Friendly with Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For any Pictorama devotees who are less than enchanted with my collection of photos of people posing with outsized Felix the Cat dolls, the next several weeks may present something of a challenge. So sorry! While today’s post focuses on one that I have pulled off our wall and have owned for years, I have acquired two more that are winging their way toward me even as I type. Yes, pleasantly enough, I have a small wall devoted to these and frankly I have about as many I could hang and have not yet. I could cheerfully fill a room with them.

Frankly my appetite for these photo postcards remains utterly undiminished. Even I am a bit amazed that I remain as enchanted with acquiring each new one as I was by discovering my first. My reaction is the same every time – I love it and I’m amazed and gratified that it even still exists. That’s not to say some of these aren’t better than others – I especially love the one I am sharing today – but in the end each has its own charm for me. Each person, couple or group, frozen in time, the remembrance of lovely day gone by. Everyone with a different version of an over-sized Felix.

For one thing this is a well composed photo and not every wandering picture taker who bought a huge Felix (and still I ponder – where are those dolls?) knew how to put a photo together. This photographer certainly did, although some of it was luck. I love the composition in front of these columns – the striped dress on the one woman is somehow happily repeating that pattern. The bricks provide another pattern, as do the fabrics of their clothes and hats. I like the little slice of action behind the other woman and the long look behind them of other columns giving it great depth. It is my single regret that somehow it is the tiniest bit over-exposed and the one column disappears a bit at the top. We could use the tiniest bit of line there and over the white hat.

These women are dressed in lovely spring-summer costumes for their day out. White shoes and stockings! Pretty dresses and hats! It makes me want to go out and buy a spring dress. (Honesty compels me to confess it is not a hard inclination to create – this time of the year I positively yearn for spring dresses.) They are holding this enormous, slightly tipsy, lop-sided Felix up by the arms. He looks like he’s has a decided list to one side and his arms are very long indeed. Still, he has a great Felix face and large nicely pointy ears. Unlike some of these fellows, he’s in good shape and doesn’t look as if he has been dragged over hill and dale as much as some I have seen recorded. There is a mysterious form – shadow? – in the lower right corner and if you look carefully, bits of developer down at the bottom which has left some white spots. Although this is a very nice photo, those are a reminder that these were done in haste, somewhat sloppily, unlike a studio photo.

Anyway, I offer it to you today, on what is one of Manhattan’s first truly spring-like days. Cats dozing by an open window, winter on the run at long last. A visual reminder of another perfect spring day, somewhere in Great Britain past.

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It’s Clint Flynn – on Spark Plug

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I am pleased to present something I consider to be a rarity, even among the rarified world of people posing with, or on, comic characters or stuffed cats. I could be wrong, but I figure I am probably one the largest (if not the very largest – only?) collector of such photos. Go figure, right? Anyway, many years ago I saw a photo of someone posed with Spark Plug. If memory serves, Spark Plug was more of a stuffed affair and furthermore, that it was from either New Zealand or Australia. (A bit less surprising than you think – about a quarter of my photos hail from that part of the world, such as the one in the post Echo Point, Katoomba.) That was in an online auction, Hake’s I believe, and I had a large but not large enough bid on it, and was bitterly disappointed when I lost it. Like a fool, I did not keep a scan.

Compulsive collecting behavior being what it is, I added it to my occasional searches for photos. If I didn’t want to look at automotive parts and endless Barney Google merchandise (not to mention that Google has adopted a very different meaning online than it had in about 1925) of which there is a plethora, I had to perfect that search a bit which I did over time. I did see some very nice stuffed versions of Spark Plug over the years as a result and was even tempted to buy one occasionally. I have not (yet at least), but after what may easily be a decade of looking I ran across this photo the other day while drinking my morning coffee, predawn and dawdling before getting ready for work. It is postcard, but on thin paper which I can’t imagine holding up in the mail. This one was never sent and even with that appears a bit ragged. After pushing a few buttons, happily I found it in my mail about 48 hours later.

The person who sold it, had an interesting bit of local history attached to it. Our man Clint Flynn was a resident of Flynn’s Cove, Cumberland County, Tennessee. Son of William L. Flynn and grandson of Richard “Red Fox” Flynn of Civil War note. Seems Red was a famous Union Scout and conductor on the Underground Railroad. Also mentioned is that Red lost his brother, John to Confederate Guerillas so this family gave a lot to the cause of the Union in the Civil War. Clearly the town mentioned is named for the family. Just because I find it a bit interesting, I include a photo of Clint’s sister Rebecca below, shown with the man she ultimately marries, Walter Reed. (He does not appear to be the Walter Reed of scientific or other fame, nor is he Walter Reade of theater fame, although my eBay historian friend implies that he too is notable without detail.) It is also up for sale on eBay as this goes to press.

