I think it will cheer you up…

Pam’s Pictorama Post: We here at Pictorama feel the need for a good shot in the arm by this point in the winter. January was a grueling month to get through and spring is still so far off, alas. Therefore, as we stand perched on the threshold of February, I offer this entertaining Louis Wain tidbit, The Street Orchestra, to those like me who need a boost.

I have been much taken with Louis Wain recently and you may have noticed that I have been indulging rather freely in the purchase of his postcards. All of the elements of this 1904 street scene symphony remain relevant today – the children, (are the kittens also selling fruit? with a flag of Italy stuck in their cart?), the musicians, beggar and beg-ee, the laborer and onlookers. The fellow seated in the middle of the card could be taken either as a stump speech-maker (my first thought), or my preference is that he is Mayor of this block so to speak. Squarely in the middle of things he observes and comments on all. Every active block needs a Mayor it would seem.

The restaurant in the background is what really makes this card however. While the offerings are all very entertaining, some still have a tiny bit of bite by way of a kind of cat cruelty that Wain tends to lace through his work and specifically his postcards. Louis Wain does not just give us toothless, jolly felines – his kitties still exhibit some of their teeth and claws, their cat nature.

The restaurant offerings here include: Pickled Red Herrings and Boiled rats in sauce, (and my favorite albeit almost illegible) Cats Meat a la East End – where a plate of leftover mystery meat bits comes to mind, and we are Noted for our mice soup, with Best chicken patties and finally the appeal that You can milk your own cow – 20 cows to choose from. Cow milk is additionally advertised on the fence, somewhat cryptically, as Try our noted cow  – best milk, no pump kept on the premises. And finally, if that doesn’t work for you there is also, Good beer – best in town.

While some collectors might turn their noses up at a card that has been written on by the sender, I feel as though the neat script addition to this one adds to the charm of this card, If you look hard at this I think it will cheer you up. HMD. I couldn’t agree more! On the back, in the same hand it reads, So pleased you are a little better. Love to Sis as well as yourself. It is addressed to Miss N. Harrison, 6 Strensham Road, Balsall Heath. It was sent from within Birmingham in 1904, but the month on the postmark has been obscured. I am sure it did its job of cheering though.

So, happy February dear readers – and I do hope that if you look hard at this, it will cheer you up.

Midnight Concert

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I admit to being on a bit of a Wain binge lately, having just purchased that excellent New Year’s Card I wrote about a few weeks ago. (That card and post can be found here.) In more or less the same wave I purchased this one which has a lot going on, the longer you look at it the more unfolds. Long gone are the days when I was reluctant to indulge in Louis Wain and his pricey postcards!

This one was never sent and has no writing on it, strangely there is a printed notation on the back which states, F. Hartmann’s “Manx Cats Series” N 3069. 2.” and indeed, the kitties in question are all Manx, tails notably absent upon study. Evidently Mr. Wain did an entire series devoted to the Manx, another example below. Apologies for the somewhat dubious quality of this photo snatch of Stormy Passage on the S.S. “Viking”.

 

Perhaps our Louis Wain research will eventually turn up the answer to why and how exactly he signed on for this Manx project, but for now suffice it to say, it was among his entertaining accomplishments in the realm of kitty illustration.

The music held by the cats all relates to the Isle of Man, the origin of the Manx cat. (I have written a little bit about these tail-less felines. That Wain wanna-be postcard post can be found here.) A quick pass at the internet tells me that the Manx is the oldest breed of cat and sometimes they have stubby tails as opposed to none. Manx cats are generally round all over – big eyes and round head and ears. Sort of ideal Wain models in my opinion.

Kim, who is working at his desk as I write this morning, tells me he used to be visited by a Manx when he lived in Berkley, a girl cat he described as “a real fuss budget, but not as much as Cookie.” In response to this Cookie has left the rocking chair she was napping on and joined Kim on a cushion next to his work chair, a generally prized cat spot in this apartment. Clearly she enjoys her fuss budget status in our house.

A careful study of the music sported by the cats on this card shows titles such as Manx WeddingEllan Vannin, Ramsey Town and by far my favorite, The Herring is the King of the Sea. I can easily imagine these bawdy Toms singing:

The herring is the king of the sea
The herring is the fish for me
The herring is the king of the sea
Sing fol the do or die

Oh what’ll we do with the herring’s eyes?
We’ll make them all into puddings and pies
We’ll make them all into puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!
Herring’s eyes, puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!

