King of the Cat Tin Toys

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: When I started collecting toy cats, in those days prior to the internet, I assumed that someday I would eventually discover an El Dorado of wind-up cat tin toys. After all, toy cats in other forms are very popular so of course there would be a number of interesting ones, right? However, about a decade into buying toys on the internet I realized otherwise. Frankly (surprisingly) there just aren’t dozens of models of tin toy cats. Variations on this cat with a ball seems to be the primary heir apparent and I have been hunting this version for quite awhile. The smaller and more widely available version, also made by Marx (shown below swiped off the internet) is a friction toy – the same essential design of a cat and ball, but I believe without knowing for certain, that mine is the earlier model. Today’s toy comes courtesy of Santa Deitch with thanks as Christmas in January posts continue here at Pictorama.

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The Marx toy company was founded in 1919 and stayed in business until roughly 1980. (Theirs was the less than memorable slogan, One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?) Marx was an American toy company and was certainly one of the best known in its day. They seem to have focused on tin toys (windup and friction) and the quality was good enough that even many of their early ones survive today – many variations on trains, but also some character toys depicting such favorites as Popeye and Little Orphan Annie.

Both this kitty and the smaller later version, had leather ears which universally seem to have disappeared from them. (Mine has a single ear held on with an ancient bit of scotch tape however.) It remains a bit of a mystery to me, now that I own this kitty, exactly how it worked. Sadly he no longer does work, and it is also unclear to me exactly what the mechanism was originally. I would be pleased to hear form anyone who knows. I long assumed that this was a wind-up, but there doesn’t seem to be a place for a key. If he was a friction toy (now my best guess) it isn’t clear how that worked either – or why it not longer does. His tail would have gone up and down and that he must be been very jolly indeed. I love his red ball and the graphics on him are splendid. He must have made a lot of children very happy before arriving here at Deitch Studio to entertain us.

 

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Shake, Rattle and Roll

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Ah yes, a New Year and Pictorama is back to the toys. Christmas came late this year at Deitch Studio and these two splendid entries found their way from Belgium just before we rang in the New Year. Forget spoons, oh to be the youngster born with these silver rattles in their mouths!

I have bid on Felix rattles once or twice before and have always been bested so I leapt at the chance to purchase this hotsy-totsy one. Those of you who follow my ramblings know I have a special soft spot for off-model, primitive Felix-es like the one employed here. The rattle is marked sterling and I have shined him up a bit to have his photo taken although he is somewhat fragile. There is evidence of some dents that suggest gummy gnawing, although not really any deep dents. He is in an interesting semi-profile pose. (I was given a pocket watch that was my great-grandfather’s a few months ago. I took it to the jeweler to have a chain made so I could wear it that way, and he pointed out a dent where someone had bitten it. He said it was very common to see in gold pocket watches. I gather people would sort of mindlessly chomp on them. I have been puzzling over that adult form of teething ever since.)

The mother of pearl ring is very beautiful. Extremely elegant! If it wasn’t so fragile I would be tempted to wear it as a necklace. It does still rattle as well, a fairly quiet sound, although perhaps a bit noisy for a necklace now that I think about it that way.

The deal was already struck on Felix when the dealer, someone I have now known for a number of years, sent the photo of Bonzo and asked if I would be interested in him as well. Of course I was. After a short conference with Santa in the form or Mr. Deitch, we snatched him up too. Although the rings are more or less the same size, Bonzo is much bigger than Felix and a robust three dimensional rendition. Sleepy Bonzo clutches a baby bottle (you’d never see Felix with one of those I don’t think – not with milk in it anyway) and he has a rattle that is much more like a tinkling bell. (When I took him out of the package Cookie’s eyes lit up at the sound. She was clearly thinking that a lovely antique silver cat toy had just been delivered for her delectation and her attention needed to be directed elsewhere.) Bonzo’s eyes are just barely open, and if you look carefully, his lip is curled in a smile on one side.

