Scooting Along

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s Felix postcard came via the same source as yesterday’s – and I hope there will be more to come from this recent Felix El Dorado. I will report on that aspect when I know a bit more, but for now another interesting card.

This postcard appears to have been blackened by hand and probably traced from a master source. This is clear from looking closely at the brushy and uneven application of the ink and the ghost of a pencil line or two. The precise origin of this series (other than it appears to be British) is also a mystery and I have written about them before and own a few others. (The posts about the earlier drawn cards can be found here and here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

While at first it seemed somewhat improbably that postcards were being produced this way, consider the handmade origin of some of my treasured stuffed Felix toys. I once wrote a post on how many were produced by hand on the East End of London in a project to employ indigent women. (That post can be found here.) It helps to remember that postcards were the email of the early 20th century, mail delivery twice a day, and were used to make dates and for simple greetings and communications.

People here and in Britain must have kept well supplied to drop a note to this friend or that. Many of my cat photo postcards contain simple messages about having arrived safely at a location, missing family or reporting a visit with a friend or family. So while it still seems rather remarkable, this operation of hand production is the explanation I have settled on.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This card sports a Felix-y message, How I am coming in a fortnight’s time Ethel, PS not with a tail, Fred’ll keep that. It is addressed to Z. Honeysett, Woodview, Silverdale Road, Eastbourne. However, it is worth noting that there is no stamp or postmark, so perhaps this was included in a larger missive or package. The card has two pin holes from where it did time tacked up somewhere.

Meanwhile, Felix is zooming on his scooter which could fairly be said was one of his preferred methods of transportation. Here his tail is sort of ballast – that tail which fans of the cartoon know could come off and be used for many purposes. The tail is special indeed.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection. My version of the upright kitty toy I use as my avatar for this site.

Here in the pandemic period of the 21st century, I have adopted an image of Felix as my Zoom and social media avatar. He has graced my Instagram and Twitter accounts, although Pictorama has a sporty wind-up cat of less distinction which I did had not acquired when I started the blog. (Pleased to say that I am now happily in possession of this item and featured him above. He was given a post which can be read here.) I do not own the zippy version of Felix on a scooter that I use – it is a rather rarefied Italian (I think) variation that I have only seen for sale a few times and at unattainable prices. I have a somewhat non-functional version that charms me by sitting on the shelf nonetheless.

My somewhat broken down version of the scooter Felix. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

It should be noted, however, that the version that my avatar version wears has very zooty polka dot trousers and enjoys a spring for a tail. This does make him very desirable in my opinion and I find his off-model face rather charming as well. (I wonder what it says on his tummy?)

(Sadly) not in my collection.

When Zoom came into our lives abruptly in March of 2020 I replaced the generic “snowman” with Felix figuring I would give everyone a giggle. It did although some folks didn’t seem to know Felix or at least recognize him. Strangely you do become identified with your avatar quickly and it was almost surprising when someone new on a call would ask about him. (Having said that, I actually try to do at least part of my meetings, especially with colleagues, on camera to humanize the activity somewhat.)

After my Memorial Day fall my face was swollen and bruised and I decided to spare everyone and myself the sight of me on camera for a bit. During this time I received a request to change my avatar for a work related event where I had declined to go on camera and I switched to a photo taken a few years ago when I started my job at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I have yet to change it back again, although it is my plan because looking at this slightly earlier version of myself doesn’t suit my mindset after 15 months of working at home. Perhaps the little upright cat deserves some air time, although somehow the idea of zipping along as Felix has special appeal.

More Mainzer

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s postcard post is devoted to the heir to the Louis Wain wacky anthropomorphic cat throne, Eugen Hartung. Hartung is sort of the Otto Messmer of cat postcards. Hartung is a Swiss artist (1897-1973) whose career blossomed in the United States after WWII somehow became know by his publisher’s name, Alfred Mainzer. Was it post-war anti-German sentiment? Was it conscious like Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer, or did it happen of it’s own accord? For whatever reason, Mainzer’s name is the one prominent on the back of these cards it is the name I knew them by until I started digging a bit for a blog awhile back. I wrote about one of these cards I purchased back in 2019 and recounted some of this history. (That post can be found here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

Much to my surprise, two handfuls of these cards found their way to me back in December. After retrieving a mysterious package that had been left for you in the parlance of our doorman’s communications, I discovered that a friend who lives on the other end of 86th Street (and who I haven’t seen in person given our pandemic times) had dropped off a packet of these cards for me. Evidently she had found them years ago when cleaning out her parent’s house and put them aside for me. In a recent apartment renovation she discovered them again and brought them over. When I emailed my thanks she said that she remembered thinking when she found them that I was the right home for them and she was glad she had finally united them with me.