The herring is the king of the sea …

Oh what’ll we do with the herring’s heads?
We’ll make them all into loaves of bread
We’ll make them all into loaves of bread
And all sorts of things!
Herring’s heads, loaves of bread
Herring’s eyes, puddings and pies
And all sorts of things!

 

Meanwhile Ellan Vannin, sheet music held by the only kitty who is a bit feminine in appearance, is a sort of unofficial anthem of the Isle of Man. The Bee Gees, whose place of origin is the Isle of Man pre-Australia, recorded their own version of Ellan Vannin, with updated lyrics. It was part of a 1997 world tour and released as a single in 1998 with the proceeds going to a charitable organization. (You can listen to it here.) No one can accuse Louis Wain of not doing his research or shirking detail.

This kitty concert racket on this card plays out atop rooftops, in view of some silhouetted men, pipes a’puffin, framed in a nearby window. The cats are in their glory as they sing from a variety of lyrics simultaneously which gives a sense of the cacophony created. Even the moon looks on in annoyed disapproval, but the kitties don’t care. My favorite is the fellow perched on the chimney with smoke billowing out from under him – he’s the one with the Herring King sheet music. One of my favorite Pictorama posts for a late night kitty sing along, perhaps a cat genre unto itself, is the photo I found and featured in Kitty Sextette Singers which can be found here.)

Skim

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

If you have ever experience a nocturnal chanteur or chanteuse in feline form you know that it gets your attention and can indeed keep you up. While I believe the lore of the midnight cat song is a love song, there is another variation which I attributed to male cats which is the tendency to roam the house (or in our case, Blackie, very small apartment) howling and muttering to themselves.

I refer to this as Existential Kitty Angst or End of the World Meows. My parents had a cat that drove me nuts with it – long sessions of it nightly. They had learned to sleep through it but he kept me awake whenever I overnighted. Blackie indulges in it occasionally, but I find it usually ends in his taking a swipe at Cookie and then whole thing ends up in a fight, sometimes even a spirited chase through the apartment. This seems to sweep his anxieties out of the way, although sometimes instead we can end it in a non-violent way, encouraging him to find his spot at the foot of the bed. However, on those occasions when I find myself awake and fretting at 3 AM, Kim, Cookie and Blackie sound asleep, I too am tempted to caterwaul and howl!

New Year’s Wain-ing

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: This little gem turned up in my mailbox on New Year’s Eve – I guess in a sense I had mailed myself this New Year’s card by purchasing it earlier in the week. Somehow I ran across a bargain on a Louis Wain New Year’s card on ebay and snatched it up. Therefore, lucky Pictorama readers, you get a second New Year’s card post this year and it’s a pip.

Mailed on December 30, 1903 it is address to Master Thomas Couch Front Street Brampton and is simply from Mrs. Moore. The title of the card is When the Cat’s Away and these magnificent naughty kits are having a high old time, just as I have always suspected our cats do as soon as Kim and I are out of sight.

These kitties are in a schoolroom and I especially like the map of Catland on the wall. Careful study reveals that according to Wain Catland is made up of the following regions: Cats Dairy, Cats Meat Land, Mouse Home, Cow Corner, Rat Land, Beetle Lane and Persian Land. Wain and I see the map of Catland somewhat differently perhaps. (I am in fact the Queen of Catland as depicted by Kim on several occasions and therefore feel I have some authority on subject. One image depicting me in my Queen regalia can be in the form of a Valentine can be found here. Additionally I come pretty close in some of my finery as depicted in Kim’s Reincarnation Stories.)

Scan 3

A book of Cat Tales is tossed on the floor and these kits are madly going at it. We’ll figure the one wearing the dunce cap is the ring leader, spilling the ink and assignment of the brown tabby next to him. Gray kitty is having a poke at his neighbor, who appears to have something nefarious going on in his desk – wonder what is in there? Meanwhile the maniacal look of the cat playing leap frog is pure Wain.

May I just state the obvious and say that Mrs. Moore had very good taste in cards? I would have liked to have known her. And we are so grateful to Master Couch for having the good sense to take good care of this card? Pictorama readers may remember that I came to Louis Wain late in the game for a cat enthusiast of the early 20th century. (Posts commencing the ceding of my Wain moratorium on a trip to London a few years ago can be found here and here.) My defensive posture was purely an economic one as the competition for his imagery, even the merest postcards, is extremely stiff and therefore costly. Nevertheless, I have abandoned that position and have traveled happily way down the Wain rabbit hole.