Bonzo is less fragile than Felix and really could perhaps even resume his duties as the recipient of child chewing, although we will not test that theory. (Nor will we let Cookie take possession of him.) He is not marked sterling so I will assume he is plate – although he shined up nicely as well, the plate in good condition – after all, how much time did anyone devote to keeping their child’s rattle polished I wonder? A quick internet search shows that the Bonzo rattle is the more available. Although as I say above I have seen Felix rattles, none turn up immediately in a Google search.

I have never purchased a silver rattle as a baby gift, although price notwithstanding, now that I think of it a silver rattle like these is a rather wonderful gift. A quick check informs me that Tiffany is not offering a silver rattle this season – let alone one of Felix or Bonzo. However, the Tiffany bear below appears to be of recent vintage and can be yours on the Tradesy site for prices ranging from a mere $250-$650. I think I will stick with copies of The Story About Ping and The Cricket in Times Square (posts of those favorite childhood books can be found here and here) as my go to baby gift, but I must say the Tiffany bear is a very fair offspring to Felix and especially Bonzo. For those of you with deeper pockets and a generous nature, you might consider such an investment in the future of a baby you know.

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Doll House

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: I walked past this store yesterday while running some errands. I believe this establishment did a stint on Lexington Avenue, where I would occasionally admire the wares in the window. A number of years ago it moved to East 78th Street, oddly enough, in a storefront where I once bought high-end vintage clothing. I was pleased to see it hadn’t disappeared. While it isn’t a block I find myself on too often, when I do I like to take a few moments have a look in the window. (It is next to Orwasher’s Bakery and I have to tear myself aware from the temptation of the bread and bagels in their window – yesterday I was only saved by the line of people more or less going out the door!) However, I will say I have a complicated relationship with dollhouses.

I had a nice dollhouse when I was a kid – it was about the size and shape of the one top left, sort of a two story horizontal model. It was handmade, like these, but unlike the one indicated it was closed on three sides, with a cheerful exterior in some detail, although nothing like this intricate yellow number above. It was white with light blue trim.

I both loved it and was somewhat frustrated by it. For one thing, I wasn’t actually much of a doll playing child. (Barbies were the exception and they were a creative endeavor for me – I hope to consider those in a subsequent post.) I do not believe I actually had dolls which were the inhabitants of said house. Scale was issue – you have to sort of figure out what works in proportion to the size of your house and furnish and inhabit accordingly. I purchased furniture over time, but it was expensive and I was not good at making my own. Something about it was a bit intimidating, and I never embraced just playing with it. It somehow didn’t inspire creativity in me. I would set it up and marvel at the tiny pieces admiringly – periodically our cat Snoopy would crash into it, and decide it was a splendid place for napping and everything would need arranging again. (I was a bit annoyed, but never one to deny my cat any pleasure even then.) I would have loved to electrify it – to me that would have been the height of fascinating – have lights I could turn on and off, but although I saw such things I had no idea where to start with such a project.

The idea of miniature worlds continued to fascinate me. I went through a long terrarium stage as a child. I was stuffing dirt and plants in every container I could get my hands on with varying degrees of success. As an adult I have considered recreating some of those terrariums and photographing them. Climbing inside those little, interior worlds of my own creation and sharing my bird’s eye perspective. Kim and I talk occasionally and ongoing about the ideal miniature town, most likely to be given life through his drawings someday than anywhere else. It will have an elaborate train set up and jolly houses like the yellow mansion above. I briefly went through a stage of considering taking on a dollhouse again as an adult and approaching it more organically and creatively, making the furniture and shaping the interior less inhibited by the conventions of scale and reality. My own dollhouse was long given away however and the issue of space in a cramped apartment made it unattractive to pursue.

I was greatly under the spell of Rumer Godden’s book The Doll’s House which, if you are not familiar with it already, is a juvenile chapter book about the Doll family. It is a bit terrifying actually, with an awful, proud doll named Marchpane which is introduced into the lives of the happy Doll family – ending in the death of one of the celluloid dolls by melting! Oh my. I bought myself another copy of it a few years ago and can’t lay my hands on it right now, but found it almost every bit as frightening all over again when I read it. (In researching this I discovered she is also the author of the novel Black Narcissus, on which the somewhat creepy and alarming film with Deborah Kerr is based. Makes sense!)