Oddly enough though within the month, another handful of these cards showed up in a Christmas card for Kim. I want to say it was either Rick Altergott or Evan Dent who sent them along. I apologize for this slip of mind and not remembering better. I was struck by how odd it was that two bunches of these cards should find their way to me at the same time. If you’re reading please raise your hand so I can correct this and thank you properly!

These cards were still widely available when I was a little kid and I always liked them – purchasing them when I could although those particular ones are long disappeared. They have a texture to the paper, that I remember with tactile memory, and the deckle edge lives in memory too, somehow rooted in the 1960’s in my mind. It turns out that, on the other side of the country, a young adult Kim Deitch was purchasing them in Berkeley. All great minds think alike it seems. Little did either of us know that decades later Deitch Studio and Pam’s Pictorama would unite to be the blissful cat laden bower that it is today.

I have long wondered why, although extremely popular, Hartung’s cat cards have never risen to the level of Louis Wain. (I have written several times about the cat artist genius and some of those posts can be found here, here and here just for starters.) I think in part, although plenty chaotic and wacky, they lack the underlying maniacal frenzy of the Wain universe. They are beautifully choreographed compositions and there is a prettiness that Wain’s drawings don’t have. As Louis Wain himself began to descend into mental illness, the drawings had an increasing edge to them – until of course they become almost entirely abstract. At least this is my theory. Even at their most frenzied they are a bit polite and well bred in a way that Wain isn’t.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

I give you a selection of a two of my favorites out of the group, more to come. This Western scene above – a cat cowboy evidently breaking a bucking bronco goat – was a evidently a much beloved one. It has multiple push pin holes in the top edge where someone kept it on view. (None of these cards in either bunch were ever mailed.) A girl cat is using a home movie camera (circa the 1950’s or ’60’s) to film the action and she’s right in the midst of it, tail politely poking out beneath a short skirt. In the top right, one cowboy pushes another off his perch on the rails and a Siamese cat is amongst them for diversity. I once owned an Annie Oakley jacket like the one worn by the fleeing fellow in the lower right – was my favorite jacket for years and I wore it until it fell to pieces.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The next one is this family scene of kitty chaos. I think it is very funny that these cats are dog owners and it is the dogs that are causing today’s troubles. The cats are exceedingly genteel and the cafe scene is decidedly European. The spilled drinks appear to be hot chocolate (the children were drinking it) and the waiter’s spilling tray is full of petit fours. (The one young fellow, strategically under the tray, is preparing to snatch them up as they fall.)

Comically, two birds watch the action from the lower right – none of these well-bred felines pays them any mind. The cats are civilized and all the others are playing their animal roles. This card is heavily faded along the very top edge, but only a persnickety collector would have issue with this. It too has many pin prick holes, top and bottom, from being on view somewhere.

I end today by saying I would expect that at least a few more of these will find their way to the pages of Pictorama so cat card lovers stay tuned.

Postzegeltaal: Stamp Language

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: While I purchased this because I was in a Halloween mood, it is an interesting way to have promoted a long ago and evidently foreign postal service. Perhaps ours in the US today could use such a boosting campaign? A witch and a toy black cat can do a lot for business, at least in my opinion.

This card, never mailed, is Dutch. The stamps featured on the card entice and call out to the viewer to: think of me, call me, give a shout, stay true to me, visit soon, shout soon, as well as I love you, I’m waiting for you, 1000 kisses. Oh the things you can say with a postcard – the possibilities are endless. (A reader tells me that the stamps indicate that the card is from 1957 or later.)

Why there was a need to promote postal service, as well as why they might have used a Halloween motif is somewhat beyond me, perhaps that information is just lost to the sands of time. However, she is a fine looking witch and the black cat toy she is shushing or sharing a secret with appears to be a very nice and fluffy looking one. His or her kitty head is appropriately cocked for listening to the witch.

I would say this nice toy is based on Steiff, but fluffier in the tail and overall design than Steiff, more appealing for my money. (For me there has always been something a bit lifeless about the series of Steiff black cats. Unlike their teddys which all seem to have a knowing gleam in their eye, the cats seem remarkably without character.) One bright cat eye gleams out at us. A great toy overall – I would snatch him up in a flash.

A quick Google search shows that not surprisingly Halloween is a relatively new Western influence for the Dutch. (The reader who wrote in agreed that Halloween has only started to gain traction in Holland in the last decade or so and therefore it is a bit hard to explain why the image.)

Perhaps as we consider an upcoming winter largely to be spent at home again, we might all think about who we might surprise and cheer up with a handwritten missive. I have perpetuated a long held affection for the handwritten word as a special way to remember someone or cheer them up. I send my mom cards for every holiday I can and have for many years and she looks forward to them in the mail. When I was younger and traveling I was an excellent correspondent and would at a minimum send postcards from almost any new locale.

