became a good cook in her own right – leaning towards success with breads, another area I have not achieved too highly in – but she could get a bit experimental and was known to throw random ingredients in if you didn’t keep an eye on her – but it wasn’t her fault we failed. Our fudge, regardless of recipe, never hardened and our taffy was a sticky monstrous disaster. (May I add, candy thermometers have always seemed extremely exotic – coated in sticky, hot sugar on the stove. Why doesn’t the heat make them explode? I have always wanted to own one but I suspect it would be disappointing.)
In retrospect, I assume there are some tricks to pulling taffy we just didn’t have in our repertoire, but I will never understand where we consistently went wrong with fudge. It is my understanding that fudge should be easy – children should be able to make fudge. After multiple attempts over a long period of time we gave up on it. To this day I cannot eat fudge without duly noting our failure, tugging at a corner of my mind though.
Like many American children of the mid-twentieth century, my imagination was kindled by the concept of Turkish Delight in the C.S. Lewis book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Perhaps this candy was well-known by the British children of a previous generation, but I have to admit this kid from New Jersey was well into adulthood before coming across Turkish Delight in person. It turns out that I like it, although admittedly it was never good enough that I imagined being inspired by it to sell my siblings into witch-dominated servitude. (However, it goes without saying that sometimes just living with siblings would have you ship them off without so much as a Mary Jane in exchange.)
I believe I was actually in London the first time I had Turkish Delight, although I think that was just by chance as I have subsequently had it here on many occasions. A plate of it came with bitter black coffee at the end of an excellent meal in a Greek restaurant. I also remember that my friend Don turned my cup over when I was done, sludgy grounds sliding onto the saucer, and then proceeded to read my future from the designs made by the grounds on the inside the cup. That was a first too – maybe the only time I have had my coffee grounds read. Anyway, Turkish Delight was the rare candy event that successfully survived the leap from the literary world to the real one.
Meanwhile, a quick search reminds me that licorice was popular at the beginning of the 20th century. (Mom and Loren were fans, I never was and would eat the red version only, if pressed. If Dad and Edward had a preference I cannot recall it. Ed?) In the day when these pumpkin containers would have been stuffed, candy corn was indeed already around, as were Tootsie Rolls and Hershey’s chocolate.
On the more homemade side there were sugarplums (also called cream filberts and later, yikes, were known as mothballs – um, talk about a fall from grace), potato candy (a homemade Depression era treat made with potatoes and peanut butter – really?), and my favorite, toffee. (I opine a bit on the delights of toffee when celebrating the purchase of this Felix toffee container below. Read that post here.)
Strangely it turns out that candy cigarettes have been around since the late 1800’s. I was fascinated by them as a kid and only ever saw them if they turned up in my Halloween haul. As I remember them, in addition to chocolate ones, there were ones made with white sugar and those came in lovely red and blue plastic “cases” – the candy cigs had little bright pink ends like you were smoking with lipstick on – who can make things like that up?
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Picking our very Halloween run of posts back up today, I share with you all a candy container which just turned up here at Pictorama. (May I just add that the very phrase vintage candy container thrills me?) He is an odd duck and a bit more fragile than I thought he would be. I have not yet found the best final spot for him in the new bookcase, among the black cat toys. I had planned for him to live with some of his Halloween brethren, but in addition to being fragile he rolls dangerously. Right now he is resting against one of my extremely off-model Felix toys, nestled safely into his side safely on a lower shelf.
Mr. Pumpkin has a few dents which can be forgiven considering his advanced age. He is marked simply on the bottom, German, and nothing else. (I don’t know how much they actually celebrate Halloween in Germany but there was a time when they were making some of the greatest Halloween items being sold in this country. Strange, right?)
Pumpkin Head appears to be paper mache, or a close relative, lined with cardboard. I can only imagine what a glorious thing it would be to show up for a Halloween party and find an army of these fellows, stuffed with candy on a decorated table! Or perhaps he was dropped into the candy packed pillowcase of some lucky child – who loved him so much he has survived the long march of time this far.
He is pretty friendly looking with just a touch of madness. I confess to a bit of intimidation by some pumpkin-headed figures. Even as an adult, I admit that they fill me with some unease – my idea of a horror film, being chased by mad pumpkin-headed figures, legs and arms seem to make all the difference to my psyche.
