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.

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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.

 

Travel Cat

 

Cats in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I wrote yesterday, I was a bit devastated by the realization that there were no toy dealers at Portobello market on the day I was there. I had really been looking forward to it and one in particular, Mr. Punch’s Old Toys. (I was given the name of two other far flung antique centers which also proved a bust for my purposes – one ultimately specializing in very high-end jewelry, and the other devoted almost exclusively to furniture and lighting.)

However, I did manage to acquire this very nice fellow, shown above, from a man selling ropes of beads and other items from Central Asia. Meanwhile, he had four cat variations on this fellow lined up for sale as well. This one was the largest and his neck swivels which the others did not, enabling him to have what I like to think of as an inquiring look. The seller insisted that it is Steiff, although I see no hole where the Steiff button would have gone. While Steiff certainly made quality toys, it is not an affiliation that I am hung up on either way. I trotted off to an ATM machine and acquired some cash and returned to barter him down a bit before tucking this nice guy in my bag.

Although my collection focuses largely on black cats, I have a bit of a history of picking up striped cats out-of-town, although seeming never online. I like to think it is the expression of a each cat that calls to me. Included here is a random white cat as well. He was purchased in Dresden while on an especially stressful business trip for the Met. I stumbled into an antique store on a free afternoon and found him – or he found me. He cheered me immensely for the remainder of the trip and did a stint in my office as well. The smallest of these was purchased for me by Kim at an antique center in Cold Spring, New York, and is the only one that sports a Steiff button on one ear – although the white one has a hole where a button could have been. The other cat with a bell came from an earlier trip to Cold Spring, and was the first one, purchased in a store more or less dedicated to toys and early holiday decorations I used to visit periodically.

These cats have the appeal of being toys I can easily imagine as a childhood favorite; one that is carried tucked in a stroller or into bed with a child at night. One of the features I like best about the new cat is his long, soft tail, unlike his tail-in-the-air friends. There is a trace of red on the back of his neck which makes me think he too used to sport a red bow like the others. I think his is a sincere face. (I have always thought the smallest one has a very worried expression for a toy cat. Poor kitty!) The kitties with bells have whiskers and I assume there is a chance that all did at one time – these being the most susceptible to disappearing with handling over time. Smallest kitty also has a head that moves – white kitty has had his head re-sewn onto his body, so he could have had a moveable head, but we do not know. I am open to hearing from those of you with more information about whether or not all these cats are Steiff or not. Please do weigh in.

As I wrote in Shanghai Pam and the Toy Store Adventure there is something grounding for me about buying toys while in a far flung places – especially inviting, and on occasion outright comforting, about finding toys while out in the world. These cats currently reside scattered across our apartment, in fact I had trouble finding smallest kitty. I am thinking though that maybe one should head to Columbus Circle and take up residence in my office. Currently no toys reside there and maybe new kitty could take up residence for moral support and offer his inquiring yet welcoming look to all.

 

 

This Little Piggy

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: More toys today as the birthday bonanza continues and today is the second of several posts devoted to the subject.

I believe I have mentioned that it is our habit to spend the day on or near my birthday just me and Kim poking around some haunts I have found or we haven’t been to in awhile. This year my birthday fell conveniently on a Sunday. Having said that, it was a torrential, monsoon-like downpour the entire day. Nonetheless, we put on our boots and our storm coats and headed downtown. I had a line on a toy seller who I had attempted to hunt down in midtown (he was closed the day I went), but I had subsequently moved to Chelsea – and now we discover sadly there is only a single building housing a number of vendors. This shop is called simply The Antique Toy Shop New York (theantiquetoyshop-new york is the link) which does make it turn up conveniently in internet searches on the subject.