On the receiving end, I can tell you that the mail became far more interesting once Kim became resident – Deitch Studio mail was quite different and far more interesting and exotic than my own. A prodigious letter writer himself, Kim received many – also interesting packages with books, videos (and later dvd’s) might show up unbidden. He continues a written correspondence with a clutch of people, although like me some handwritten relationships supplanted by email. My own correspondence has slowed mostly to the aforementioned cards to a small group of people – otherwise largely gone to email. However, it is a cheerful thing to find in the mailbox among the ads and bills. (Yes, I still largely pay bills by mail.)

However, it is no mystery that here at Pictorama we enjoy a great many lovely parcels coming in the door as I am constantly adding photos and items to the collections here. It is always a cause for joy when one shows in the mail, especially during these quiet days.

Nicely some of the folks I buy from frequently these days, largely my new Instagram sellers, pack their photos with extra care, enclosed in waxy envelopes with a note or a sticker, frequently adding a few random old photos they have around or a note. Miss Molly tends to use whatever is at hand for her homemade packing and sometimes I laugh at what old boxes and papers she has employed to ensure a solid package.

I have purchased two items from a woman who sells jewelry and clothing, predominantly from the teens and twenties. She’s British and lives in the countryside there and is largely known to me as Wassail Antiques although I gather she is also Rachel.

Wassail Antiques, aka Rachel, takes stunning photos of her items and seeds equally beautiful ones of the British countryside surroundings of her home as a backdrop to them. Looking at them always cheers me and takes me out of myself and the four close walls of Deitch Studio at least for a moment. She is evidently a professional photographer – taking pictures of musicians in the time before the shutdown. Her packages arrive wrapped in layers like splendid little gifts, an old photo and a note thrown in. They are an event to open, beyond the appealing items within.

A partially opened package from @WassailAntiques

At some point I may take more time to share those items – oddly both are silver rings. This is somewhat notable to me. In the before time I liked to wear rings and wore gold ones on a variety of fingers daily – my lucky horse cameo, a huge bee ring made for me by a jeweler friend on the west coast for a recent birthday. However, for a variety of reasons (finger swelling and apathy among them) I have generally not been wearing rings during our time of captivity and have actually rarely put on any jewelry.

The ring from within!

These rings remind me a bit of ones I might have purchased when I was younger – appealing colored stones set in sliver with Deco designs. They cheer and please me in a quiet way. I have worn them out for my limited forays into the world and even just around the apartment to cheer a dull day.

This week I gather myself and put on an inexpensive flowered fall dress, purchased for upcoming Zoom events such as panels or teaching gigs in the coming weeks. I was headed to get my hair cut for the first time since February (I was not one of the folks who had the foresight to do it before the shutdown) and I thought my hair dresser of 20 years, David Smith, would appreciate seeing me in something other than sweatpants and I wondered if I still knew how to get properly dressed.

I pulled my now shoulder length hair into a braid (I haven’t been able to wear it that way since I was about 25), pulled on an ancient leather jacket and my old straw hat. I put on the rings and even applied a bit of make up before heading over to the west side. As I went to enter the basement staircase to Smith and Morgan, a young man paused and with a grin looked at me and told me he loved my dress. I thanked him profusely for the compliment, we exchanged a few more words of mutual appreciation and then we beamed at each other for a moment before continuing on our way, basking in a brief moment of connection and the sheer enjoyment of being outside on a gorgeous fall day here in New York City.

The Devil is in the Details

Devil card

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Halloween happiness continues on Pictorama! This is a rare case of a card that I have absolutely no memory of having purchased. I have owned it for a fair amount of time, and suspect someone must have given it to me. Halloween cards are frequently too expensive to purchase without real commitment.

This card was sent from Madge Bush of Branchport, NY, tardy for Halloween, on November 5 at 5 PM, 1909. Written in a virtually unreadable child’s hand is the following: Hellogertrude wasyouinto mischief halloween Howdoyoulike yourteacher? It is address in the same hand: Gertrude Bush Westfield PA R.F.D. #2. An adult with beautiful penmanship has added with flourishes: Gertrude Lulu Bush and under the child’s writing her name, Madge Bush. In addition, and somewhat inexplicably, Bush, G.B.x M.B. L.B. and again, Madge Bush.

I think this card is hotsy-totsy! Although it is missing the ever-desirable black cats, it is a worthy, goofy image. For some reason the Devil has entered into a party favor tug-of-war with Mr. Pumpkin Head. (I confess, Pumpkin Headed figures have always vaguely terrified me.) The Devil has put down his pitchfork in order to really put his back into it. We will assume that maybe Mr. Pumpkin Head was carrying those two oozy looking small pumpkins – a strange potential form of Pumpkin cannibalism he was about to commit?