In addition to the well-documented ongoing black cat addiction, I went through a period of purchasing Halloween decorating books of the aughts and teens, originals and reproductions. As a result a brief examination of the Dennison’s decoration empire can be found in a 2015 post here. Founded as a maker of jewelry boxes in the 1840’s, Dennison’s was the first maker of crepe paper. They were the reigning king of holiday decorating for over 100 years, starting in 1897. Their Bogie Books fulfilled every curiosity I harbored about the details of early 20th century Halloween celebrations.
Even as a kid I was somewhat fascinated by Halloween of yore. I remember insisting on bobbing for apples at some Halloween party and I can only say it is perhaps a skill that one develops over time. (And clearly not one to revive in this Covid year of contagion.) Perhaps this was a regional thing and some of you readers were routinely bobbing away. My Halloweens were ones of unromantic plastic pumpkins and pillowcases for candy, uncomfortable masks of hard plastic that were purchases out of boxes and were hard to breathe in and even harder to see out of, especially in the dark – they always seemed to poke you in the eye a bit.
I am not sure if a renewed interest in Halloween items is speaking to me this year because of unexpected availability or perhaps fulfilling a different yen during this oddest of years. Maybe it is a desire to mark the changing season in a year of remarkably similar days. (My new mid-West supplier Miss Molly seems to be the reigning Queen of Halloween and has turned up a surfeit of items – she occasionally even sends me things to look at while she is in the parking lot of a flea market, somewhere in the environs of St. Louis. Seems like a glorious way to spend your weekends actually. I enjoy vicarious pleasure in her ventures.)
When I was a young adult I continued to carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns much as I had since I was a child, wielding the knife now however – and cleaning up the huge mess. The last time I did it was the first Halloween after Kim and I got together. What I remember best is that my cat Otto loved the smell of the pumpkin guts, rolled around in them and insisted on eating it. (Incidentally, canned pumpkin can help at cat clear hairballs out of their system. Just a kitty tip in passing.) Sadly, I did not have the foresight to document the Deitchien influenced creation.
Trick or treating in Manhattan is an odd ritual with the kids of our high rise building going door-to-door to apartments who have indicated that they are welcome. Local businesses also get into the spirit and hand out candy to the kiddies. This year, a sort of ham handed CDC recommended fashion, the building will forego and instead offer pre-filled bags to the offspring of the building. Regardless, we are on the countdown to Halloween ’20 however, and I have at least one more small Halloween treat up my sleeve to share next week.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: To start with we at Pictorama must acknowledge a significant debt to the modern miracle of Photoshop as well as Mr. Deitch who was at the controls. These photos suffered miserably from ham handed amateur printing – and perhaps equally unskilled shooting of the original photos as well. This trio of photos are pallid and over-exposed in their original forms, and have undoubtedly faded additionally with age as well. Nonetheless I saw the potential when they went on sale. While it is sad to have photos in my collection that cannot really be enjoyed on their own, it is nice for them to have another life here at Pictorama. They appear to have come out of albums and none of them have any information along with them. Clearly they meant enough to the people in them to have kept them all these years, overexposure not withstanding.
Meanwhile, I am just mad for the Felix the Cat costume! It is just the sort I have always hoped to find on eBay and snatch up for myself. It is hard to see, but this little girl has her pageboy cut hair tucked smartly into the cat-eared cap – those ears are the best part of the costume for me! However, worth noting that there are girl and boy Felix-es dancing on the front, smaller supporting white cats in each corner, and the capper of a long tail draped behind her. It is a splendid costume and she is very pleased with herself, as she should be. No less notable are the spiffy, shiny, Mary Janes both are sporting here with their costumes. Our Miss Moffett is no less pleased with herself and this dress, which I hope ultimately saw additional wearings because it is so beautiful. It is so cleverly designed and beautifully made, and the big fat spider tied with a ribbon bow to her arm is a perfect finishing touch. (Full disclosure, there is another photo of just her, an 8″x10″ sold with the group, but it is blurry and it didn’t seem worth including.) I like the almost haughty expression on Miss Moffet’s face too – she is embodying her role fully.