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Photo of sister, Rebecca Flynn, and Walter Reed. Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

Clint Flynn did not seem to make his way into local lore so we do not know anything about him except that in roughly 1923 (according to the seller who must have calculated this from the album it came from) he perched atop of Spark Plug while at Hardie’s Casino, Miami Beach, Florida and had his photo taken by H. H. Duncker, cameraman, as per the back of this photo. I like his bravado – embracing the situation for all it is worth and creating a sense of movement on this very stationary version of Spark Plug. Go Sparky, go! Spark Plug appears to be made mostly, or entirely, of wood, tail standing straight up in back like a frowsy flag. I also draw your attention to the strange little figure, chased by an alligator in the bottom right which I did not see until purchasing the photo and studied it, next to him a tiny and almost unreadable sign, Miami Beach, Florida. (This photo has also been enhanced by the Photoshop magic of Mr. Kim Deitch.)

Strangely, this is the first photo of this kind taken in the United States to enter my collection. While this was a common photo opportunity offered at seaside and other resorts in Great Britain, Australia and even New Zealand, I have never found or purchased one from our own shores. (I believe the best I have done is people posing with nominally outsized Mickey’s or Mickey Mouse knockoffs.) Now that I own this little gem, I am of course anxious to acquire additional ones. And you, my Pictorama readers, will be the first to know.

 

Family Portrait with Pets

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo struck my fancy the other day. It is the sort of photograph which I liked better and better the longer I looked at it. It is, if you will, the sort of bread and butter photograph Pam’s Pictorama is largely made up of – early 20th century photos of people posing with cats. This one, identified on the back as taken in May (with a ? in place of a day) 1936, with nothing else written on the back. It is a photo postcard, but it is printed on a lesser, lighter stock than they usually are and as a result feels and looks more like just a photo – curling a bit with age. It was never mailed and I don’t know how well it would have stood up to those rigors.

I assume this is a portrait of a family, or at least mostly so. There isn’t a strong resemblance amongst them, but enough to convince me when I look closely, especially around those participants in the center. Only a single man and boy show up in this preponderance of women and girls in mostly spring finery. And of course what sold me was that between the dozen people crammed in here, no less than five of the family pets were scooped up for inclusion. While the three cats and the puppy caught my eye initially, it was the little girl holding the rooster that really made it special. I have debated on the possibility of Mr. Rooster actually being stuffed, but I think he is just standing at attention – there’s something about her hand around him that make me think he is alive. The kitten next to him is taking it pretty well if that is the case, but perhaps they know each other well. In general the cats seem to require a certain two fisted clutch in order to be kept a hold of – the puppy is content with being held, as they often seem to be too. I like the idea that when someone said family photo all these critters were scooped up too.

On this spring morning these folks are presented as a neat and well dressed group, boasting Depression era fashion including sporty berets on three of the girls, the toddler among them. Warm enough day that most of them are in short sleeve dresses, although they range from that to coats. I am somewhat undecided about whether that is some old snow stuck on the fence behind rooster-holding girl, although I land of the side of probably when I blow the photo up. I think you could have that on an early day first warm day in May where spring is just beginning to sort itself out.

When I began Pam’s Pictorama it was for the sole purpose of organizing my photos, mostly those of people posing with Felix, so that they could eventually be published in a book and to entertain myself with this project while recovering from foot surgery. Pictorama took on a life of its own expanding almost immediately and, more than 400 posts later, it has covered a lot more territory than that. Still, when I purchase a photo like this, I mentally file it in a future chapter devoted to photos of people and their pets, and oh what a book it will be.

There’s Gladness in Remembrance

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Kicking off the advanced Christmas season here at Pictorama this week with this recent purchase. This card caught my attention with its sheer oddity. I cannot exactly imagine how someone might have come up with the combination of a smoking cigarette, Christmas and cats on a postcard greeting. It makes me think that the designer was very tired and was desperate for ideas, or perhaps smoking something him or herself. Or maybe it was truly an example of these are some of my favorite things, like the song says.

Several of the cats seem to be escaping out of their surreal smoke rings, although that big, annoyed looking Persian is curled up on his or hers like a pillow. All fluffy Persian variations (or is it Maine Coon?) I can’t quite decide if four of these cats are the same cat or just similar markings. These are some serious looking kitties, especially the one without stripes at the bottom. It is obvious, but I might add, there’s nothing of the celebratory or festive about them – these aren’t some darling kittens – these are some frowning cats.