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The sight of a great dollhouse, such as the Stettheimer one at the Museum of the City of New York which I think of as the ultimate version in some ways, still sets my heart racing and the wheels turning in my head. The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death created by Frances Glessner Lee is another such perfection, although her intention in creating them was forensic study rather than creativity or play. Fascinating! I realize that somehow my childhood dollhouse experience was somewhat stillborn and it still itches at the back of my brain. Perhaps this toy collector will have a chance to travel down that particular road still.

Sittin’ on a Wall

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have already opined on the origins of Humpty Dumpty (see here for my post Humpty Dumpty where I discuss my version of the toy shown here, several amazing variations on it, and dip into Humpty’s humble beginnings) so I will not focus on that today. I admit that the weird toy attracted me to the card though. Even owning one, I remain fascinated by it’s strangeness and can’t quite get enough.

This Humpty wears a jolly beret! (Mine has a peaked cap, jaunty as well. Did Humpty always wear a hat? Did I miss something about that?) He and the little girl both hold their hands up in the air in an identical pose – she just wrapped in some illusion fabric rather than a dress, but seated on a little cushion and with those hotsy totsy shoes! They appear to perch together on more of a chimney than a wall, but perhaps we can say a piece of a wall? This card is clearly made by a professional studio and was never used, nothing written on it.

Hang on now because I’m afraid I am going to wander down that sort of meandering path I do occasionally when I have something scratching at my mind. I have been thinking a lot about the crucible of change and how I have gone through it at various points in my life. I wish today I had a story of how I went into it and came out the other side. While I know intellectually that there is always another side and I will eventually come out, I write today as I flounder in its midst; without even a glimpse of the far shore yet, trying to figure out to paddle my craft there.

Humpty Dumpty and his great fall are a good metaphor for this – man, once he fell all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. After the page has turned and change has begun, watch out because like Humpty, you aren’t going back to the old you. Last week I alluded to this (see Time is Flying) and the process I went through after my sister died years ago. More than I thought it would, my father’s death has propelled me into another catalyst for a transition that is roiling forward, somewhat of its own accord.

I feel like I am clutching a tiger by the tail, being thumped around as I try to hang on. This week I think I realized that you can’t fight it, despite a rather cat-like tendency of mine to abhor change I need to figure out how to embrace it. Transition and growth sound so positive that after the fact, you tend to forget the growing pains, but there is nothing now but to get on board. It is a tough path to be on and taking charge of it requires marshaling resources I will have to find. And it is hard to remember that it is not so much about putting the pieces back together – that ship has sailed – as it is about forging an entirely new whole.

 

Cars

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Probably because I have been thinking a lot about my father recently, a memory of the beloved Matchbox cars of my childhood has pushed its way to the top of mind. One of my earliest memories was racing these cars with my father on the wide expanse of a bare wooden floor in a house we lived in when I was a toddler. Dad would get on the floor with me and my sister and we would choose cars and push them – Ready, Set, Go! and see which would go furthest. Some cars were favored as being believed to be faster and some were just cooler than others.

So stubborn and persistent is this renewed memory that I began to think about purchasing these cars again. There are toy collectors who are largely preoccupied with repurchasing their childhood – a glorified version of their childhood or exactly what they owned, or perhaps what they never had. I, of course, am generally a sort of extreme version of the last, assembling the childhood of an extremely wealthy if somewhat odd British-American child of the 1920’s and 30’s. Other than a few books (posts on some of these can be found at The Cricket in Times SquarePush Kitty and also The Story About Ping) I have not attempted to replace any toys of my own past.

