Flat Iron Fiesta

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have been itching to share this acquisition since I purchased it this summer on our well worn Friday night path to and from Vietnamese take-out. Folks who follow my Instagram and Facebook page saw it when I first spied it in the window of the nearby junk store over the July 4 weekend.

I opined on its wonderfulness then (said it was too big to buy) and it wasn’t much more than a week later that I hustled Kim over to help me strike the deal and bring it home. Numerous bits and pieces have found their way into the Pictorama collection from this tiny storefront. Most recently I have written about a few piggy banks (two of those posts here and here), but this will remain in my mind as the very best buy I suspect.

A short video I made of the window at the shop when I found the Flat Iron Building among these other model buildings.

It turns out to have been made by a company called Department 56. (Odd name, yes? The man who started the company, Ed Bazinet, had worked for a company called Bachman, a florist and wholesale gift importer. He ultimately convinced Bachman to invest $50k in his new company which would specialize in high-end holiday items, and named it for his former unit, which of course was 56.)

My Flat Iron building is part of a large series devoted to Christmas in New York, reproducing landmarks of the New York skyline. It is (weirdly and surprisingly) made of china. While it is heavy it is nowhere near as heavy as I thought it would be sizing it up as likely being a non-ferrous metal of some sort – like a giant piece from a toy train set.

It was a great window chock full of building models.

While these are specifically made for a holiday set up they are amazingly beautiful reproductions of New York architectural stand-outs and range from the obvious, such as the Empire State building and the Chrysler building, to the somewhat more obscure such as Luchows, the Singer Building and something called the Uptown Chess Club.

The reproduced buildings with pre-20th century architecture seem to revert almost immediately to too cute for my taste. However, the Woolworth building is tantalizing (talk about huge though) and Kim and I are still discussing if there is a spot that can accommodate it. (Stay tuned for a perhaps future post.) It is unclear to me if they continue to produce more New York buildings and it seems they pay tribute to a smattering of other cities – I believe I saw a building from Dayton, Ohio online too.

Empire State building for sale on eBay.

Of course my mind races with what it would be like to have enough space for them all. A tiny, if snowy, NYC right here in the apartment! Imagine that!

My Flat Iron building was brought onto the market in 2006 and “retired” in 2010, although it appears to do a brisk business on the secondary market if you too (understandably) must now own one – they are available. The claims of value on the resale market were considerably higher than what I paid. As you can see from the video the proprietor purchased an entire collection of miniature buildings of various kinds. Mine was the only one made by Department 56. (I was very attracted to a tiny Central Park made of metal. There may be more to come on that – it has stayed with me.)

I want that building in the window! Many reflections interfere a bit, but this was my first sighting.

If you look carefully you will note that the building is gently trimmed with snow. It is meant to have wreaths, bows and garlands added (purchased separately of course) and maybe even a tiny couple getting caught (23 skidoo!) in the wind around the building.

A tiny couple that can be added to my building scenario – for a price of course! Not in my collection.

So after I got it home I of course examined it at length. The company name and the date of copyright is on the bottom. As I examined it I realized that there were holes in the bottom where two small lights should be inserted. Unfortunately it turned out that the replacement lights were on back order and getting a hold of someone to place my order a bit complicated. It took several months, but a few weeks ago the lights showed at last and I was thrilled to be able to light it up which really does add something to it.

I do not for a minute regret the space that has been dedicated to our Flat Iron building on a bookcase over our bed where I get to see it daily. Ours is a year round New York City admiration, but since we are heading into the holiday season it seems fitting that it can do double duty to an extent in this December post. I have considered if I should acquire a tiny decoration or two as a nod to the season, but knowing me it would remain on infinitely. The tiny windblown couple, who appear to be from an amalgamation of the 1940’s, would be less seasonally specific, if forever caught in a very single moment in time.

Even if it remains as our sole iconic New York architectural tribute here at Deitch Studio I don’t think I could have picked a better one. I have long favored the Flat Iron building as one of the greatest buildings in New York and never pass it without a moment of passing admiration. It just barely slips into the 20th century, construction started in 1901 and it opened in ’02, and it has a foot in the old while managing to be a harbinger of the new, melding time and style in a way that so much of New York City does.

Pull My Tail and Watch Me Jump!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For someone who collects black cats a surprisingly small part of my collection is devoted to Halloween material, although certainly some has found its way in. (Former posts have shared Halloween items here, here and here for starters.)