I have long waited to be invited to a party where favors like this party cracker were given out – what on earth great thing could have been inside? Perhaps I will never know, but these guys consider it worth fighting for. Another thing that appeals to me about this card is the way the candle gives everything a scale – the Devil and Pumpkin Head are party cracker/candle size!

Let’s all get out there and mail a few Halloween cards – and don’t forget the party crackers in my trick or treat bag please.

Old Tommy

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  Meet Tommy, sitting by a fishbowl on a window sill, pretty as a picture. The back of this card has the following written on it, Dear Lina, here is a picture of old Tommy he is a live [sic] and well. Gay said he did not think he could get away tomorrow. Give our love to Mrs. Brady and sister. It is addressed to Mrs. Pauline Bauldwin, New Milford, PA Route no.1 Dated October (illegible date) 2 PM 1908. It is written in pencil, except the address which is in pen – it is a neat script. Unsigned – I guess Lina knew who was writing.

The photographer had an excellent eye and this is a great photo. Most notably the wonderful reflection in the fish bowl – a little universe unto itself showing a trim yard and house in tiny replica. I can’t actually see a fish, but there is a large and interesting shell evident in the fish bowl and I wonder what book it is sitting atop of, but nothing on the spine.

Old Tommy is a hefty fellow. He is dignified and not even giving that fish bowl a sideways look – at least not while the camera is on him. Another of my cat stories from my youth is about a tabby stray named Zipper. My mother rescued him as a tiny, malnourished kitten being abused by boys outside a laundry mat. Anyway, Zips was a hunter and feral fellow and, additionally, a great admirer of the large tropical fish tank we kept. Zipper liked to sit next to it, eyes shining with interest, and he would gently pat it intently, while looking at us innocently. To my knowledge no fish fell prey to Zipper (we did have a top on tank although it had an opening), but it was a large tank and who’s to say really if he had the occasional fish nip or not?

April Fools?

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: I bought this because it is just a nicely jolly card. A rough Google translation of the saying on the bottom seems to be something about if you have a wriggling fish by April 1 you’ll have joy in your house. Seems logical – the cats would agree. Still, I had to suspect it had something to do with April Fools Day.

And I was right – somehow April Fools and fish blend together for the French. I found the following on Hoaxes.org:The theory goes like this: In 1564 France reformed its calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. Those who failed to keep up with the change, who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st, had jokes played on them. Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were thus called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish — which, to this day, remains the French term for April Fools — and so the tradition was born. Here’s a fish on your back! Take that!

(While researching this I discovered another little known fact about April Fool in Britain. Evidently it was the tradition for the tricks to end by midday or you were considered a fool yourself. I will have to keep that in mind this spring.)

Jokes not withstanding, I like these happy and industrious looking kitties and their enormous fish. The interesting and rickety fish carrier car sums it up nicely. You can just see these fellows getting home and having a nice big fish feast – no fools these cats.

Bonne Annee!

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Happy New Year! Featured here is a small clutch of New Year’s cards that I purchased last year while contemplating the then New Year ahead. The ever sensible French have a cultural preference for New Year cards over Christmas cards – thus allowing themselves more time to enjoy the holidays. I have two examples from France above and two are British. Evidently dancing black cats were all the craze for ringing in the New Year in the 20’s which is the period of these cards, ’29 (black and white cat) and ’25 (three black kitties) are the postmark dates on those that were used.

The Bonne Annee card is dated December 27, 1929 and is addressed to Mademoiselle Dora Cordova, L’rue Guy-Patini, Paris, X. The brief message, as closely as I can read it, is Meilleurs voeux et vous (?) souvenirs, Yoorssie (?) Lehmann. The other, in English, is dated 4:45 PM, December, ’25 but the day is obscured.  It says, From your Loving Sister in Law and Family with best wishes for the new year and better Luck. From Ada xxxxxx. It is addressed to Mrs. Thornton 22 St. James Street, Walthamstow.

I love the tubby black kittens – especially that party trio! But my favorite is the very mischievous brown and white fellow. He has a sort of Devil-may-care Maurice Chevalier charm about him. Quite a New Year’s bash at his house! Something makes him just short of cute. While I don’t think I am capable of tossing my habits aside and moving to New Year’s cards, I like the thought. Non-denominational well wishes for the coming year make more sense and cards arriving during the brief lull between Christmas and New Year’s or just beyond seems nice. As a small child I was always quite serious about the changeover in years – solemnly writing down resolutions, something I no longer do. Somehow I approach the whole affair with some trepidation as an adult. So, crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, here’s to 2015 to one and all!