Felix Fun

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Seldom does a toy have the come hither play with me quality that this jumping Felix does. Like a kid, once I start playing with it I just want to keep going. Look at Felix go! For such a simple toy it mesmerizes. You press the wooden handles together and Felix jiggles and jumps – every few times he tumbles all the way forward or backward. Yay! It has a satisfyingly substantial quality, made of wooden bits and despite its age gives it heft. This fellow was found on ebay and is a belated Christmas gift from Kim as it took awhile to cross the ocean and arrived on our doorstep in mid-January.

The design for this toy has evidently been around for a long time. Light research shows reference to eighteenth and nineteenth century France and China, but frankly no one seems to have the precise lowdown on the inception. These are truly timeless toys. Instructions for making these proliferate even today with Youtube tutorials, but versions of this toy have long been available commercially as well as being made at home. It is loosely defined as a wooden acrobat toy – jumping jack might get you there too, but that seems better reserved for the wooden toys with a string that make the arms and legs go up and down, a sort of kissing cousin of this Felix toy.

This Felix came from Great Britain and my guess is that instructions for making this and other models were probably available in magazines like Popular Mechanics or in this case whatever the equivalent was in Britain at the time. When I say at the time I am also a bit flummoxed, but from what I have read I would think  it could have been made any time after Felix’s appearance on the scene through the 1950’s.

The Felix himself is a bit endearingly lumpy in design and there is not real question that he would not have qualified for the Pat Sullivan seal of approval in the day. His tail has a small chip and he has some signs of wear in his black paint – I assume his white face was brighter in his youth as well. Below I share a Mickey Mouse, sans legs, which I found on Pinterest which seems to share the same gray area of homemade versus commercial origin.

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For those of you who, like me, need to see things in motion – a brief clip of Kim mastering and playing with Felix can be found by clicking below. Go cat, go!

Just Whistle

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This ancient children’s whistle adds to my somewhat meagre, but slowly growing, holdings of toys related to Norakuro an early Japanese Felix-y cat-dog like character. (I have written about these toys previous and a few of those posts can be found here and here.) This whistle appeared, as things occasionally do, listed as Felix on ebay. Everything vintage associated with this character is extremely expensive – I just spied a DVD of the cartoons for $150 – which perhaps in part is exchange rate, but I also chalk up to a fairly limited and rarified collecting area. My quest for an early plush toy of this character (if such thing exists) continues – maybe I will make 2020 the year of Pictorama Norakura collecting. (Bank account beware!)

This humble whistle is in a style that seems to be from the 1930’s, but it continued with variation for a decade or two and who knows how long they were produced and exported from Japan. (This is marked Made in Japan in English and Japanese, so I assume it was made for export.) I think it is fair to say that the Japanese were significant contributors to the tin whistles in the US marketplace of this era.

In researching this a bit, I saw a few early examples of these tin whistles as premiums for kids for things like shoes. This snappy one below is for Poll Parrot shoes. (I never heard of this brand, but Kim has just told me he wore them as a kid and that they were a sponsor of Howdy Dowdy. Buster Brown was the property of Smilin’ Ed…) I must say I do like this image of a shoe clad parrot! I may have to find myself one of these, but most are much more beat up than this fine example shown here.

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In general the condition of these whistles seem to be pretty rough and it is easy to image that they spent much time in the grubby pockets of small children. Their survival at all is somewhat impressive when considered.

I do not have children, but I guess that giving your child a whistle is like giving your cat a toy with a bell, or that makes any noise. You should think twice about doing it if you don’t want to hear that sound a lot. (And in the case of kitties, probably in the middle of the night.) There is something about the very existence of a whistle that makes you want to blow it. This whistle wasn’t out of the package five minutes when Kim blew on it. It makes an awful sound and the cats freaked out. He said he’d never do it again, but did (repeatedly) a few minutes later. The cats did not run, but they remained deeply suspicious – ears perked and staring wide-eyed. Evidently adults are not immune to the appeal of tin whistles, but cats are.

I do not remember any significant tin whistles in my childhood. Sadly the world had moved onto plastic more or less entirely. I include a photo of the only whistle I remember from my own childhood, an Oscar Mayer Wiener one. I do not remember how I came into possession of it – I vaguely remember that it came to me in some sort of trade with a friend. Nor am I positive this was the precise design (several were in play in the early 70’s according to my friends on Google) of the one I owned. It was somewhat beloved though, however modest it now seems in comparison to these splendid tin affairs of childhood longer gone by.