I do love a good paper mache pumpkin or black cat lantern, and I can see a few more finding their way into the house. I remember the first time I saw the pumpkins was at a store in Cold Spring, New York and they had a load of them. The vintage decorations were amazing, but were way more than I could afford at the time and I was just agog. I don’t think I bought my first lantern until a few years ago, on Instagram, this nice cat one below.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

I don’t even remember where I purchased this little guy I am sharing today who is one of the few persistent Halloween decorations up in the house. I don’t think it was eBay, although I could be wrong. I think he may have come into my possession before eBay and probably at a flea market.

His tail, now gone, seems to have been a victim of persistent pulling over the years, and his back is marked with the residue of scotch taping. He has a bit of ancient string on his head where he hung from. I think the very first year I moved into this apartment I may have put him on the door, but now he resides comfortably on a shelf, tucked near yesterday’s feature coincidentally, my Oswald Rabbit. There are a few others scattered around him, a good cardboard black cat head or two.

A robustly decorated home near my Mom, taken on a recent run in NJ.

Jumping Kitty is a typical thin cardboard and I would say he might date back to the ’40’s or 50’s, at least in terms of design which may have continued to be produced over time. I have always liked his toothy smile and the slightly evil twinkle in his eyes. He shows us his claw paws and there is even an indication of fluffy fur. There is no factory mark on him, but I would guess he is a domestic product. For me he has a look of just the right period for Halloween decorations.

My childhood ran mostly to a slapdash sort of holiday decorating. We might carve the occasional pumpkin, there was a Christmas tree (artificial – Mom was against the killing of live trees), and there might have been this or that handed down in the family that came out at the holidays, but really Mom had three kids and a husband who traveled constantly for work, and she wasn’t devoting a lot of time or energy to it. We routinely carved pumpkins, dyed Easter eggs and made gingerbread cookies, more as activities to occupy us than any actual interest in the holidays.

Play the short video clip for this enormous moving black cat a block away from Mom in NJ.

I have a bit of an itch to decorate, but NY studio apartment living doesn’t afford many opportunities. I have let go of even putting up a small Christmas tree (mostly for the cats who like to claim it in a variety of ways, sitting under or climbing, eating things off of it, etc.) years ago as just too hard to negotiate in our space. Like my mom I guess I too don’t really have the time or patience.

Another spooky home in Fair Haven.

I thought I would be at my Mom’s house for Halloween this year and was looking forward to it until my schedule morphed. She lives in the sort of ideal suburban neighborhood, within walking distance of three schools, made up of medium-sized, well tended homes. A picture perfect for kids to trick or treat in. I would like to see what the costumes look like these days and would have enjoyed handing out treats.

This house, also on her block, was just the perfectly decorated autumn cottage I thought.

For those of you who follow my running journal on Instagram you know that it is full of cul de sacs and dead end streets where kids play unimpeded. The yards are a treat with seasonal decorations changing on cue. Those will morph briefly to Thanksgiving and of course large displays for Christmas. Maybe this will be the year to put up a tree again here in the apartment. I will let you Pictorama readers know.

Black Cat Fiesta

Pam’s Pictorama Post: We’re speeding down October’s path on a less than 24 hour countdown to another Halloween. It is a truly dark and stormy morning as I write this and I do hope it clears sufficiently for the activities of tomorrow for the local little ones – the holiday seems challenged enough in its Covid incarnation this year. Here at Pictorama I am sharing a few additional howlin’ Halloween bits I collected over the last few months in my search for all things early 20th century black cat related. Today’s items are from my go-to girl for Halloween items (and some other interesting bits) who hails from the Midwest, @missmollystlantiques, aka Molly Simms.

I have written recently about how Miss Molly has helped me achieve some of my early Halloween collecting goals. (One of those posts can be found here.) These little items today are some icing on the collecting cake and a reminder that one of the nice things about holiday decorations is that they were used and often lovingly stored each year, making for a great survival rate.