We hadn’t been to this area in Chelsea in a long time and did not realized that the garage weekend market, where we had spent numerous happy hours, is now gone, along with the building full of vendors next to it. (Kim and I can both remember when in addition to these there were two huge lots on 26th and 27th, now the site of enormous high rise buildings, were the weekend playground of those of us who like to pick through piles of old and ancient stuff.) So it was a sobering start to the day and as the rain grew ever harder Kim and I dashed east into the building on the south side of 25th Street, me no longer feeling confident about our mission. We wandered the aisles, dripping, poking our heads into various dealers enclaves, pausing briefly to dally in a rather fabulous space devoted to wind-up phonographs, old radios and a single ancient tv which showed an image. While we have been tempted to purchase a portable wind-up player for 78’s in the past, and they had a beaut, it is not a current focus (where would we put it?) and after enjoying the atmosphere and music for a bit we pushed on.

At last, on the landing heading up to the second floor, I saw a case with a few toys and I knew we were finally hot on the trail! Indeed, above and right near the staircase was a tiny space, packed tight with toys and a man taking photos of large gauge metal vehicles on the floor. The proprietor, Jean-Pol Ventugol, welcomed us in we squeezed our soaked selves into his space. I placed my bag on the floor, the better to maneuver in the pleasantly cramped space – chock-a-block full of glorious toys – but even my coat was catching on precious toys.

Perhaps luckily for me, it wasn’t a cat bonanza or we could have broken the bank quickly as his prices, definitely fair, were not bargain basement and he is stocked with fine, high-end items. There were numerous toys that I had never seen that appealed to my broad collecting taste which were not cats however. Among them two especially attractive Steiff dogs and two fine examples of French growlers – which for those of you not in the know are large paper mache bulldogs ,complete with raffia ruffs, which open and close their mouths and, well, growl. (I have wanted one for a very long time, and I will find mine one day I am sure.)

Mr. Ventugol warmed to the subject as I asked questions about various toys and asked to see several as I made up my mind. As we got into toys a bit and he understood my predilections showed us this a really splendid early French game, bad photo of it below, which is ancient, but electric and the cats and witch’s eyes light up when you hit the witch with a small ball! Amazing!

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Early French Mere Michel game, not in Pictorama collection – yet anyway!

 

There was also an early Snow White top, the kind where you pump it to make it spin, which Kim was deeply enamored of. For me, taking wallet and desire into consideration, it came down to a celluloid wind-up Bonzo I have been chasing at auction for awhile, or this rather excellent, wind-up pig below. In the end, Bonzo’s fragility terrified me. (Pictorama readers know of my Fear of Celluloid despite some indulgences in that area such as my extraodinary Happy Life Toy – a truly beloved possession!)

This sturdy Schuco toy I settled on is a somewhat surprising choice – although his sheer heft and excellent condition is a joy. (His tiny but solid and nicely marked Schuco key winds him up.) However, it was his movement that got me in the end. I am a sucker for wind-up toys with great movement and he is a joy when he fiddles! He is an early version of one of the Three Little Pigs, which was ultimately produced again and again in lesser versions. He is, I believe, from the first trio, I assume made shortly after the Disney cartoon shot them into fame in 1933. I show a photo from the internet of all three with their boxes.

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All 3 Little Pigs, not in Pictorama collection

 

Oddly, I realized as I prepared to write this that a number of years ago, five or six I think, I purchased another wind-up pig on my birthday. (What does this unconscious tradition say about me I wonder?) I procured this little porcine fellow, below, online from a dealer on the Ruby Lane website. I put together a birthday buy with some other tin toys, but this fellow was best of the group. He has no markings and he is a bit loose in his joints, but I just love the little cane he carries and his jaunty hat perched atop of his head!

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Unmarked wind-up pig, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

So, as we leave this post, I purchase this fine fiddle playing fellow, and have of course pledged to return to The Antique Toy Shop another day. Bonzo awaits  perhaps, as do I hope many other, yet undiscovered toys. Thank you Jean-Paul!

Here are short videos of both in motion! Schuco Pig, Pams-Pictorama.com Collection and Pams-Pictorama.com Wind-up Pig 2.