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Annie and Sandy Reunited

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Joyously I finally return to the world of toys as the chaos of our abode recedes at long last. Pictorama readers may remember that as part of a delightful birthday toy haul back in February of 2018 I purchased a hotsy totsy little Sandy doll. (Shown below and that post can be found here.) I concluded that post opining that there was a very nice Little Orphan Annie doll as well and I vowed to look into that. I had a weather eye out and at last this one found a home here at Pictorama earlier this week. It had been quite awhile since we made a toy acquisition and it was delightful when this box, slightly larger than expected showed up yesterday.

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Interestingly the history of oilcloth toys is not so easily found online, nor is the origin of these particular toys. For the information I did find I can thank Jeet Heer, Canadian author and comics scholar. His introduction to the Gasoline Alley volume covering the years 1925 and ’26 had the only information that satisfied my yen to know more this morning.

My collection of Little Orphan Annie toys is a very limited one. When I purchased the toy below I had no idea it was Annie and Sandy – although I was crazy about it! I found that out later when I saw one that was in better condition and had the box identifying it. I wrote about it last year in a post that you can read here.

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The discussion around dating this Annie doll dominated Deitch Studio in a heated debate over breakfast this morning. Kim taking the position that this Annie design had to be later than the other one shown below in two similar variations. It was he who dug out the Gasoline Alley volume, after a quick tour of Little Orphan Annie volumes up to about 1935, and found the scant information I share with you.

 

Meanwhile, my thought had been that the nicer doll with the dress (mine) was earlier and that they discovered they could do it more cheaply without. Instead it seems it is a case of starting with a more primitive toy and getting grander. I am not a fan of the design on the left, but there is something charming about the one with the hat.

It would seem that this series of comic character toys are the brainchild of Eileen Benoliel, creator of a company called Live Long Toys. There wasn’t a lot of information readily available about the company or Ms. Benoliel (or Mrs. William A. Benoliel as she is also identified) except that the Chicago company was founded in 1923 and folds in the 1940’s. I am making the assumption she made these Little Orphan Annie toys as well although I guess the concept could have been stolen from her and marketed by someone else. These toys are unmarked, with the exception of Annie’s sash which reads Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray and under Patent Applied For.

There is not a lot of information about this company. I did find a reference to the company, via Google, in a book called Made to Play House: the Commercialization of American Girlhood 1830-1930. In essence this passage makes reference to how when companies started by women became successful that it was typical for their husbands to take control of them, rather than the women keeping control and growing it themselves. It is noted that Mr. Benoliel left his job in insurance, working for companies like Marshall Field and Sears, Roebuck, to manage the burgeoning company.

According to a snippet Jeet Heer includes in the introduction to this volume Ms. Benoliel began the craze with a Skeezix doll and then the other Gasoline Alley figures. The reprinted article from the 1924 Playthings magazine is shown from the book below as is the two-page spread from the book.

 

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Jeet also notes that the Skeezix doll (which I gathered aged over time but to what extent I cannot say) eventually had removable clothing, which means Mr. Deitch wins and clearly the dolls with the removable clothes were a later variation. The Sandy doll seems to have remained consistent with the original design going forward, although later ones seem have used the same template but is a tad more three-dimensional later.

I assume that these oilcloth toys came out of earlier, more homely, variations and that from them eventually come the premiums that you were required to sew yourself. I recently examined those via an acquisition of a Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat. (You can read that post here.) Oilcloth is sturdy and Annie is solidly made. There is evidence that she was much played with and beloved. As much as I like my toys in good condition, it is good to know they have been well used and loved too.

 

 

 

Winding up Felix

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This post is the tail end of a bunch of Felix posts that were pent up for awhile, awaiting their turn at publication. While last, he is by no means least, and although his mechanism is a familiar one (from the virtually archetypal cymbal playing monkey, who can be seen doing his thing on Youtube here), I have never seen this model of Felix before.

He has an almost homemade look to him, although ultimately we know he is not. The design screams off-model however and really, he barely passes for a Felix. I purchased him from a US seller on eBay.

For me, it is a bit of a surprise that there are not a few more Felix toys with wind-up mechanisms in general, mostly a few variations on walking ones – trying to capitalize on Felix’s specific animated motion. I show a few of mine below, although none walk much these days. I also have the remnants of this scooter Felix, although my example is sans mechanics. Still, given the popularity of Felix – I would have thought they might have proliferated further.