However, I was gratified that images of my favorite cars were immediately and easily found. A child of the early 1960’s Lesney’s Matchbox cars (founded in Britain in 1957) had probably only reached our shores a few years before, the true explosion of these models just taking hold. Unsurprisingly, there are a myriad of fan sites and Pinterest pages devoted to collecting Matchbox cars. Photos of my favorites were readily found online, leading also to discovering others I have owned. These very cars are in fact also available, in a wide range of condition, for sale on eBay – albeit not inexpensive and frequently necessitating the purchase of several cars along with the ones I want, ones that I have no interest in. Therefore, I have not yet pulled the trigger.

For some reason I was shocked to discover that my very favorite car, the white converible with the red seats as above, was a Mercedes Benz – expensive taste even as a child! It was the favorite and fastest. Another prized one was the Mercury Couger below. In researching this I was reminded that we also had an ambulance (that blue bit on the roof slides back and forth and I was crazy about that) and a beloved double decker bus, both special, but slower when racing.

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This Mercury Couger was usually in competition with the Mercedes Benz above

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Matchbox Ambulance, Studebaker Wagonaire, we’d race this one, but not the fastest

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Also slower was this double decker bus

 

The detail on these cars is what you remember, the doors opened, some you could pop the hood open; sometimes there were trailer hitches on the back. I can’t seem to find one we had where the exposed engine wiggled up and down when it ran – it made a slight ticka-ticka sound as a result – and it was fast! These details made them memorable and wonderful. Cast in metal, they had a bit of heft to them. It turns out that the series was founded by a man who was a co-owner of the nascent toy car company, Jack Odell, who designed the first tiny model car for his daughter. She was allowed to take a toy no larger than a matchbox to school. Frankly, I had never realized that it was a British company and was surprised to realize this – I had always associated them with the much later purchase of the company by Mattel in my mind.

My dim memory of purchasing our Matchbox cars is that they were in a display or bin at the supermarket near the register where you could convince mom of a last minute impulse buy – they were designed to be extremely affordable and this ploy worked. Meanwhile, I do not believe my parents were making any significant unisex statement with the fact that my sister and I played with cars, and we had electric trains too. I seem to remember the occasional baby doll, although admittedly they were not high on my or my sister’s list. (I did have a lovely metal baby carriage that I used to coax the cat into and would occasional try to dress him in some doll clothes however.) Barbie later ranked very high with me and certainly there are those who say she epitomizes a sexist toy. (I adored my Barbies, more about that another time.)

By the time my brother was in the picture, my mother’s toy politics profile was raised and she was marginally disapproving of guns and war toys. However, my Barbie dated a GI Joe purchased instead of the lunkhead Ken sold for that purpose. (GI Joe was full posable with articulated joints, Heidelberg dueling scar and all, and was the optimum date; Barbie also had an off model doctor doll – Dr. Bob maybe? – she deigned to hang out with occasionally.) My brother had water pistols and at least a nominal few GI Joe’s as well so mom wasn’t maniacal about this. However, I think it was largely the availability and affordable nature of Matchbox cars that got mom to pop a new one in the shopping cart occasionally to quiet us kids down. Dad brought home what may have been a rip off by Esso of a gasoline truck at one point, purchased at the gas station or given as a premium. I was entertained and pleased to learn that Mr. Odell designed them originally for his daughter.

Try as hard as I can, I do not remember the cat, Snoopy, chasing these when we raced them although he must have. (I think Cookie and Blackie would assume this game was meant just for them.) Memory tells me that eventually we had a case for our cars and this one below strikes a familiar chord. Mom and Dad probably just got tired of constantly stepping on them. I seem to remember that too!

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W.R. Woodard Aesops Fable Doll, Part 1: Original Box, Puffy

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today I am pleased and even somewhat surprised to have this extraordinary tidbit to offer. On July 4 I was typing away at one of these blog posts when I decided to take a momentary procrastination break and look at incoming email. There was an eBay alert for Aesop Fable and much to my surprise, instead of an aging 8mm film print of one of the cartoons, there, pristine in their boxes no less, with tags were two Aesop’s Fable dolls for sale! Glory be! I almost fell out of my chair.

