Smooth as Glass Savings

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today isn’t quite a toy post, but I guess we could label it a premium post, which is a genre I explore not infrequently, usually in my quest for interesting cat related items. (A favorite post about Corbin pin trays depicting cat heads can be found here, and the more recent acquisition of my Feed the Kitty bank here.)

This little bank was acquired last weekend on what may be our final trip to the store Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village. I was sad to learn recently that they will be closing at the end of the year, a fact I discovered via Instagram where a parade of visitors are paying their final respects and posting them. Evidently it is more a decision about wanting to do something different than about raising rents, but I was very sorry to see this as I have made it my premium choice for expeditions celebrating my birthday or our anniversary annually. A truly great day is pairing a visit there up with a trip to the The Antique Toy Shop in Chelsea. (Some of my other adventures and acquisitions at these establishments can be found in prior post here , here and here.)

It is a bit boring to bemoan how all the interesting places for poking around in old stuff are disappearing. It is just a reality of the way we live, especially in fast moving Manhattan where things seem to come in go with an alarming rapidity. But it saddens me, as poking through the detritus of lives past is one of my great joys. However, I try to be philosophical about the general entropy of retail in Manhattan.

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Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village when we visited last week. I really wish I had room for Mr. Peanut.

 

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Paper Mache mask at Obscura recently.

 

On our recent visit Kim purchased this little bank and a lovely little cabinet for me (future post) as an anniversary gift. I am just charmed by it and I immediately imagined stuffing it full of change as a child – and then being faced with the quandary of retrieving the coins as there seems to be no obvious option for cashing in. There is a seam running down it, and in the case of mine there is a crack near it which makes me wonder if someone didn’t break it in an attempt to open it at the seam. I suppose the purpose of piggy banks was saving, but I have never approved of the idea that you should have to break your beloved piggy bank in order to eventually realize your savings. It seems cruel.

My own experience with piggy banks starts with a nice pig model decorated with painted pink roses. The one below is not the one I had, but puts me reasonably in mind of it.

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I also had a Snoopy one that, given the evidence and availability on the internet of the model I called mine, every child of my generation must have owned at one time. My memory was that it was actually a bit fragile and made of some paper mache material so I did not keep change in it. It was beloved though and I owned it for a very long time. I don’t think I kept money in the pig either – although both had rubber handy plugs in the bottom for releasing the change. No smashing my pig!

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As it happens I instead kept my savings in a small safe made for that purpose. It had a combination lock (with the combination written on a tag the bottom as I remember, defeating the purpose but preventing the obvious problem) and it held a lot of coins, and then it weighed a ton. My sister and I each had one, and although I kept mine for more than a decade I could not tell you what happened to it ultimately. Somehow it and the change in it were lost to the sands of time. The one below, available on Etsy, is pretty much spot on the one I owned. It is a kick to see it again.

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Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Paint was a small Pennsylvania paint company which was acquired by a glass corporation back in 1900. Therefore the slogan smooth as glass and the glass bank premium make total sense and a slogan still associated with them today. (On the reverse side of the bank it also states, Nature’s Colors in Lasting Beauty, a poetic thought.) The paint brand is still very available and the company has become one of the world’s largest corporations, PPG. I am not in a position to comment on quality of their paint except to say that my own kitchen was recently painted with Benjamin Moore and in all fairness, I had not considered Pittsburgh.

The prevalence of contemporary piggy banks found during my online search makes me assume that children are still given them with the intention of instilling a sense of thrift and savings. In a world where, according to Google, the average price of a Hershey bar is $1.60 and a comic book almost $3, kids either need larger piggy banks or to replenish them quickly. I know nothing of the economy of childhood today, but assume it involves as more folding money than coins. In a sense this is too bad as coins were nice objects to collect and own, although folding money seemed downright exotic when I was a kid.

Funny Jungleland

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I especially like the last panel where they hold cereal boxes! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: When researching my Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat (immortalized a few weeks back in my post Crinkle Cat – For Kiddies, not Kitties! which can be read here) I discovered this earlier premium and set out immediately to purchase one. I read online that this Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures book was the first cereal premium – originally given away in stores, it dates back in its earliest form to 1909. It quickly became something you mailed away for instead and it cost you ten cents. Quite a switch as ten cents was a bit of an investment at the dawn of the 20th century and perhaps that explains why so many were kept and exist today.

