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!

early cat game

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!

windup pig 2

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.

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A Maybe Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Yep, Happy Birthday to me once again – and get a look at this glorious new toy for the Pictorama collection! This fellow, known as a Yes/No Felix made the trip across the ocean from my friend a toy source (my supplier, shall we say?) named Regine who lives in Belgium. She had this fellow up on eBay a few months back, pre-Christmas. I hesitated on him as he no longer has his Yes/No function – you moved something (tail? arms) and he nodded his head yes or shook it no. This one appears to remain mute. I reached out to a friend and collector to ask his opinion about purchasing a toy that had lost this original functionality. His answer made me laugh – he said that to his knowledge he had perhaps used the yes/no on his Felix immediately upon purchase and to his memory never in all the subsequent years. He did however, ask said Felix if I should purchase the toy and his Felix said Yes! Luckily Regine still had him and so I acquired him, for my birthday – or to be more accurate my very generous husband the ever-wonderful Kim Deitch bought him for me and Regine got him here in record time.

Felix turned out to be larger than I anticipated (always a happy discovery) and a great specimen of Felix toy really. I love his comical tummy bulging shape, googly eyes and his large, goofy ears! More than the other toys (all ranging pretty far from the cartoon design to be honest) he is like Felix’s elder statesman uncle – the one who pulls silver dollars from behind your ear. While he is a completely different design from all the toys by other makers, he is similar to another Felix by the same maker, Schuco. That one that originally wound up and walked and was produced later than the Yes/No. (Mine no longer walks either, perhaps there was something about the mechanisms on these Schuco toys? He is a long story of his own which we may or may not get to one of these days here at Pictorama.)

Below is our man as a Christmas gift in his youth. Regular readers will remember this from just a few months ago posted in A Very Felix Christmas – and to think I had no idea at the time that this Yes/No fellow would be coming to live here!

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Let’s turn back the clock a bit. In the beginning of collecting, shortly after my first toy cat purchases – several splendid stuffed cats from the early part of the 20th century which were unearthed at antique stores in Red Bank, New Jersey – I discovered Felix the Cat toys with my first purchase of one at a flea market in London. I was off and running! Yet it was quite a while before I knew anything about them or who made these Felix toys. For some reason I thought that Germany was a likely maker of the European version of these American cartoon toys – or perhaps France?

It was a number of years before I discovered that the majority of my beloved Felix-es were made in Great Britain. I have examined this in different ways in a number of earlier posts including Felix as Cat and most definitely East London Toy Company, one which I myself refer back to periodically. The British were a hotbed of Felix production, companies such as Dean’s Rag Company and others. They far outstrip Felix’s home turf of the USA where he seems to have been somewhat neglected on that front despite his extraordinary film fame.

Anyway, all this to say that I ultimately learned that outside of Britain the production of Felix toys, particularly stuffed ones, was pretty much limited to a few models of Steiff on the US front and Schuco in Germany, and I have sited the two stuffed Schuco Felix toys above. Schuco was founded in Germany in the year 1912 and seems to be primarily a maker of rather indestructible looking metal cars and trucks. Odd that they should make Felix toys with a tendency toward mechanical breakdown. However, I have a lovely little Schuco bird which still functions – for this one see the post Tweet, Tweet, Tweet.

So thank you Kim! Thank you Mel for your advice (Felix’s too) and thank you Regine! You all, along with Felix, have softened the blow of growing one year older.

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: In past posts I have discussed how I have supplemented my cat collection with toy mice for their pleasure – Starting Small with Mice is a prime example. However, even toy cats need other diversions too and with that in mind, many years ago I purchased this lovely Schuco bird. I bought him at a flea market in London, a small item among a rather huge toy haul. Sometimes these get identified as Steiff, but I believe that the ones that wind up are Schuco and their real name is Pick Pick Bird – with the action making the name self-evident. According to Wikipedia production on them started in 1920’s and over 6 million were produced and sold through 1960’s. From what I can tell they do not vary substantially in design during that period. Therefore, should you decide you too need one it will not be difficult to obtain.

Heinrich Schuco was evidently a bit of a toy prodigy who began patenting toy designs when he was 17. It is unclear if the Pick Pick bird was already a staple of the company when he joined it or if it was one of his winning designs. The company remains in existence today.

So what is it about cat and bird? There’s nothing like the movement of a bird, or tweet, to snap a feline to attention. I watch videos with cats playing with birds and you can say what you want, but the cat always seems to have a bit of killer lust in its eyes even as it plays nice. Cats have generally been portrayed poorly in cartoons in the cat-bird relationship. I have always felt that there was something particularly mean spirited about the Sylvester and Tweetie cartoons. It isn’t that I am saying I want a cartoon where he catches and manages to eat the annoying little yellow bird (and keep him down – there seem to be many where Tweetie escapes Sylvester’s digestion of him and he pops back up), but it is sort of demeaning to cats.

Having said that I am certainly as unhappy as the next person to be confronted with the hunting prowess of my kitty in either bird or mouse form. Cookie and Blackie have virtually no opportunity to polish this bird skill (we are hopeful they don’t get a shot at mice either, although more likely in a NY apartment) we are glad to report. However, there was a morning, years ago now, when I was meditating very early and the window of the apartment was cracked open a few inches. (Our windows are never open because even with screens I don’t believe these two – and their predecessors – would not pop out the screen if sitting in the window and we live on the 16th floor.) Much to my amazement, a sparrow came and sat on the window sill and serenaded me. Mysteriously, both cats (probably Roscoe and Zippy at the time) slept through the event; it did not rouse them. Birds rarely visit us this high up – the occasional pigeon might fly off the roof, but we rarely see small birds parking themselves here. He sang, looking right at me with head cocked, for what seemed like several minutes, before flying off.

Below is a Pick Pick Bird video from Youtube – I think they called it a Peck Peck instead. I was trying to make my own video and I will report that yes, Blackie and Cookie came running to check out that bird toy!

Schuco Pick Pick Bird video.