Little Red Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today I return briefly to the topic of toys and I offer the final piece in the Christmas of 2018 haul with thanks and a nod to Kim. This little fellow showed up right around the holidays and we snatched him up. Research reveals that he is a Schoenhut, fun flex Felix. He is a smidge worse for having knocked around for the last ninety years or so. He would have had a tail at one time, made of the same (once) bendy fabric. Some of his brethren smoke a jolly little pipe, but he did not. Although I feel as if I have seen this red version before, an internet search turns him up in black and a bright lime green (shown below), rather than the red. I have a dim memory of once seeing a line up of red, green and yellow ones for sale for a princely sum, but perhaps it is false and I was dreaming or smoking something?

I knew this fellow was small, but I had thought maybe he was 30% larger than he is. I am sorry he is no longer sporting his chest sticker which would have read copyright & patent FELIX by Pat Sullivan. Despite this declaration there is something a tad off model about him, the ears giving him a slightly exotic cast. I have a large and what I think of as a more traditional Schoenhut Felix I wrote about a number of years ago in my post Felix the Poser (which can be found here) and that is what I think of as the iconic Felix toy. Mine shown below. (I also toss out mention of my post on another tiny wooden Felix, A Surprising Tiny Felix which can be found here.)

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From the Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

In many ways the color and size of this little guy appeal in particular to me. I am sure if he was my childhood toy he would have probably suffered a loss of limbs and maybe even fragile ears from too much love and carrying him around. The universal practice of carrying toys around by children both fascinates and frightens me, although obviously as noted I too certainly did it. I was thinking about this on the elevator to the Q train the other morning. I never take the elevator, but it was there and I was late for work and in a rush from the gym. As I squeezed in, next to me was a little girl of about four who was crying (I came in late to the scene so I do not know why she was unhappy) and I noticed that grasped in her hands was a number of small toys – four or five, plastic animals of characters, not familiar to this adult Pam. Notably and for an unknown reason she ceased crying as soon as the doors shut.

It must be the toy collector in me, but my immediate reaction to seeing children on the streets of New York grasping their beloved toys is anxiety that they will drop and lose them, and I reflected on this while the elevator carried us down its single flight. After all, it is the sad fate of many toys, found on the streets and subways of New York and it is tragic to imagine the loss of a treasured toy.

 

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King of the Cat Tin Toys

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: When I started collecting toy cats, in those days prior to the internet, I assumed that someday I would eventually discover an El Dorado of wind-up cat tin toys. After all, toy cats in other forms are very popular so of course there would be a number of interesting ones, right? However, about a decade into buying toys on the internet I realized otherwise. Frankly (surprisingly) there just aren’t dozens of models of tin toy cats. Variations on this cat with a ball seems to be the primary heir apparent and I have been hunting this version for quite awhile. The smaller and more widely available version, also made by Marx (shown below swiped off the internet) is a friction toy – the same essential design of a cat and ball, but I believe without knowing for certain, that mine is the earlier model. Today’s toy comes courtesy of Santa Deitch with thanks as Christmas in January posts continue here at Pictorama.

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The Marx toy company was founded in 1919 and stayed in business until roughly 1980. (Theirs was the less than memorable slogan, One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?) Marx was an American toy company and was certainly one of the best known in its day. They seem to have focused on tin toys (windup and friction) and the quality was good enough that even many of their early ones survive today – many variations on trains, but also some character toys depicting such favorites as Popeye and Little Orphan Annie.

Both this kitty and the smaller later version, had leather ears which universally seem to have disappeared from them. (Mine has a single ear held on with an ancient bit of scotch tape however.) It remains a bit of a mystery to me, now that I own this kitty, exactly how it worked. Sadly he no longer does work, and it is also unclear to me exactly what the mechanism was originally. I would be pleased to hear form anyone who knows. I long assumed that this was a wind-up, but there doesn’t seem to be a place for a key. If he was a friction toy (now my best guess) it isn’t clear how that worked either – or why it not longer does. His tail would have gone up and down and that he must be been very jolly indeed. I love his red ball and the graphics on him are splendid. He must have made a lot of children very happy before arriving here at Deitch Studio to entertain us.

 

Little Yellow Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: No bigger that half the length of my thumb, this little guy caught my attention the other day. I’m generally not a collector of these little lead figures, which are myriad and prized enough to be expensive in general, but I had never seen one like this guy before. I love his little yellow sweater and especially the jolly script Felix across his chest. He reminds me of a bumble bee. I usually like my Felixes of the pointier design variety. I also own a more typical one, shown below, by I admit I was very charmed by this little guy.

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Pams-Pictoram.com collection

 

The genesis of most of these types of toys seems to be a company known as Pixyland-Kew. The history there is in short that there were two companies doing mostly the same thing, Pixyland started in 1921 taking the lead on characters such as Felix and Pip, Squeak and Wilfred as well as nursery characters such as Old Mother Hubbard and Little Red Riding Hood. Meanwhile, in 1926, Kew started producing similar items pursuing cartoon characters aggressively, including Bonzo (must find one of those now that I know about them!) and other Daily Mirror strips. They also produced a line of farm animals and both seemed to be top players in the toy soldier market. Kew seems to have bought out Pixyland around 1929 and everything went swimmingly until lead was pulled for the war effort. The market for these little gems never recovered post-war and the company is later absorbed by another called Timpo.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As you can see, the scale on my two toys differs widely. I can’t find much drill down history to have a sense of where my two guys fall in the grander scheme of the two companies. Alas, my larger Felix is missing his tail, which would steady him and allow him to be freestanding. I bought him at a bargain price, probably for that reason. Although the small scale proves amenable to our tiny Manhattan digs, the exorbitant prices of these has mostly discouraged my collecting. Also, in the visual noise of an apartment where a riot of toys, photos, art, cats and Kim and Pam exist, it is hard to find an appropriate perch for little fellows like these. For now they reside in a small mirrored cabinet, at the foot of our bed (on what I like to think of as the famed shelves of Felix and other toy cats) where the tiniest of toys make their home here.

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have made much of my reticence to acquire these delicate celluloid toys known and a few of the times I have written about them can be found at these links here – Fear of CelluloidFunny Little Felix and Ding Dong Kitty. However, I am here again today with an item I have purchased whose fragility in some ways defies its very creation as a baby toy. This rattle was made to be extra light and to a large degree expendable I would think. After all, they were purchased for baby to chew on, beat against things and, yes – rattle, and ultimately probably to lose if not mutilated entirely.

This one has a splendid rattle and kitty Cookie immediately took an intent interest, even as I removed it from the box and packing it was shipped in. Between the great rattle and the cat shape, I would imagine that this fellow would have been one of baby’s favorites. One of the weird things about celluloid is how light it is – it has no weight at all really, so it is easy to imagine that even a very small infant could have made this one of the first items it was able to clench in their tiny fists. Oh the better to command that rattle yourself!

As you can see below, he has not survived unscathed, and the back of his head is dented. He bears no markings of manufacture or place of origin. I have a nagging feeling I have seen the cat face before on something. It has to be said that he isn’t an especially jolly puss, is he? I might go so far as to say a sour puss. Still, with the shape of him, that big bow and the nice little handle (good for some chewing too) I can imagine being perfectly charmed by mom waving him in my face. I don’t pretend to know anything about contemporary toys for tots, but somehow I doubt there are rattles quite as charming as this one. If I am wrong, please let me know.

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Somehow he has wandered into this century and come to rest, for now anyway, among other cherished cat items where he will hopefully remain unscathed for a bit. That assumes that I keep him away from Cookie. Kitty claws and teeth can do more damage than a small child is likely to I do believe.

 

The Elephant Eyes Have It

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today’s Pictorama is an odd item in a few ways. It was found, not purchased and it was Kim who encountered it on the street one day, not me. (Kim casually, somewhat unconsciously and occasionally, collects detritus – generally interesting metal bits and tiny plastic toys – off the street. These pile up in his pockets and eventually migrate to shelves in the apartment.) Elephants make up only the tiniest subset of collectibles and collected here at Deitch Studios (although for one you can see this nifty box Kim gave me here), but Kim and I have a soft spot for elephants, both real and toy. I for one have always wanted a good size elephant on wheels riding toy and keep a weather-eye out for the right one. Today’s item isn’t an especially old toy like most of the early 20th century items in the house, some starting to bump up toward the 100 year mark now. He began life as standard issue contemporary. I sometimes worry about the child who must have been sad to lose him.

For those of you who follow us on a variety of social media you might know that we went to the Prospect Park Zoo this summer, following our noses on an elephant that was or might have been story, research for a tale Kim is mulling over for his next book. This September, in his work that combines dance and music about animals called Spaces, Wynton Marsalis informed that elephants can be trained to dance in tandem, perhaps the only animals to do so. In another performance he also reminded that, while elephant hide is advertised to be tough, it is in reality very sensitive both to touch and the sun, and therefore that you might want to bring one some lotion if you had the chance to meet one.

This little fellow was found by Kim many years ago now. His is a simple and economical profile, but somehow has just enough elephant charm. One day I came home from work and much to my surprise, Kim had replaced the elephant’s casually applied on and missing features (shadows of his former eyes and toes can be seen if you look carefully) with painted on Deitchien new ones, making him a one-of-a-kind. He has subsequently taken up residence on a shelf, after sampling several other perches in the apartment. He is shown below in a page from Kim’s book Alias the Cat, sitting on his desk. That was probably shortly after Kim christened his new features.

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The one thing we all know about elephants is their great memories, repositories of much which of good and bad. They hold long grudges and deep affections, almost as if these were in proportion to their out-sized selves. I like to think this fellow is grateful to Kim for rescuing him from the streets of New York and supplying him with a fine new set of sporty features. For us he is a lucky elephant and are pleased that he is a member of the family here, contentedly spending his days amongst the kitties and toy cats.

 

Doll House

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: I walked past this store yesterday while running some errands. I believe this establishment did a stint on Lexington Avenue, where I would occasionally admire the wares in the window. A number of years ago it moved to East 78th Street, oddly enough, in a storefront where I once bought high-end vintage clothing. I was pleased to see it hadn’t disappeared. While it isn’t a block I find myself on too often, when I do I like to take a few moments have a look in the window. (It is next to Orwasher’s Bakery and I have to tear myself aware from the temptation of the bread and bagels in their window – yesterday I was only saved by the line of people more or less going out the door!) However, I will say I have a complicated relationship with dollhouses.

I had a nice dollhouse when I was a kid – it was about the size and shape of the one top left, sort of a two story horizontal model. It was handmade, like these, but unlike the one indicated it was closed on three sides, with a cheerful exterior in some detail, although nothing like this intricate yellow number above. It was white with light blue trim.

I both loved it and was somewhat frustrated by it. For one thing, I wasn’t actually much of a doll playing child. (Barbies were the exception and they were a creative endeavor for me – I hope to consider those in a subsequent post.) I do not believe I actually had dolls which were the inhabitants of said house. Scale was issue – you have to sort of figure out what works in proportion to the size of your house and furnish and inhabit accordingly. I purchased furniture over time, but it was expensive and I was not good at making my own. Something about it was a bit intimidating, and I never embraced just playing with it. It somehow didn’t inspire creativity in me. I would set it up and marvel at the tiny pieces admiringly – periodically our cat Snoopy would crash into it, and decide it was a splendid place for napping and everything would need arranging again. (I was a bit annoyed, but never one to deny my cat any pleasure even then.) I would have loved to electrify it – to me that would have been the height of fascinating – have lights I could turn on and off, but although I saw such things I had no idea where to start with such a project.

The idea of miniature worlds continued to fascinate me. I went through a long terrarium stage as a child. I was stuffing dirt and plants in every container I could get my hands on with varying degrees of success. As an adult I have considered recreating some of those terrariums and photographing them. Climbing inside those little, interior worlds of my own creation and sharing my bird’s eye perspective. Kim and I talk occasionally and ongoing about the ideal miniature town, most likely to be given life through his drawings someday than anywhere else. It will have an elaborate train set up and jolly houses like the yellow mansion above. I briefly went through a stage of considering taking on a dollhouse again as an adult and approaching it more organically and creatively, making the furniture and shaping the interior less inhibited by the conventions of scale and reality. My own dollhouse was long given away however and the issue of space in a cramped apartment made it unattractive to pursue.

I was greatly under the spell of Rumer Godden’s book The Doll’s House which, if you are not familiar with it already, is a juvenile chapter book about the Doll family. It is a bit terrifying actually, with an awful, proud doll named Marchpane which is introduced into the lives of the happy Doll family – ending in the death of one of the celluloid dolls by melting! Oh my. I bought myself another copy of it a few years ago and can’t lay my hands on it right now, but found it almost every bit as frightening all over again when I read it. (In researching this I discovered she is also the author of the novel Black Narcissus, on which the somewhat creepy and alarming film with Deborah Kerr is based. Makes sense!)

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The sight of a great dollhouse, such as the Stettheimer one at the Museum of the City of New York which I think of as the ultimate version in some ways, still sets my heart racing and the wheels turning in my head. The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death created by Frances Glessner Lee is another such perfection, although her intention in creating them was forensic study rather than creativity or play. Fascinating! I realize that somehow my childhood dollhouse experience was somewhat stillborn and it still itches at the back of my brain. Perhaps this toy collector will have a chance to travel down that particular road still.

Touring Car

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I believe I have written a bit about my early days of toy collecting. The origin of my toy joy wasn’t cat related, not mohair or cartoon themed gems. My fascination was entirely fueled by motion and in that, I embraced wind-up mechanical toys and battery operated ones with impunity. The finicky nature of aging battery toys – not to mention keeping batteries on hand, but not stored in them where they corrode – made collecting them somewhat less attractive over time.

Early on though some immediately captured my imagination, and I believe that the first version I saw of this was older. If memory serves that version had Asian occupants. I spied it in an antique toy store, however it exceeded my thin budget at the time. The photo taking tourist, as I think of her, was the selling point for me. She turns and snaps photos, camera lighting up as do tiny headlights on the car. The memory of it lingered and I kept a weather eye out for it.

To my joy, this ultimately turned out to be a fairly common toy. I do not remember how I came to acquire my version except to say that I remember that it was new or at least new-ish when I acquired it, although without a box which seems odd now. There is no evident brand or maker’s name on it, nor country of origin. It’s unmarked state makes it hard to research so I am unable to discover if it had an early predecessor, as memory serves, or not. I acquired it in the pre-eBay days. Now that I think of it, this may have even been a gift, the thoughtful offering of a then paramour.

However, while I had trouble Googling it this morning, I did find one on eBay right away, same model, selling for less than $40. There are a few videos of it working on Youtube, some slight variations on this theme (two men in a car or the woman sporting a kerchief), but the woman’s flash doesn’t work in any of them, nor does it work in the one for sale, so clearly the best part of this toy (for me) is the weak design link.

Despite having spent the last decade or two on a shelf in my bedroom, mine has deteriorated with time. The fragile strings that hold the man’s arms have gone slack, there is corrosion in the battery box. So I am afraid that it’s operational days are behind us. While some toys were built to withstand time, others were ephemeral pleasures and I guess this one falls in that category. Still, there is a collector’s impulse itching to keep an eye out and see if I can’t find another that does indeed work…stay tuned.