As some of you know, I am kicking off this New Year nursing my back which I seem to have pulled out of whack in the final frenzy of 2019. I tend to resent the reminder that I am human and have furiously thrown every imaginable treatment at it – although being flat on my back has resulted in numerous ebay purchases like this one. As Kim pointed out to me last night, time is probably what it really needs so I settle in for the long haul and contemplate the New Year – and dream a bit of what is yet to be discovered in 2020.

 

Everybody into the Pool!

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: Kicking off this 1st of June post with a kitty fantasy worthy of my Jersey shore childhood, although this seems to be more of a mountain lake scene than the Atlantic ocean of my youth. These swimming felines sport an interesting array of swimming costumes that cross clothing periods – while one bikini is prominent, some “men” wear old-fashioned one pieces from earlier in the 20th century, as does a female kitty climbing up a diving ladder further back. A few wear swim caps – keeping their kitty coiffures intact?

Referred to sometimes as Mainzer Cats, this card is part of a large series of postcards produced by the Alfred Mainzer company of Long Island City, New York. (A local business with Long Island City being just across the East River from where I sit right this moment.) The company was in business from the 1940’s through the 1960’s, however the artist responsible for these cards was a Swiss artist, Eugen Hartung (or Hurtong) (1897-1973), who executed the series. So the moniker Mainzer Cats seems a bit unfair in retrospect – these are actually Hartung kitties.

Clearly the artistic and spiritual descendent of Louis Wain, (who I have written about on many occasions including here  and here for starters), Hartung picked up the whacky feline artistic baton of depicting anthropomorphic cats; his felines generally clad in human togs and portrayed in a variety of settings and situations – sometimes when minor disaster is about to strike, although this one doesn’t seem to show anything more serious than a raft tipping over. He is a bit less boffo than Wain and I gather he employed other animals in images as well – dogs, mice and even hedgehogs.

Kim claims to have had a number of these cards pinned up on the wall of his 1970’s Bay area abode and thinks some may linger in the depths of his files. (Um, are you holding out on your wife Mr. Deitch?) This card is the first to enter the Pictorama collection although I have a tugging memory that maybe I also owned a few as a child.

As for cats and water – I have known some more fond of it than others, but none that were interested in full body immersion, swimsuit notwithstanding. I have however known one or two to sit under a dripping faucet now and again – sometimes to drink from, but occasionally just for the bit of drip, drip, drip on their head. My cat Otto was prone to getting a bit too curious about a full tub of water which sometimes ended badly when she took an unintentional dunking now and again. I have had several cats who were committed to being in the bathroom when I showered – scratching at the door insistently if excluded – and more than one that discovered the space between the shower curtain and liner as an exciting cat shower experience perch, I guess not unlike the excitement going through the car wash as a child.

The Waining of Fortune

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: When we visited the postcard show in the spring of this year, a woman was selling mountains of very expensive Louis Wain cards and I have already written about some of my acquisitions at her table. (For more on my adventures and indulgences at the show have a look here at my other Wain acquisition that day We Are Getting Quite Attached and another buy of the day Crown.) However, this was the card that really got under my skin. The woman had purchased an entire set of these cards, all devoted to Fortune Telling, and was on the fence about selling only one from the group. They were vastly expensive so even one was a commitment and I certainly was in no position to buy, if I remember correctly, six or so. Also, for some reason it was this particular one I really wanted. Clearly I convinced her to sell it to me.

My card, You will be lucky in love, shows these two animated cats, one on bended knee proposing, claw paws bared in their excitement – the boy cat has a nice little white spot on his neck, just exactly like my Blackie, although everyone else seems to be an all black kitty, just some white hairs for highlight and texture. (The British didn’t seem to have this bad luck thing about black cats and even often said they were symbols of good luck, although maybe there’s some irony here.) Anyway, it is also all these other maniacal Wain cats popping out all over the room, watching the proposal, that make this great for me. Two grinning kitties, a sort of shocked one behind the chair, and that jolly one coming in the door – each cat could almost be its own tale. Somehow that set against this background of this sort of common sort of average room, table and chairs, stuffed armchair, just tickles me. Striped wallpaper and two mundane landscapes adorn the interior in question and make us quite at home.

The card was sent, from Bath to Paris August 10, 1906, but it is written in a tiny French hand that somewhat defies me. A woman seems to be asking her friend if the friend is enjoying her vacation and if she needs someone’s address which she can send. (With multiple mail deliveries a day, postcards were evidently the texts of the time.) It was sent to Madamoiselle Lina Paulier, 96 Rue La Fontaine, Auteuil, Paris, France. I cannot read the name on the signature. Sadly there is no reference to the great illustration on the front of the card.