Meanwhile, then there is the burning cigarette and the matches, artfully falling from their match safe. More than anything about this card, which was never sent and without writing on the back, the match safe dates it for me to the early part of the 20th century. Books of matches were in high fashion by the 1940’s. (I have written about match safes in my collection on two occasions, Safety Match and Match safe – Ya Gotta Make Calls.

For my own part, I have never been a cigarette smoker, not even when I was a teenager. I have smoked maybe three in my life – I never saw the point in it; although I certainly understand that there are people who feel otherwise. Clearly this represents a time when smoking was both comforting and to some degree festive. My ambivalence about it does not extend to how good it looks in early films – it does indeed look sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

The sprig of holly is the sole festive Christmas touch. With Hearty Christmas Greetings…There’s gladness in remembrance it declares. Gladness in remembrance touches on the coming New Year – auld lang syne – out with the old year and in with the new. One can only wonder why this card was tucked away and kept pristinely for all these years except to say Christmas cards seem to be kept, although those are usually ones sent by someone. Perhaps, like me, the photo just entertained someone who found and hung onto it.

I have always been a conscientious writer and saver of cards of all kinds, even before my cat card collecting days commenced. As Pictorama readers and others know, Kim and I have been producing a holiday card together since we first started dating and it is time to start work on the one for this year. I admit to the possibility of some influence from this card as Kim and I begin to contemplate our card design for this year, but we will have to have to wait and see what comes of it. Keep an eye on Pictorama for an eventual preview reveal, but know that we are considering it as we partake of our Thanksgiving dinner later this week.

Brought to you by…

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Sometimes I believe I manage to score certain postcards because they are hard to actually see on eBay. Then I realize, alas, that maybe I am the only person who actually thinks this is incredibly cool! Nonetheless, for that handful of you who share my aesthetic ecstasy over smiling black cat advertising, I present this gem today. I have announced my deep affection for the fine advertisings of Black Cat Hosiery in a prior recent post, Time Out for Our Sponsor, and also Black Cat Town. Pictorama readers know that this company adopted the grinning black kitty as their visual moniker.

In today’s card, they seem to be executing an advertising campaign which was the early 20th century version of stadium advertising – although this would be in some sort of theater. My guess is a vaudeville theater and these folks seem to be peering over a box seat balcony or loge of sorts. Oddly, a sad looking vase of flowers is perched in the lower right. It is a hoot that the words of this sign appear to be made up of actual socks and hose – if you look carefully tags punctuate the letters. They have pasted up a bunch of their great black cat signage of various sizes – it is very homemade, if charming, indeed. Lastly, I do wonder – a theater where they were selling socks and hose somewhere? Were they supplying the can-can dancers with their run resistant stockings in early product placement?

In a neat script on the back a little ditty carefully penned reads as follows: This picture isn’t very good/But “By the By,” perchance I should/In justice to the artist add/The subject to were pretty bad. There’s evidence that it spent time in a photo album, but was never mailed. I am not sure why, but I feel like it was written by the man in the middle of the group. I put on my photographer’s hat for a moment, and also opine that in all fairness the light had to have been quite low, inside a theater, for taking a photo with the equipment of the day. (A tip ‘o the hat to Kim for darkening this before I presented it.) Therefore, this jolly group should probably be pleased with the results they managed to achieve. For my part, I am of course, quite glad that the photographer did not sacrifice any of this splendid sign in his or her attempt to record the night out enjoyed by these folks.

By way of enticement and illustration, I offer a full color photo of my small Black Cat Hosiery advertising, featured in Time Out for Our Sponsor as mentioned above.

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Featured in Pams-Pictorama.com post, Time Out From Our Sponsor.

 

Esther and Houtas

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: A recent delving into and wading through old cat photos online has produced some unusual purchases in the form of mostly snap shots. I assumed that was what I was purchasing when I acquired this, but much to my surprise, although it had been pasted into an album, the black photo album paper has torn away on the back to reveal that this was indeed a photo postcard. It was never mailed and written in a neat inked hand on the back is, Esther & Houtas sitting on the wood pile. Ground is covered with snow. I went to the trouble of looking up the name Houtas. I do believe that is her name (it is neatly written) and was able to find some nodding acquaintance to it on the internet. I assume it refers to one of these girls – who I further assume are sisters – as opposed to that nice gray kitty one is holding.

