Felix Roly Poly

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Felix side view – check out the whiskers!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: The parade of toys emerging as a result of our recent big pack up continues with this fellow who I kept out of a box so I could write about him. This Felix was made by Schoenhut in Germany and appears to have been made around 1922-1924, according to my research. Felix is made of paper mache and appears very sturdy indeed. Therefore, it was a surprise when my research turned up that he was actually a candy container. He only stands about 7″ high so I have to assume that the candy was small and there wasn’t much of it. I cannot see where he would have opened, nor how he has been re-sealed. (Leaving me to wonder – is it possible that the now old, old candy is still in there? Or is this misinformation?)

It is almost beyond my imagination to consider such a wonderful world where candy might have been delivered in such a container into the happy and greedy hands of children. These roly poly toys do not appear to be in short supply so children must have liked Felix more than the candy. In the mugshots above, you can just barely see that he maintains part of a Schoenhut sticker on his tummy and to my especial amazement, he has kept his whiskers all these years!

If Felix was not your roly poly of choice, you could have Santa, goblins, golliwogs, fat men and bunnies – among others. I do own some other black cat candy containers (covered in mohair) made in Germany. Alas, they are packed away and will have to await their moment in the spotlight at some future date.

Roly poly toys seem to have been around for a long time but I could not find out much about their origin. It seems that numerous cultures – Russian, Chinese and European – actually have versions of the toy. Quite simply, the toy is weighted and rounded on the bottom so if you push it over it bounces right back up. I guess this was devised for small children to entertain themselves with since they couldn’t actually knock it over. Wikipedia sites Weebles (by the Fischer Price company with the memorable tagline, Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!) as a contemporary manifestation of the roly poly. They do not mention the bottom-heavy, blow up knockdown clown toys of my youth which I adored. As big as a small child (I found the sheer size thrilling – I always liked big toys) you could sidle on up to it and give it a poke and it would go down – and bounce right back up! Wonderful! I think I could go out and buy one now and still enjoy it.

Puss in Boots Revisted

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: A study of the cat collection rolls on with this very early Puss in Boots doll. Unlike my other Puss in Boots toys (featured in the early post Puss ‘n Boots – a tale of stuffed kitties) this fellow is much smaller, about ten inches, and maintains his boots – proof  of his origin. Puss was purchased on eBay for a modest sum; I was the only one looking that day I guess. He bears no label, but is clearly well made with glass eyes. I have a yen for Puss in Boots toys and find them a tad irresistible.

Of course, the story appeals to me – a roguish trickster cat who gets what he wants not only for himself, but for his impoverished master. (Cookie and Blackie, please take note.) I have puzzled in my own mind for years over the question of why the cat wanted boots, but nonetheless, he does look very dashing in them. Cats always understand looking good. The tale traces back as far as the 16th century Italy, but it is the 17th century French version by Perrault is what most of us think of when we contemplate it. In some versions, when the cat later tests the fidelity of his master and finds it lacking he turns on him too. Clearly the cat was a great guy when on your team but you shouldn’t mess with him.

The story has become a much-illustrated and beloved one and it seems to be a popular toy at the beginning of the 20th century. Therefore it is not surprising that Disney used it as the inspiration for his earliest cartoons. Grab your kitty and curl up to have a look on Youtube as linked below. (Click on the link, not the photo which is just for show.)

Puss in Boots 1922

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Toy Hospital

 

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: The toy posts continue, as does the work in our compact apartment; I write to you from a very dusty computer this morning. I snapped a few quick photos of toys as I cleaned them and packed them for the duration of the ceiling work. Last week I featured Felix-es that could use some work in my post, Felix…the Bad and the Ugly, and it reminded me of a toy hospital that used to reside on Lexington Avenue, near Bloomingdales. I worked in the neighborhood, my brief stint at the Central Park Conservancy, and was of course curious. As you walked by you could see toys piled up in a second story bay window in a old building – a large sign declaring Toy Hospital. Therefore one day, when to my great horror, the arms broke off this Felix I knew exactly where I was headed.