I am a fan of fortune telling in generally and will indulge given an opportunity. I recently even took a swing at feeding a dollar into the Zoltar fortune telling machine at Ripley’s Believe It or Not in Times Square a few weeks ago, when Kim and I were there doing some research for his next book. Sadly, not nearly as nicely illustrated as my Wain postcard (and Zoltar is a wordy fellow), however I share a photo of my fortune below – for entertainment purposes only, as noted.

fortune

 

Scrum

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama regulars know that I promised more Louis Wain and today is our next, although definitely not final, installment. Ah yes, as I curate the cat museum in my mind’s eye I now acknowledge that Louis Wain should take his rightful place, a collecting tributary of its own! This card is an image that I have favored from the time I started looking at Wain seriously. In some ways he is at the height of his powers here for me, making black and white work for him as well as color does.

Each and every one of these rugby playing pusses has this own expression of glee, pain, and even, my favorite, maniacal anger. Notice the one very happy cat who has his foot right in the eye of another on the ground – who in turn looks surprisingly pleased about this arrangement. The movement of these cats is great, but so is the sense of deep space with the lightly drawn house (rather British-suburban) and trees in the background. In the middle ground we have one cat covering the distance and the goalie, way back there.

This card was used and sent on January 11, 1905 from Freston. It is hard to read the address, but it appears to be something along the lines of: Miss Breaf Elle, East View, Bouds, Lancashire. The note reads, Moody Maureens next week are you & Kali coming? Let me know in good time as there is some one who will go with you. Evidently the sender assumed all would know who she was as she did not sign her name. (Handwriting and message makes me lean toward this being a woman.)

While this card is entitled After the Scrum is Over to me the scrum still seems very much in action. I guess the ball is technically back in motion so I won’t claim to understand the finer points of the game here. (Readers may remember I have a soft spot for rugby too since my sister played in college. Her trophies are considered in my post Trophies and also in The Crimson.) It is a ribald cat universe here and somehow Wain manages to capture the insane and slightly vicious, wild world that our cats would establish if someday they were indeed to take the evolutionary step toward being slightly more human. Quite a thought to contemplate fellow cat lovers!

We Are Getting Quite Attached

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a bit of a break in the midst of many photo postcard posts, today I swerve a bit. As Pictorama readers know, a few months ago, on a trip to London, I opened the Louis Wain floodgates with the purchases of the book Merry Times and a newspaper holiday supplement page illustration. These purchases and accompanying adventures can be found in these  links, Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 1 and Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 2. At that point I predicted future Wain collecting and posts and the aforementioned recent trip to the NY postcard show proved my prediction accurate. Above is one of those purchases and the one of three Louis Wain postcards to enter my collection on that day.

First to say, as someone who has formed all of my collections just by following my nose and what I like, I find the high-end world of Louis Wain collectibles a bit intimidating. His card production evidently breaks into different publishers and periods, priced accordingly. I looked blankly at the dealer and confessed that I have no idea what these are, let alone the relative value therein – although obviously I do get the general arc of his production, descending and splintering eventually into insanity.

However, I have looked at enough of his work to know that I have preferences and, without being knowledgable about the specifics, in some ways this card sums up the period I believe I like best. In this card he is exhibiting full whacky sense of humor without having started to come apart at the seams. These roguish kitties, so proper in their demeanor, replete with pipe, cigar, umbrella, walking stick and perhaps the daily newspaper, find themselves unthinkingly, stuck on the wet paint of the recently painted boat bottom they lean on.  (It does bring to mind a very early memory I have, me a toddler and my mother painting the floor of the back porch a dark red. Our then cat Snoopy blithely walked across it and subsequently across the kitchen floor with those bright red wet paws! Snoopy was a placid and wonderful cat however – white with black cow spots and he easily survived my mother’s wrath. He was my very first cat and set the bar high for those that followed.)

There is something slightly maniacal and knowing in their cat faces, cheerful, yet peeved and knowing which is pure Wain. Where on earth did he get his ideas? Certainly the failings and idiosyncrasies of the participants has more to do with humans than felines, but somehow the slightly disturbed and thoroughly anthropomorphic cats convey it best.

I managed to navigate these first purchases, all from a single dealer, and the other acquisitions will have their turn in the spotlight in coming weeks. And meanwhile, I suspect many more Wain additions will follow in the future. After all, a cat card collector can hardly help herself.