This example dates from 1932 and they were produced through 1936, which also gives us a hint as to the rather amazing availability of them today, a century later – I am here to tell you, if you want one of these it can easily be yours. Evidently, it is generally hard to date these as they remained remarkably similar with a few color changes to the cover – however, oddly enough, only the 1932 edition had the copyright for the current year it was issued.

One book site selling these tells me that the original copyright goes back to 1907 and I wonder if they were copyrighting the technology of the “moving pictures” or the book. I will assume they didn’t create the method or concept of the book or somehow that would come out in the telling. It is quite clever though and I think it is the other reason for the proliferation of these slim volumes even today. It’s a hoot! As you can see from the top image, the book expands with a fold-out section in the middle.

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The 1930’s and ’40’s were the heyday of cereal prizes and I opined on them a bit in the Crinkle Cat post mentioned earlier. (I do love to look at them and they ignite a sort of childhood toy lust area in my brain.) However, I’m trying to remember if I ever pulled anything good out of a box of cereal as a kid and nothing much is coming to mind, although they were still putting the occasional premium plastic geegaws in at the start of my 1960’s and early ’70’s era childhood. Even the mail-in option was fading away. Some research on the subject has reminded me of a brief period when you could, in theory, cut out a record from the back of the box and this tugged briefly at my memory. I have only the vaguest memory of testing that and failing miserably.

Via my research light on the subject I discovered that pep pins were originally cereal prizes. While that is pretty cool (extremely actually) I guess I somewhat question the wisdom of putting a pin in a box of cereal for a child to find given the general fist down into the cereal box approach most children take to finding said prize. I don’t own a Felix the Cat pep pin but I share an example below.

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As it happens, one of the things my parents were martinets about when I was small was breakfast cereal. We were a plain Jane family when it came to that when I was a tiny tot and maybe that is why there were few premiums in the offing. I am specific about being quite small because if my younger brother is reading this memories of Count Chocula and Cap’n Crunch and the like are zipping through his mind. What can I say? Our parent’s moral stance on cereal evaporated during those intervening years. By the time heavily sugar coated cereal showed up in the house I had no interest in more than tasting it, with the exception of a brief affair with Frosted Flakes and Tony the Tiger which is coming back to me. (Perhaps it was because I found Tony charming?)

Dad used to urge us to eat our Wheaties as I remember from when I was very small – strange to think of him quoting a commercial; he wasn’t the type. I wasn’t a fan of them, Wheaties, and we settled more companionably on Cheerios as frequent daily fare. I flirted a bit with Raison Bran (I added raisons to a salad the other day and that actually felt a bit decadent, but I digress), and Rice Krispies. I still cop to an appreciation for the occasional marshmallow treat made with Rice Krispies. Yum.

The variations on these plainer cereals of my youth, Special K, All Bran and the like, populated our cupboards and breakfast table. We were encouraged to add Wheat Germ to it and there was a brief Alpen period (nuts, sweeten raisons and mysterious grains) which sometimes were employed to zip up the somewhat more austere brands.

Meanwhile, I swear my father thought Kretschmer Wheat Germ was going to save the world (I do wonder if it was something from his own childhood) and he converted my sister who went through a phase of putting it on top of everything including the cookies she baked and the English muffin pizzas she would throw together for her lunch or snack. Again, I was not a fan. I share the version below which graced our breakfast table for decades. Somehow I do not remember my mother having strong feelings about any of this – which is unusual for my mother – but for whatever reason she stayed out of the cereal fray for the most part. I don’t think she was a cereal eater herself at all and seemed to be fairly nominal in most of her own weekday breakfast consumption, toast and coffee for the most part. We all might break out more on weekends. (Subsequent to reading this Kim has shared that he also hated Kreschmer Wheat Germ – had never come up before.)

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Of course, in retrospect I suspect that for the most part all that cereal wasn’t great for us and the nutrient filled promise was a tad hollow. I shudder more than a bit at the calories now and we haven’t had a box of cereal in the house in years, although I am the first to admit to a not infrequent diet of cereal dinners during the straighten circumstances of my twenties. (Although the price of cereal today may not make that an option for recent grads these days!) Nor do I wish to take on cereal lovers – calories notwithstanding I love granola in my yogurt. And of course, if the cereal industry went back to adding interesting toys to these boxes I might yet be lured back.