 

In my mind, the wind-up is to toys what animation is to drawings – I love when things come to life. In that regard might have been quite happy with a career in animation – or tinkering with wind-up toys, making things move. (Instead I watch cartoons and purchase and play with toys which is a nice option too.)

This Felix fellow has no markings aside from his key (permanently affixed to his back) which is the giveaway as it is marked Schuco. His motion is not as enthused as some I have seen (I show my own bad film of this below.

He appears to have received a certain amount of hard, loving use. I don’t remember having these solid sorts of wind-up toys as a child and perhaps that explains my fascination in part.

I have made up for lost time by purchasing numerous Schuco wind-up toys in the past few years however. A relatively recent purchase was this wind-up pig which was featured in a 2018 birthday post. (It can be found here.)

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I am frankly a bit surprised that Schuco is his maker as I hadn’t realized they made the cymbal playing monkey. I cannot find a single other example of this model by searching for wind-up Schuco Felix the cat and wonder if there is a war-time production, unlicensed explanation. However, given how prolific Schuco was it is surprising more of these aren’t still knocking around.

I wrote a little bit about Schuco, a German company founded originally in 1912, it found its groove with this Pick Pick Bird toy, one of my own first wind-up acquisitions and which I wrote about back in 2016. (You can find that post here.) These are such solidly built toys – they have great heft – and their movement is expert. I am a sucker for them when I see them move.

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This post was written several weeks ago for posting while I was working in South Africa. I apologize for any unedited mistakes. More from the US soon!

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This is one of those lovely occasions when I get to write about acquiring something I have wanted for ages! Today it is this wonderful Felix toffee tin turned toy pail.

Allow me to start by saying that I love toffee. Seriously, caloric concerns are thrown out the window as soon as I see sticky toffee…followed by virtually anything written on a menu. It is a little known fact about me, but a fact nonetheless. I came to it late in life, but I think that has more to do with having had limited exposure to it when younger. I believe if I had been introduced to it earlier I would have been a life-long toffee fanatic. Somewhere in a parallel universe I am simply ruining both my teeth and my waistline contentedly stuffing myself silly with toffee.

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So if nothing else for me the vision of this delightful pail stuffed with British toffees is a wonderful one indeed. Oh the gluttony! Oddly and somewhat mysteriously, the tin bears no label for said toffees sold, only the maker of the tin, E.T. Gee & Sons and this pail is always advertised by that name. One might imagine that a toffee maker of the time like Mackintosh’s might have filled it. The candy descendants of Macintosh’s Toffee exist today and are the makers of Rolos and other delights. Macintosh was definitely selling similar pails of toffee, but those are all emblazoned with their name leaving me wondering and somewhat stumped. It is possible that the lid had a name embossed inside perhaps, or that there was a paper label/sticker. One version online seems to have the remnants of an odd sticker that says …sweet little babies.

E.T. Gee & Sons is not especially well documented as a company – I could not find much history on them. However, I find tracks showing they made a whole line of similar candy containers that were also tin toys once emptied of their confectionary treats so this must have been the side of the street they were working. Although the Felix pail is the most prevalent one, I found evidence of two others online and sadly could only fine this single small image of the house which held creams. (Google images revealed no larger photos nor additional examples.) The house, doubling as a bank, is a photo from the Worthpoint auction site and the biscuit tin wagon from an auction site called Bukowski’s.

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At auction on Worthpoint, a toffee tin that doubles as a bank.

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A biscuit tin that doubles as a toy truck, image from the Bukowski auction website.

 

Meanwhile, I have been admiring this Felix pail for a number of years now, stealthy hunting of it on eBay, tracking prices and failing each time to be the high bidder. A version in condition only somewhat superior to my own, but with the top (shown below with this mischievous Felix whose tiny rendition of the toffee pail is stuffed with toffee – mine does not have the top sadly) went for more than $3,500 just several years back at Hake’s. I have lost several on eBay that went for much less than that, although probably all without the top. My example does come from Hake’s – just a bad day at auction?Maybe, but clearly for whatever reason the price of them has dropped considerably. I paid a tiny fraction of that for mine.

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From a Hake’s auction catalogue, lid to the Felix pail which mine is sadly missing.