This photo has a timeless quality, and it isn’t until we look closely at those wooly tights and button boots that we realize how old it probably is. Those matching, layered wool dresses and heavy tights look a bit itchy when we consider them seriously, but were probably just the thing for that cold day – no need for overcoats. These girls seem a bit mismatched as sisters, but my own sister and I did not look more alike than this – she of very curly hair and I of very straight.

I have no idea where this card is from or where it was taken, but this spare snowy landscape could stand in for my childhood in New Jersey. This big woodpile is more substantial than the one we generally had out back, although during the course of my childhood we always kept a sizable pile of logs. Much of the cord wood was purchased each fall, although some of it came from limbs that had been trimmed off of our own trees, or as the sad result of a tree that had reached the end of its life and had to be cut down. My mother was always very responsible about the trees and their well being. They were tended to by professionals no less than annually. I personally would have been reluctant to play on the woodpile however, as it was the likely home of mice and even the occasional water rat who wanted a pied-à-terre on dry land. Perhaps for that very reason it was something of a favorite spot for the cats. Although as I remember, some form of wild catnip also grew in the gravel driveway near the woodpile and our enormous cat Pumpkin used to go into rolls of ecstasy over it in the spring. That would have added to the appeal.

The house I grew up in had two enormous fireplaces although we generally only used the one downstairs in what we called the family room. If I ever buy a house a working fireplace will be a must. (I have met New Yorkers lucky enough to have functioning fireplaces in their apartments, but I am not the sort of person who lucks into outdoor space, fireplaces or rent controlled New York apartments. It think it is a skill you are born with, like the ability to hold your breath underwater for a long time or whistle well and on key.) I am endlessly fascinated by fireplaces and will do what I can to migrate to them at restaurants or bars this time of the year. I will settle for gas fires, although there’s nothing like real wood, with the smell, popping of sap, steaming of moisture and the sighing and rolling of disintegrating logs. Oh such bad news for the unsuspecting insects and spiders who took up residence in those logs!

My parents recently moved to a much smaller house, on a cute little patch of property one town over from where I grew up. The house does have a small fireplace, which works at least in theory. These days my mom and dad are too elderly to mess with a fire, even with fake, store bought logs. However, I just promised them the Christmas gift of an electric space heater that looks like a fireplace to ease the drafts in their new house. If I like it maybe I will find room for one here in our tiny New York abode as well.

 

My Donkeys

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  I spotted this photo when I was purchasing yesterday’s delightful cat chair photo and threw it in the purchase. This is the kind of picture that fascinates me, although I understand that it may not have wide appeal. Dark and a bit dour, nonetheless it has a such a feeling of time and space memory for me – a window into a private past. The little girl looks very adult somehow, in her checked dress and hat, holding the reins, a serious look on her face. The background photo of the Eiffel Tower and amusement park, somehow that giant early style Ferris wheel looks almost like a halo over her head. (I think it is a big photo anyway, I cannot imagine that it is a painting.) Funny that this background featuring the Eiffel Tower looks very British to me.

It is postmarked Blackpool, August 2, 1921 PM. It is addressed to Mrs. Lancaster, 16 Bellbrooke Grove, Marchill Lane, Leeds, York, hard to read because it is written in a very light, worn pencil. The message, what I can read of it, says, Dear Mrs. Lancaster, This is me under the hat on one of my donkeys we are having some rain, but are not staying in, but having a good time…for you. Margaret.

I have it in my mind that Mrs. Lancaster was her teacher for some reason, not sure why. Could as easily be a neighbor from home or any number of people. Such a very British holiday and note. I like one of my donkeys – leaving me to wonder what other donkeys she considered hers? The donkey looks kindly, if a bit diffident. Try as I might I cannot quite read what is written on his blanket, Radison perhaps? Not that it matters. I am glad that they were not staying in despite the rain.

I grew up at a seaside resort, but (unfortunately) it wasn’t the sort of town where you could get your photo postcard made for the most part. However, there was a remnant of an amusement pier at a beach a few towns over, complete with a handful of rickety rides, tawdry games, fortune telling. By the time I was in high school it was like catnip to me in the summer, and then into the fall when a haunted house kicked into high gear. We had friends who worked there and they would go into overdrive to scare us when we showed up. I still get the occasional yen for cotton candy or a candy apple this time of the year just thinking about the pier. Family lore is that my great aunt owned a restaurant there when she was a young woman – her parents, my great grandparents, owned a bar and restaurant in the town proper. The site of that still remains. Sadly that remaining bit of amusement pier burned down while I was in college. No donkeys or photos for me, but it does live on in memory.