For those of you who have followed Pam’s Pictorama for a bit, you know I have a somewhat pathological interest in these dolls and collecting them. These dolls and a handful of other promotions. (I was most recently debating the merits of a handkerchief book at auction – a book of and about hankies embroidered with the various Aesop’s Fables characters on them. Fascinating, but really sort of odd. See below.) These are of course the products of the merchandising arm of cartoons of the same name, which are also much beloved by me.

These fine, if somewhat disparate, items are the product of the W. R. Woodard Company of Los Angeles, California. I have only found scant information about the company online, they were in existence for the lone year of 1929-1930. As toys go this tends to be high stakes collecting with the strange caveat that the dolls are not hugely well-known, and therefore can indeed languish until I, or one of my largely unknown compatriots, runs across it. Therefore, depending, one can be in an expensive dog fight over one, or they can lay unclaimed, sold cheaply.

Without a moment’s concern for my bank balance (toy blood lust takes this form), I seized on the one of these dolls I did not already have. Bam! I wasn’t going to have it snatched out from under me. When Kim came home from a quick trip to the drugstore I broke the news of my acquisition, which he took characteristically in stride. Less than a week later it arrived in all its glory. I made inquiries with the seller and she said all she knew was that it was part of a large buy she had made of an elderly woman’s things, being sold since she was moving into smaller, retirement home digs. The other doll, also in the box, Don, sold eleven days later.

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The box, shown above, is a bit longer and thinner than a shoebox. It is decorated with red line illustrations of the various Aesop’s Fable characters. It has a hole in on side that looks like someone took a big bite out of it, but we will assume it occurred in a less interesting and romantic fashion. Written in several places on the box in red is Genuine Aesop’s Fable Film Character. Stamped in black, VELVET DON periodically (yep, the seller gave me the wrong box. I thought it said DOLL at first, but it says DON.) Part of the pattern, shown below, is a mark that declares W R Woodard Co Los Angeles and also A Genuine Aesop’s Fable Film Character. There are renderings of the dolls including: Waffles, Don, Mike, Puffie, Al, Countess and Waffles. 

I was stunned to find that the enclosed doll was in pristine condition, but more about him in our next post!

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Aesop’s Fables handkerchief book, not in my collection (yet) from the Creighton University site

Grandpa Love Mickey

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: If you are roughly my age, you too may have photos of grandparents from this generation. My father’s parents were older than my mother’s and the few photos we have of them, one or two from this period, are comparatively formal. My father’s parents were immigrants from Russia and I do not believe there is a single photo of them which isn’t formal and posed. This is ironic considering that their son, my father, was a professional news camera man – trained to catch action. I have also seen a short reel of film taken by my dad of them, probably after acquiring the first camera of his trade, and it was equally posed – as if the idea or purpose of moving on film eluded them. The photo shown here, which is not of my relatives, both reminds me of them and is very unlike them.

It is an utterly foreign idea to imagine my grandfather even knowing who Mickey and Minnie Mouse were, let alone owning and scooping up stuffed ones to proudly hold in a photo. To my knowledge, my grandparents never owned a television and the question of whether or not they ever went to the movies is an interesting one, but my guess would be rarely at most. They were hard working people who owned and ran a dry goods store near their home in Mt. Vernon, New York. They were not unsophisticated by any means, but completely uninterested in popular culture from all memory. This did not result in a rebellious embrace of it by my father either, who seems to have been neutral on the subject, although interested in cinema – with a preference for foreign films. Still, when I was little he was good for cartoons with me on a Saturday morning, partial to Roadrunner and would read the Sunday comics to me until I was old enough to read them on my own.

The Mickey the man holds sports a hat and I feel like I almost know which model but I am not sure – maybe there is a railroad conductor? I have looked and could not find such a one online, but I have a memory of it. It is not the cowboy model, the hat is wrong. I like that Minnie seems to be smiling up at him. The men here have a strong family resemblance, but I am less sure about the woman. Is she a relative or spouse? This photo launches a series of stories and questions in my mind. Like so many photos in my collection, how odd that it got saved only because of the toys that were included.