On my lunch hour I chugged up a couple of flights of old, steep stairs in one of those incredibly narrow, dark stairwells you find in very old New York City walk-up buildings of a certain vintage. A glass door opened into a room which pretty much had toys scattered and piled helter-skelter, waist high with no visible path through them to the window. The shop ran the length of the floor, with about a third off it closed off as what appeared to be a workshop at one end. The toys strewn around were not of any particular vintage – all in various states of repair and disrepair. I did not see other antique Felix dolls.

An elderly man greeted me and I showed him the patient. Felix is held together by a wire armature – his arms and legs are meant to move. The armature was so very old, and rusty, that it had broken. The man took Felix and told me he would have a look and he would let me know how he would proceed.

This Felix was one of my early indulgences. It was in the relatively early days of eBay (I was just congratulated on my 17th year on eBay by them – I was relieved that they didn’t show me how much I have spent in that time) and this was the first time I saw this model of Felix and I had to have him. I paid fairly dearly as a result, but had a very deep affection for his real weirdness. I believe he is a Chad Valley made toy – as is my recent Christmas gift from Kim featured in Felix as Cat written several months back. Years after purchasing him, when they had become a bit more ubiquitous on eBay, I was at a grand antique toy market in Atlantic City and saw someone selling an entire basket full of them! The El Dorado of a certain kind of Felix. She said that they were prizes at fairs in Britain. I have never really agreed with that, I believe the quality is too high and they were only purchased as toys, but more on that another time.

When I was summoned to discuss the nature of the repair, I brought Kim with me, figuring that he would appreciate the unusual nature of the enterprise. The elderly doll doc went through his plan for a meticulous rebuilding of the armature. The fee would be somewhat astronomical. I can’t remember what I suggested he might do that would be more simple – I suspect I pointed out that the arms no longer needed to move, as we don’t actually play with him much, and instead just re-attached. The toy doc looked at me and intoned, “No! I must do what is right for the doll!” Of course, in the end, I meekly agreed and Felix was restored to his original glory there. I paid more for the repair than I had for Felix, but of course it was worth it to have him back – the integrity of his moving pieces intact.

Looking back on it, I feel that the fee included the price of admission to one of those dying New York curiousities, ultimately a victim to the toy doc’s advanced age and ever-rising rents. Sadly it was gone a few years after that, a nail salon in it’s place.

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Felix from the side – note his hump back!

Felix…the Bad and the Ugly

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: One part of my toy collection that got packed earlier today was this stash of what I call Fraken-Felixes. Their sheer strangeness is what attracted me and I didn’t pay much for them. I don’t know what it is, but the stranger the Felix the stronger my affinity and these are certainly odd. There’s something wonderful about the blue eyes applied to the Felix at the top, and I contemplate (perhaps as a retirement project in years to come?) what I might do to bring these other two back to a semblance of respectability.

Sadly, I am not gifted in this area. Growing up I ruined every sewing machine bobbin I ever came near – to the extreme displeasure of many a Home Ec (and shop!) teacher. My sister, Loren, did teach herself to sew fairly well. (She was the exception however – I do not believe I ever saw my mother so much as sew a button on, although I have memories of my mother’s mother hemming the occasional thing.) If these are skills that are genetically passed I was bound to be challenged or at least limited. Other than an uncle who makes furniture and repairs electronics with skill (as did his father) we are a long line of artistic people who are somewhat inept in the areas of actual construction and repair.

Still, I do think that maybe even I can figure out an ear here or an eye there? New arms and tails will be more complicated though and I remain unsure where to start. I recently acquired a Mickey and a Minnie with severe condition issues as well and I have been contemplating what might be done to at least stabilize them. There’s a Popeye and Wimpy who are best if they stay immobile as well. We will see, but maybe I can challenge my grandfather and uncle and Deitch Studio Toy Hospital will emerge as my future calling.

Big Mickey

 

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As many of you who follow our day-to-day on Facebook may already know, we are in the process of packing up our (tiny) apartment so that our ceiling can be ripped out and a new HVAC system installed for our building. In this case, the 15th and 16th floor, the top two, are taking a hit for the rest of the building for a more or less ten weeks. As I write this we are approximately halfway through the packing process. Kim packed books first, those boxes will go on the bottom while boxes of my toys will be piled on top. As a result these posts may cover some as yet not profiled toys as they get packed – and then eventually unpacked. We will be living amongst the boxes in the meanwhile.