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Howdy Doody

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I think I would have wanted to grab up this photo wherever I might have run across it. However, this image is actually of my uncle and was among the cache of photos I discovered in New Jersey last week, referred to in yesterday’s post. I knew the familial tale of my uncle entering the Howdy Doody look alike contest, but if I had seen the photo I did not remember. It evidently hung in my grandmother’s house, so I must have seen it as a child and just can’t recall.

Nor do I remember Howdy Doody since it went off the air in 1960, before I was born. There was an early 1970’s resurgence of interest in it that I vaguely recollect from being a small child, but why anyone would be interested frankly mystified me from what I could see. My own childhood was not without television puppets – Kukla Fran and Ollie made appearances and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was deeply beloved. (Full disclosure, watching the recent documentary on Mr. Rogers on an airplane recently I wept openly the entire time. There was a Danish couple next to me who were clearly concerned about the state of my well-being. Strangely however, many people have reported the same reaction.)

Puppets eventually morphed into muppets and the world got Sesame Street. Although my younger brother watched Sesame Street and therefore I know it well, I was a bit long in the tooth for it myself. However, I recently went to a performance at Dizzy’s where Wynton and Elmo had a conversation and played together. I had forgotten all the music was jazz – turns out I remembered all the music! The Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra will have an anniversary tribute concert to the show in the fall.

For Kim’s generation though Howdy Doody was the real deal. Kim has frequently opined that, despite his father Gene’s involvement in television, he was never able to leverage a spot in the Peanut Gallery on the show. Kim did make numerous childhood and teenage appearances on a variety of kids shows – The Magic Cottage, Allen Swift was a family friend and there was his show Captain Allen among them. In addition, Gene utilized a flipbook Kim made to illustrate the persistence of vision which Gene showed on national television – so it was natural that he would aspire to a spot in the audience of the Howdy Doody show. (Meanwhile, Kim has just told me that the flipbook was on display at the Museum of Modern Art for an exhibit on UPA – however, sadly it seems to have been subsequently lost.) Kim has touched on early television and cartoons in numerous stories he has written and drawn. (Most obvious of course, The Search for Smilin’ Ed and Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Those can be found here and here.)

I gather there were multiple cartoon jockey entertainment tv shows in his youth and Kim credits Howdy Doody with introducing him to silent films. I remember Bob McAllister and Wonderama best – also Bozo the Clown – showing cartoons, but the idea of silent films on those types of shows seems exotic and wonderful. And I do remember the prizes on Wonderama (if I remember it was just sort of a lottery thing and a kid in the audience just won them, but I could be wrong, maybe they did something to win them) and therefore I can only imagine the sort of longing that must have been created by the haul proffered for the winner of the Howdy Doody look alike contest!

I looked for a full list online and that was unfortunately not available despite references to it. Kim remembers that there was a film projector among the loot – clearly this would have been at the top of the list for a young Kim Deitch with his budding interest in animation and film. I imagine the list was drool worthy indeed and clearly my mother’s younger brother, John Wheeling, was not immune. It wasn’t a time when a lot of photos were casually taken in their family so a certain amount of planning (wheedling) must have gone into even getting this 5″x7″ photo I imagine.

Hake’s auctions, eBay and sites now make it possible to have a good look at some of the merchandising and premiums from our childhoods and much earlier periods. Some hold up quite well – the Little Orphan Annie and Buster Brown rings – Captain Midnight’s Mystic Sun God ring brings a premium still. There’s something thrilling and deeply satisfying about actually seeing photos of all those things. I enjoy those sections of the Hake’s catalogues very much. (For a stroll through my enjoyment of these catalogues see an earlier post, Ode to a Toy Catalogue, here.)

 

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Captain Midnight Mystic Sun God ring

 

Sadly, Howdy Doody merchandise and premiums do not hold up to 21st century light of day! They are plastic, cheap paper and of a lower order. I offer a brochure of their premiums and some of the higher end examples below.

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However, being the beneficiary of the toy laden munificence of exotica proffered for this contest was not the fate of a young John Wheeling. Despite his very credible photo, needless to say he didn’t win the contest. Little Billy Oltman, shown below in Life magazine, won the 1950 contest, besting more than 17,000 rivals. He is younger than my uncle and it is said his mother enhanced his freckles to increase the likeness to the (rather dubiously homely) famous puppet. One can’t help but wonder if perhaps some sort of a fix was in. Of course it is a bit late for sour grapes almost seventy years later.

Oltman Howdy Doody Magazine