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!

Itsy Bitsy Photos

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!

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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.

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Dress up Hijinx

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.

 

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!

Dennison’s

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.

Bogie Book 1Bogie Book 2Bogie Book 3

I want that Cat Hat! Which reminds me of a pretty great photo of Kim below:

Kim in Cat Hat

The Devil is in the Details

Devil card

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Halloween happiness continues on Pictorama! This is a rare case of a card that I have absolutely no memory of having purchased. I have owned it for a fair amount of time, and suspect someone must have given it to me. Halloween cards are frequently too expensive to purchase without real commitment.

This card was sent from Madge Bush of Branchport, NY, tardy for Halloween, on November 5 at 5 PM, 1909. Written in a virtually unreadable child’s hand is the following: Hellogertrude wasyouinto mischief halloween Howdoyoulike yourteacher? It is address in the same hand: Gertrude Bush Westfield PA R.F.D. #2. An adult with beautiful penmanship has added with flourishes: Gertrude Lulu Bush and under the child’s writing her name, Madge Bush. In addition, and somewhat inexplicably, Bush, G.B.x M.B. L.B. and again, Madge Bush.

I think this card is hotsy-totsy! Although it is missing the ever-desirable black cats, it is a worthy, goofy image. For some reason the Devil has entered into a party favor tug-of-war with Mr. Pumpkin Head. (I confess, Pumpkin Headed figures have always vaguely terrified me.) The Devil has put down his pitchfork in order to really put his back into it. We will assume that maybe Mr. Pumpkin Head was carrying those two oozy looking small pumpkins – a strange potential form of Pumpkin cannibalism he was about to commit?

I have long waited to be invited to a party where favors like this party cracker were given out – what on earth great thing could have been inside? Perhaps I will never know, but these guys consider it worth fighting for. Another thing that appeals to me about this card is the way the candle gives everything a scale – the Devil and Pumpkin Head are party cracker/candle size!

Let’s all get out there and mail a few Halloween cards – and don’t forget the party crackers in my trick or treat bag please.

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.

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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

Clowning Around

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  I have owned this jolly photo for a long time and it sits on a shelf in our living room. It is unused and undated and sort of just slips in under the wire for a Halloween-theme month post. I associate this genre of costume with the teens or twenties, and the extraordinary enthusiasm for dressing up that never seems to fully resume after the thirties – when clearly people were too poor and things too somber for such frivolity. I have a fascination for this kind of long-gone dress up and it is one of the things I regret I missed being born into the age that I was.

As I examine this card I wonder anew, what is the aviator doing among the matching clowns? I admire his individuality, and can’t help but wonder if there is a story there. (Fly these clowns to the moon, right away!) The clown woman in the upper left corner is the only one who didn’t even manage a semblance of a smile; she appears pensive. I can’t tell if the bower of roses is real (I think it is) or fake, and there is what seems to be confetti on their costumes and on the ground below them. A fair perhaps? Halloween? Whatever it was, looks like a good time was had by all and I wish I could have been there!

Lucky Black Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Is this YOUR Lucky Day? Pictorama is featuring Halloween, and black cats in particular, throughout the month of October. Our first installment is this great Lucky Black Cat Curio Catalog of novelties for sale. (Items listed here are sold as Curios Only.)

I purchased this more years ago than I can remember off-hand, attracted by the great graphic on the front. I believe I came across it at a flea market. Following in the great tradition of the Johnson and Smith catalogues, this advertises an array of supernatural and superstitious must-haves. I can’t really show it here, but this was printed on one very long piece of paper, red and black throughout, and folded so it can be read as a booklet. Kim has scanned one spread for me, shown here.

Lucky Black Cat interior 1    Lucky Black Cat interior 3      Lucky Black Cat interior 2

I am especially amazed and horrified by the ad for Black Cat Ashes. (Blackie, don’t read this!) Evidently this ancient practice enabled you to make successful number combinations. And while they remind you that they make no preternatural or supernatural claims or magical representations they do however remind you that it was prepared according to an ancient formula. Draw what conclusions you will.

Listed on the back panel is more than a hundred Other Curios that can be ordered. Ranging in price from 25 cents to a dollar the list includes some of the following highlights: Devil Oil, War Water (followed by Peace Water), Devil’s Shoe Strings (?), Black Cat Holy Water, Black Cat Wishing Bone (ouch!) and Lucky Floor Wash. Buying it was my lucky day.

Mickey Mask

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Recently I was bidding on a rather fascinating Mickey Mouse mask from the thirties – an awkward thing, Kim seemed unmoved by it, but I found it very interesting. It doesn’t matter because it zoomed out of a price range that I could possibly justify paying – after all, it wasn’t even a cat. Still, almost by way of consolation, this photo appeared for sale on eBay – the man wearing the very type of mask I was bidding on.

While this can’t really compete with my past Mickey photo post Mickey Marches In it is still a pretty hot photo of the Mickey and Minnie dress up craze of the thirties. Halloween dressing up by adults seems, in general, to have been taken to a much higher level in the first part of the 20th century. That’s a pretty hot hula girl outfit behind the guy with the funny nose and the “S” or “5” on his pouch. And is that Little Miss Muffet and her Tuffet behind Minnie? I thought it was a turtle at first, but she seems very pleased with it either way. There’s a clown – there always is in these photos – and someone in a sort of raja outfit. Still, Mickey and Minnie are front and center and it has probably helped keep this photo bobbing around all these years instead of lost in an album somewhere.

If you look carefully, you will see that Mickey and Minnie seems to have a little wooden man on a wire like a leash. What on earth is that? And why are Mickey and Minnie taking him out and about? Their pet human perhaps – fitting for anthropromorphic mice I guess, not that I keep a mouse on a leash. This complements the dark side of this photo – after all, those masks are a bit terrifying.