This fellow, however, is too large to be packed in a box and will just be carefully wrapped up. He came to me via Hake’s auction as a splendid Christmas gift from Kim in 2011. I did the bidding and he came a bit less expensive than anticipated – perhaps because not everyone is willing to share their home with a Dean’s Rag Mickey Mouse the size of a toddler? In a way I have already examined here (see my recent post A Surprisingly Tiny Felix) I had a bit of dysmorphia when envisioning the size of things I bid on. I knew he was big – but I didn’t realize HOW big until a box the size of a refrigerator turned up in the apartment a few weeks before Christmas! While a tiny bit freaked out, I was far from disappointed when I opened him on Christmas morning. It was a jolly Christmas indeed.

Unfortunately, I do not know much about him and his history other than that he was some sort of store display. He is not all soft like a toy would be – his head is made of a harder substance. His snout may be paper mache or something similar to that and his feet are weighted to keep him standing.

I treasure my other Dean’s Rag Mickeys which were highlighted in my early post Starting Small with Mice, but my initial commitment to a small collection of mice (to satisfy the cat toys and give them something to do) would not seem to encompass this enormous, charming rodent. Nevertheless, shown below, he guards the foot of our bed and has since his arrival. He will be napping under some covers in the living room shortly however, and the bedroom just will not be the same without him for the duration.

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Merry Christmas from Seth

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have said it before and I will say it again – I am a very lucky girl! This great photo booth picture was a gift from my bro’ in-law, Seth Deitch. He posted it on Facebook a while back and seeing my enthusiasm, framed it up in this fantastic setting and sent it off to me where it sat under my proverbial (only) Christmas tree, waiting for me. Yay! I was hopping up and down when I opened it up.

In an odd way this photo immediately reminded me of one already in my collection, below.

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Kim has done wonders lightening this tintype a bit. It is in rough shape and dark in the way that poorly developed tintypes are – the fixative never full set or rinsed. Nevertheless, it was so strange and interesting I purchased it. It is like a photo of a kid from another, somewhat but not quite similar planet rather than just the past. I believe it is European. The little boy is dressed like the archetype of a wealthy child from a certain period – short pants, but expensive coat and clothes in general, the beret at a jaunty angle, carefully placed. In addition to the faux Mickey I love the bear wearing the nice straw boater.

By contrast the kids on the top photo are wonderfully brash and look like they probably wandered into this photo booth at Coney Island or some place like it. The big brother, who would give his sister a hard time often, but on this occasion was the one to whip out the needed quarters to have this snap taken, his arm casually thrown over her shoulder. How lucky that she has her Mickey with her. They aren’t clearly wealthy like this earlier kid, but man, they’ve got the world on a string, they do.

Thank you again Seth!

 

 

 

A Surprising Tiny Felix

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: In my collecting experience this little gem is about as weird as it gets. A Facebook friend, Chuck Sycamore, emailed the photo below as a response to an unrelated post, announcing that a friend of his had “found these in his house” and was selling them. Well, wow. Who could resist that?

tiny felix line-up

So, the friend (who lives in Chicago) was contacted and after a bit of to and fro I purchased one – the fellow on the far left end. My size ration dysmorphia (see yesterday’s post Surprise – It’s Felix Again) kicked in and I was stunned to find this guy no more than four inches high! The scooter is fully functional and the Felix is completely articulated. I have never seen these any place else for sale. The small articulated Felix dolls seem to be a size smaller or a size bigger than any version I know. The scooter seems loosely based on this toy I own (mine is a no-name, not Felix variation – I like it, but for some reason the one that is marked Felix sells for about ten times more) – or perhaps that is entirely in my own mind.

tin Felix on scooter

Whether these were somehow one of a kind pieces made in a small quantity, or for some reason have just eluded me in my years of Felix collecting I do not know. There is no maker’s mark and the execution is very thoughtful. If anyone knows more than I do on the subject please weigh in. I am very curious to know more! And a big shout out to Chuck for giving us the heads up. And what kind of whacky house did the friend move into anyway? What else was in that house?