Dennison’s Bogie Book from the teens. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

I can only say I wish the Dennison’s Black Cat streamer was sufficiently sturdy to put up in the apartment. They are very jolly and I can imagine them decorating the space above our bookcases nicely. (Perhaps I could press them in plexi? I wonder if they would survive the light? It is so fragile!)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

This black cat banner immediately stirs an image of a much earlier Halloween party, say 1916, dripping with such decorations – table groaning with paper mache jack-o-lanterns and nut cups. I was collecting the Dennison books years ago, as below (that early 2015 post can be found here). Some wonderful copies were being put out for awhile – for you fellow collectors who may have missed them, poke around. The image that they present of the well appointed Halloween party from the teens has stayed with me – one chock-a-block and dripping with crepe paper creations. Those folks at Dennison’s knew how to sell crepe paper! I cannot help but feel there is a better steward of this particular fragile paper bit of history. Nevertheless, I will do my best until the next person comes along.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Less fragile and easier to revel in, is this cardboard Halloween Quiz overseen by a grinning bow-tied black cat and this serious owl. There is a 1940 copyright to H. E. Luhrs and a quick internet search shows that the Luhrs name was a significant one in ’40’s and ’50’s Halloween decorations and die-cuts. They were the maker of what I think of as the classic skeleton decoration (the one I would want if I wanted a skeleton) and evidently the “spinning” (it doesn’t really spin and I somehow doubt it ever did) fortune teller which they employed with several designs. While I could not find a proper history of the company, at a glance I would say they were the poor man’s version of Beistle, a somewhat more substantial maker of Halloween ephemera.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Questions run down one side of my version of the Quiz with answers on the right. Two spins would give you both a question and an answer – the answer might require that you perform the required stunt to achieve it. Questions range from Am I studious? to Do I like old people? and answers are along the lines of If you can twirl a pencil like a baton without dropping it the answer is no.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

I end with this small black cat jack-o-lantern style container which probably held treats on a very well appointed Halloween table. It survives in virtually pristine condition. No tricks, only treats here at Pictorama today. Have a Happy Black Cat Halloween!

Boo!

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.

Pam’s Pictorama.com collection

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.

Pam’s Pictorama.com collection

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.

Cheesy Olive Loaf is a favorite here at Deitch Studio.

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.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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?

And a Merry Christmas to You!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Forgive me as I’m out of order this year as yesterday’s Deitch Studio card post was for New Year’s and this little gem I’ve been hoarding for a couple of months is for Christmas. Devoted readers may know that I am a fan of the photo collage postcard, although I generally collect more primitive examples. (Click on these for examples: Well, wouldn’t this make you exclaim! and the very seasonal, Dawn of a New Year.) However, there is something still goofy and charming about this more mass produced card. This hand drawn young couple, separated by photos of a fluffy and proud looking cat, a happy woman with a tea cup, and a dreamy young girl – surrounded by Christmas decorations – go figure. Clearly someone’s ingredients for a happy holiday. I cannot argue.

This card was mailed from Birmingham, on December 25, 1912. It is addressed in neat penned script to Mifs Lucy Oliver, 139 West Parade, Lincoln. (Our friend Google tells me that Mifs is an early way of writing Miss. Definitely my fact for the day.) In a loopy, but carefully child-written pencil is the message, With love and kisses from Douglas.

The Christmas postcard seems to no longer even be in existence as a genre – the hold on physical cards in general even seems a bit tenuous these days. (Maybe it is just our own popularity flagging, but alas there was a real falling off this year.) Collectors of future decades beware – much as I opine that our digital photos don’t get printed and the physical evidence of this time will be paltry in the future, this is true of cards (photo and otherwise) as well.

I do love receiving fat enveloped cards in the mail this time of the year – I remain a bit of a child-like sucker for the holidays and the trappings of the holidays. I like to see midtown Manhattan all dressed up in holiday finery – Christmas balls, lights and garlands sized appropriately for the home of a giant or giantess hung between buildings or plopped down on their plazas. I love Christmas lights – especially the old-fashioned bubbling ones, but also the newer ice sickle ones. I regret that our studio apartment is too small for even a small tree (I used to have a small, fake one I would cram in here and the cats would sit under it like we’d brought a forest in for them) or much decorating. I am sad when it all comes down in January, which therefore seems very dull.

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Holiday decorations on a plaza near Rockefeller Center earlier this week.

 

For a fundraiser, the last week’s of the calendar year also represent a balancing act between festive celebration (our Big Band Holiday concert has its last performance this afternoon), while turning our hand to getting the last of the calendar year-end gifts into our coffers. It is a busy time. More on that as the New Year draws near in Pictorama’s next post, poised to ring in 2019. For now – Merry Christmas to all!