Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have a strange relationship to matches. I tend to burn myself on lighters and cardboard matches often fail me. I would have made a very lousy smoker – or perhaps conversely my skills would have improved over time. It seems unlikely at this age that we will ever know. Perhaps it comes of being a well behaved child who accepted her parental advice not to play with matches – I didn’t and as a result I never really got the hang of using them.
Among other things, living with a gas stove means the occasional lighting of a pilot light and at some point I invested in a box of wooden matches for this and other fire lighting jobs. The tiny wooden sticks have a timeless quality. As you strike one you have the comfort of knowing you could easily have done exactly the same 100 years ago.
This nifty black cat stands by a pot which I believe was designed to hold the spent matches more than those awaiting use, although I guess you could have gone either way. It entered Deitch Studio earlier this week from Great Britain. I was in East Hampton for work on Fourth of July weekend when I noticed it in an idle IG scroll of a jewelry account I frequent, @therubyfoxes. I was in the middle of too much to execute the purchase and asked Mia to hold it for me and I was pleased to buy it later – and even happier with it when it arrived.
It shows pleasant signs of some wear from years of use and probably sitting near a stove. I would describe it as being made of pot metal. Meanwhile, it’s a fang-y black cat if you look carefully, exclaiming for attention, mouth open. He or she sports a yellow bow around the neck. Kitty’s back is arched, although not really threatening, and tail is looped over on his or her back.
In a way it would be nice if this could sit in my kitchen, but there is no space in that crammed corner for such an item to be displayed effectively. Instead it joins the cat congregation on the shelves in the living room, matchless, although perhaps eventually it could find a place on my desk and graduate to paperclips instead. Either way he’s another great black cat find.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This item comes to us via Instagram and a lovely woman named Sandy who is one of the owners of a store in Dallas, Texas called Curiosities (@curiositiesantique or getcuriosities.com) and who reached out with a photo of this great Felix match holder which I had to have, well, immediately. We spoke on the phone and I had tucked a number of other items into my virtual cart before we were done – more on those in the weeks to come. Turns out Sandy is a fan of Kim’s work and follows the comings and goings of life here at Deitch Studio and knew that a piece like this Felix would be catnip to us at Pictorama – and she was right!
These off-model Felix pieces are like primitive art and it is hard to say if they were made from designs, maybe in magazines, or were just simply made items pounded out and sold, capitalizing on Felix’s appeal and flying under the radar of the copyright cops. Years ago I wrote about the East End of London shops which turned out some of my favorite gleefully free-form mohair Felix toys (almost assuredly not licensed) as a way of employing indigent women in the East End of London. (That post can be found here and is a favorite. I wrote about another such homemade piece, shown below, which can be found here.)
Matches played a bigger role in the world in early 20th century life than we may remember today, living now in a world of lighters and probably less of a need for them in general with less cigarette smoking and all. Among my prized possessions are two feline versions of what are known as “match safes” – these designed for keeping your matches dry and handy – and, in a word, safe. I have written posts on those two here and here. (Meanwhile, if you want to be entertained by the story of matches I suggest the 1932 pre-code film The Match King, based on a true story, which takes on the premise of getting rich, one match via manipulation and a monopoly on the match market.)
This Felix match holder feels like it was made commercially, if perhaps by a small enterprise. The wood is very light. I like the addition of this fang-y sort of gap tooth grin and the four decorative whiskers. The face looks as though it was sprayed on through a stencil of sorts. He has some wear on him and it would appear someone reached in for many matches over time, wearing the white paint of the cup away almost entirely. The place where he hung from a nail on top, is almost worn through – probably pulled a bit on the nail when matches were taken each time. It is my only hesitation about whether he hangs in the kitchen or remains with the toys in the other room.
Of course this object speaks to the day when stoves were lit with wooden matches every time they were used. The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine was on yesterday and I overheard the snippet where he runs up the stairs in a panic because he smells gas and she has turned it on without realizing that it required manual lighting each time. It was a bit old fashioned even when that film was made in 1960, self-lighting gas stoves probably having been introduced into newer models as a safety measure, but older stoves not yet replaced.
While my ancient gas stoves in my first apartments were technically self-lighting, I can assure you that both my apartments in London and my first in New York frequently needed a prompt from a match to get going. In fact the immediate predecessor to my current stove had a pilot light that went out frequently enough that I have a box of wooden matches in the kitchen drawer right now – somehow using a lighter for that task never seemed entirely safe. Even if he hangs in the kitchen I will not tax him with holding onto our matches and it would be nice to bring a jolly touch of Felix into our kitchen.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Weirdly, the concept of the match safe has long fascinated me. I can’t entirely express why, but knowing that my matches are safely tucked away, where they will remain dry and ever-ready, appeals deeply to the tidy and organized part of my personality. I have lusted after this Black Cat cigarette company match safe for years, ever since spying one in a book devoted to cat advertising. You can imagine my joy when my friend Zach alerted me to the sale on eBay.
I have visited the Black Cat Cigarette company in my earlier post, Smokin’ Cats, but somehow missed this lovely bit of history about the name which I share from Wikipedia below:
Black Cat is now a cigarette brand sold around the world, but its name sprang from humble origins. The original black cat was an ordinary domestic cat which spent hours curled up asleep in the window of Don José’s Wardour Street shop, well before the turn of the 20th century. Because the cat became such a familiar sight to the passers-by, the shop began to be known as the “black cat shop”. Don José decided to adopt the cat as part of the company’s image and in 1886 it became the first trademark to be registered by Carreras. Eventually the cat became an integral part of the design of the Black Cat pack where it appeared in a white circle surrounded by a black border above the initials “JJC” (Don José Joaquin Carreras).
The Black Cat cigarette was introduced in 1904 as one of the first machine-made cigarettes manufactured in Britain. The cat was used in some of the earliest cigarette promotions, including the Black Cat stamp album which was issued free to smokers. Stamps were available inside the cigarette packs and £325 in prizes was offered for the best completed albums…One of the most ambitious promotions took place on 18 October 1913 – designated by the company as “Black Cat Day”. Advertised extensively in the national press, Black Cat salesmen could give a golden half-sovereign to anyone they approached in the street who could prove they were in possession of a Black Cat pack…During the early 1920s enthusiasm for the Black Cat was at a peak, with many people wearing badges and stickers featuring the cat and even going to fancy dress parties in black cat costumes. By now, coupon trading was fiercely competitive and the Black Cat gift catalogue offered gramophone records, gardening equipment, gentlemen’s razors, automobile accessories and wirelesses.
Black cat day! Yahoo! Clearly this is why it was the roaring twenties – black cat dress up parties and badges! And wouldn’t I just love to find some of that black kitty booty? I fully intend to – and will share it here with you.