Mickey Mask

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Recently I was bidding on a rather fascinating Mickey Mouse mask from the thirties – an awkward thing, Kim seemed unmoved by it, but I found it very interesting. It doesn’t matter because it zoomed out of a price range that I could possibly justify paying – after all, it wasn’t even a cat. Still, almost by way of consolation, this photo appeared for sale on eBay – the man wearing the very type of mask I was bidding on.

While this can’t really compete with my past Mickey photo post Mickey Marches In it is still a pretty hot photo of the Mickey and Minnie dress up craze of the thirties. Halloween dressing up by adults seems, in general, to have been taken to a much higher level in the first part of the 20th century. That’s a pretty hot hula girl outfit behind the guy with the funny nose and the “S” or “5” on his pouch. And is that Little Miss Muffet and her Tuffet behind Minnie? I thought it was a turtle at first, but she seems very pleased with it either way. There’s a clown – there always is in these photos – and someone in a sort of raja outfit. Still, Mickey and Minnie are front and center and it has probably helped keep this photo bobbing around all these years instead of lost in an album somewhere.

If you look carefully, you will see that Mickey and Minnie seems to have a little wooden man on a wire like a leash. What on earth is that? And why are Mickey and Minnie taking him out and about? Their pet human perhaps – fitting for anthropromorphic mice I guess, not that I keep a mouse on a leash. This complements the dark side of this photo – after all, those masks are a bit terrifying.

Lining up for Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I guess this camera man gets slapped on the wrist for cutting the top of the one kid’s head off, but everyone having such a good time, why quibble? Felix looks like he just stopped by the house and had his photo with the family out front, in fact that is what seems to have happened. The number down by his foot makes me think this was an itinerant photographer traveling about with Felix in toe, drumming up business in a wealthy neighborhood. It is undeniably British and everyone is nicely dressed without feeling like they have dressed up for it. I love the way the photographer lined them up, ending with jaunty Felix, a smile on his face. He’s a good size – almost as tall as the little girl.

Perhaps this was one of my past lives – wandering the streets and seaside resorts of Britain, Felix and photo postcard camera in tow!

Nippes Novelty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I sometimes feel that, while glorious in many ways, the advent of online auctions has sadly really devastated flea markets. As a result, the ability to wander through acres of other people’s stuff, milling happily through it for hours on end, is not available as it once was – and this means the happy coincidence of finding something you never knew you needed is less likely to occur. I try to have open ended searches that will be inclusive of all items I might be interested in, but it is always a challenge to look for what you don’t know might exist. However, recently I was searching an online auction that seemed to have extremely varied items and somehow I stumbled happily on these. After some fun with the technicalities of signing up for the auction site, I more or less forgot about it for a month until I was notified, much to my extreme pleasure, that I had won them! They came from an auction house devoted to toy soldiers, Old Toy Soldier Auctions of Pittsburgh – once again proving that although we may not be coming across unexpected bits at flea markets any longer, we certainly have access to venues we would not otherwise. I guess it evens out in the end!

These extremely interesting pieces were listed as Souvenirs made by Heyde. While tons of images of toy soldiers and toy soldier sales come up if you google Heyde – it takes a while to find out about them and the non-soldier toys made by them. I owe the description of the company I do have to an eBay seller named Ascot who is auctioning some of the other novelty items (including an alligator who stands on hind legs bearing an umbrella) as I write this. According to Ascot the novelties sold by the company were called Nippes and included a number of variations on this umbrella-animal theme all of them made of a pot metal similar to these. There are no company markings – some of his are marked German, but I don’t see that on these either. Heyde was, as you may have guessed, a German company. It was founded in 1872 by George Carl Adolf Heyde and was completely destroyed in 1945 during the bombing of Dresden. A brief history of toy soldiers offers that the small lead ones were too expensive to be popular at first, but eventually caught on with the wealthy and became a status toy of choice at the turn of the century.

From what I can see looking at Heyde non-soldier Nippes – the quality is a bit all over the place. Some of the execution is much more slapdash and others, like these, finely executed. They had a line of instrument playing cat band nodders which I would be mad for if a bit more care had been taken in their making.

I have no way of knowing if these figures were sold together and meant as a set or if they just ended up that way. They have a nice heft to them which is one of the things I miss in similar objects made later. These were novelties made to withstand time – and they have.