Our little Mother Goose below appears a bit younger, but no less costume proud. Nor should she be with her delightfully frilly dress and this nice stuffed white goose. She has a sweet, shy smile in her photo, peering out under the brim of her peaked hat. If only the photographer had been as skilled as the talented soul who made these costumes. It must have been very frustrating to only have these poor faded remembrances of them and this magical Halloween celebration!
Last in this group and appearing to have been taken by someone else entirely, although perhaps even a different day, are these youngsters dressed up like the graces. As Kim said, this photo appears to be moments before a better one was taken in which they organized themselves a bit better in their poses. Still, there is plenty of charm in this candid photo of these girls, costumed up and enjoying themselves in this long-ago, overgrown backyard, all of which probably lived on in memory for each of them as a very fine time indeed.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is hard for me to resist an interesting Halloween card. This one hails, at least most recently, from Pennsylvania. It is unused and therefore not dated, the seller places it at 1907-1912 which seems like a fair estimate. These folks put some real effort into their dress up play. For me at least the prize for best costume is tied between the polar bear critter being ridden by someone who looks like Miss Muffet, and that extraordinary black bird creature to the right. He is terrifying in just the right costume way. They do look as if they could be putting on a play rather than dressing for Halloween, although the storyline is far from self-evident. The season looks right for late October, but we can’t know for sure. (One wonders if eight copies were made of this photo postcard, one for each person – and if so, could others possibly turn up? Such things have happened to me before. See my post Cat Chair Photo Sleuth.)
Perhaps my interest in such cards has to do with the idea that I somehow always dreamed I would have the opportunity to participate in this kind of dress up. As a child I had certain ideas about what I thought adulthood would hold for me that I now realize were a bit strange – largely the product of reading a certain kind of early novel and many old movies. For example, I assumed that I would move to a city where I would eat in nightclubs that had live dance bands and served dinner to people in evening clothes. (Oddly, with my new job and Dizzy’s jazz club, I am belatedly achieving that in a sense, although no dancing and evening gowns would be an exaggeration.) I thought I would drink water glass size mixed drinks that seem to be generically referred to as cocktails (certainly don’t do that), and that I would go to dress-up parties with everyone in wonderful costumes.
Now, I didn’t necessarily think all these things would happen at the same time. I did think the costume parties would be when I was younger and the dinner dancing in gowns would come later. As it happens, I can only remember one interesting costume affair I attended as an adult. It was an opening for a Robert Crumb exhibit at a huge gallery and about half of us were in costume. I was wearing a turn-of-the-century velvet coat, a long black dress and a witches hat. It was an interesting evening – lots of people, food and drink. My date and I went in different directions immediately and I flirted with all sorts of people – must have been the witch costume at work. I seem to remember being disappointed that I didn’t see Kim there – we were just friends at the time, but I always looked for him at gatherings such as this. I guess part of me knew before the we caught up with us. And that, on the other hand, is the sort of the splendid thing you can’t possibly imagine when you are a kid thinking about what it will be like to be grown up.
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.
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.
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!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I guess given my predilection for black cats, it isn’t surprising that Halloween of days gone by greatly entertains me, and therefore so does dressing up, and for a time I was buying black cat novelty and Halloween books and items. In addition to this original one shown above, I purchased a number of lovely reproductions of the Dennison’s Bogie Books – color xerox copies of the catalogues Dennison’s holiday paper product company put out annually to encourage costume making and elaborate party decorations – made of their crepe paper, of course, and eventually morphing into wrapping paper and decorations.
Although they had booklets (and decorative paper) dedicated to various holidays, of course Halloween was the zenith of the dress up holidays. In addition to the decorations, they detail costumes that could be put together and even party games that could be played. It appears that they were the first on the market with holiday crepe paper – and certainly the first to have such comprehensive marketing.
Dennison’s was around for just over a century – 1897-1998 and was housed in Framingham, MA. They were a significant employer for the area and an important part of civic life there, right up until it was sold in the late 1990’s and moved to California. In addition to being a community leader, contributing to hospital drives and local causes, but also was known for not laying off any staff during the Depression. Some of this information, as well as information about how the Dennison’s archive was saved by a former employee, can be found here in Framingham Unearths Decades of Dennison Memories.
Below are some choice pages from my run of reproduction books, ’14-’17.
I want that Cat Hat! Which reminds me of a pretty great photo of Kim below: