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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Rattled

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.

In It for the Toys: Part 2, Doggie

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post:  Last week I wrote about the thrill of a new celluloid toy purchase. (In It for the Toys: Part 1 can be found here in case you weren’t paying attention last week.) I bemoaned the fact that the toy is no longer functional. Long before stuffed Felix the cat dolls were a twinkle in my eye, my adult fascination with toys began with a small number of antique toys, wind up and battery operated, some that just make me laugh with sheer joy! Why wouldn’t you want to own that? It remains a mystery to me why anyone today would sell a wind-up toy without showing its movement – for me it is almost always the movement that will sell it.

I believe was in fact looking for a toy that would cheer when I stumbled across this little fellow on eBay and he fit the bill. Complete with his box he was a bargain; he isn’t especially rare although admittedly finding him complete with his candy, essential to the effect really, is a bit harder and you really do need the candy. The video he was sold with had loud annoying music, but nevertheless did the trick. While well preserved with his box, he does not appear to be new old stock. There are small signs of use and the balls that are the candy are not in their original wrapper. I am pleased to say he was fairly easily acquired, and does not disappoint.

The mechanism is very straightforward, much like a cycle in animation, he endlessly tosses “candy” in his mouth which falls out the bottom, through the can and back into position to be tossed again. Splendid! To seem him in action in a brief snippet I filmed you can go here.

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Candy Loving Canine box, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Instructive box illustration

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As always, the box offers additional charm, the text on the front Mechanical Candy Loving Canine, ALWAYS HUNGRY NEVER SATISFIED, with a fair cartoon rendering of the dog toy with a cat and dog looking on with amazement – Gosh how much can he eat? When will he stop? And then what appears to be for all the world, a mole popping up out of the ground in the bottom right corner. The mole shown on two sides with the dog too, the other sides are instructional about the use of the toy – in case you couldn’t figure it out. This little fellow was made in Japan, as is probably to be expected of a tin toy of this era. If you believe as I do, that toys bring joy, then hopefully this little fellow brightens up your day today.

In it for the Toys: Part 1

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: My interest in toy collecting actually did not begin with cats. My first toy purchases were battery operating and wind-up toys. Some of these were purchased for my then boyfriend, Kevin, as gifts and ultimately one or two for myself. I have written a little bit about this period of collecting in my post Happy Life Toy (can be found here), which consisted of haunting a now long-gone toy store called Darrow’s on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. My early fascination with those toys was all about their movement – funny drinking bartending men or tin monkey; a car with Japanese tourists taking photos. A great toy was entirely defined for me by its movement, some of which I would just delight in at times.

I knew that today’s toy was no longer functional when I purchased it, but somehow even just visualizing the movement captured my imagination. It is a wind-up toy. This little girl in her attire of the late ’30’s early 40’s, a somewhat grown-up outfit as well, is hitting the road, her beret over one eye, her bindle over her shoulder, and her dog following on a leash. The arm with the bindle would have gone up and down, and the dog (who has a charmingly piggish appearance) is a “nodder” and his head would have bounced up and down as they rolled forward. I am sorry to say that the action does not kick in even if you roll it forward manually.

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Meanwhile, I have also written about a wariness around collecting celluloid toys, those made of the early fragile plastic which disintegrates before your eyes when exposed to heat or light, which can also shatter or dent easily. Somehow I have always felt that my life is a bit rough and tumble for collecting in this category – that it should be the province of those with glass doored cabinets and the like. Paying a substantial amount of money for something this fragile makes me a bit nuts. Still, the occasional piece slips in under the wire and today’s post is one. There is no maker’s mark I can find on it, and I have never seen it or a similar toy before. She does bear a Made in Japan sticker, jauntily applied to her bottom as shown below, it is also embossed on her back.

Kim and I agree that there’s something harking to Little Orphan Annie about her – or maybe it comes to mind because Kim is reading his way through those strips right now. However, it cannot be denied that she is a plucky little girl, off to take on the world with her faithful dog friend, just like Annie.

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