 

The decoration is decidedly and delightfully cryptic – the scenes are certainly comical, but you really have to wonder where they came from. On one side Felix rides a white horse or pony (sort of Felix as Lady Godiva in my mind) along the water’s edge. He is being chased by a young boy (with an outsized head) brandishing a spatula? Or perhaps it is the shovel to a sand pail? The boy seems to be running full speed while the awkward drawing of the horse seems to have Felix at a slower pace. (His toes curling upward in an interesting manner.) Most bizarre of all however, is the female Felix in an old fashioned bonnet and dress, taking the scene in at the water’s edge. A broken fence in the foreground leads the mind further down the path of an unknown narrative. The horsey hardly looks like he’d break down a fence. Curious indeed!

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My very own Felix toffee pail! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

The more benign scene on the other side is my favorite – a large family of Felix-es, Mom, Dad and three babies – having their photo portrait taken! Of course as someone who collects photos of people posing with Felix on the beach this is a very funny inside joke. They are dress for the occasion – the Dad in a vest, mom in a long dress – in this alternate universe Mrs. Felix evidently dresses like a Mennonite. One child splashes in the water with a small sand shovel, the other getting his feet wet while a small girl perched on a rock beckons to him. The photographer, complete with tri-pod, camera with bellows and (I think in my mind) long exposure film, appears to be a young boy. Daddy Felix is gesturing approvingly to the camera. A toy looking sailboat appears in the distance. A splendid Felix walking decoration rings both top and bottom of the pail.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

My version of the pail is about 8″ high and I understand that there is a slightly smaller version with a single row of Felix around it. (I’m glad mine has those!) It has a satisfying sturdy handle for holding and swinging merrily as you walk, and I think it would make a jolly pail at the beach, although I am pleased this one doesn’t appear to have spent much time in that capacity.

As a child who grew up on the shores of the Atlantic ocean I know a little something about playing in the sand at the beach and I can assure you much could be accomplished with a nice little pail like this, accompanied perhaps by a small sand shovel. One could dig deep caverns, carry water to fill moats or to dampen sand into the proper consistency for the construction of castles and related buildings. One’s pail was essentially a ticket to hours of beach fun and this would make a splendid addition to any discerning child’s collection.

 

Pigeon

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: It’s joyfully back to toys today and I have been sitting on this beauty for a few weeks, waiting for the chance to share him with you all. Those very devoted early readers may remember a post about pigeons (which can be found here) where I first mentioned my fondness for the fine feathered fellows. Despite quite bad publicity here (rats with wings, etc.) I remain their champion.

Pigeons live quietly among us here, rarely kicking up a fuss, eliminating tons of garbage annually by consuming as their daily repast. For most New Yorkers they are ubiquitous fellow denizens, thought of with derision if thought about at all. However Kim and I share an affection for pigeons and I have always appreciated that I could point out a particularly nice one or pair to him for admiration. (There are some commonalities that married couples should share in my opinion and a fondness for pigeons is one is one in our case.) I have told this story before, but I love the idea that when Kim was a child and first came to New York he thrilled to find these birds just walking sedately among the humans.

When I worked at the Met I had a nesting pair out my window which returned over several years. I worried about them as we had many hawks nesting in the rooftops there as well. Whenever I saw one without the other I hoped for the best. Their nest was not visible, further down the glorified airshaft that I overlooked. I understand that they are casual nesters at best, eggs frequently lost or broken. As all New Yorkers know, they largely manage to nest out of sight and nests, eggs and baby pigeons are rarely on view.

While researching this I did find a rather delightful story from 2017 about a woman in Greenwich Village who returned home from vacation to find a pigeon nesting in the pasta strainer in her kitchen. She allowed her to stay and created an Instagram account for her. The story can be found here. Evidently young pigeons are almost adult size by the time they leave the nest and then blend with the adults, leading to the idea that we never see young pigeons. (It is said that they are identifiable by a patch of downy feathers at the back of their neck.)

When I saw this tin pigeon on auction I must say I immediately set my cap for it. Luckily for me and the old bank account, only one or two other folks had interest and I didn’t end up going to the wall to acquire him. He is marked VEBE on his chest, which appears to be one of the divisions of a French toy company Victor Bonnet. I couldn’t find out much about the company other than they produced high end friction and wind-up toys from early to mid-20th century. With a few exceptions, they seem to have made beautiful race cars and trucks – and pigeons. The pigeons appear to have been made in the early 1950’s and a number of them are extant, although generally much more beat-up than mine. (Children played hard with their pigeons I gather.)

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I thought this was a friction toy when I purchased him, but upon examination he turns out to be a wind-up. He was sold without a key but I found one in my collection that works, and he has a wonderful life-like pigeon head motion, life-like enough to capture Cookie’s attention this morning. I find his practical and almost industrial design very satisfying. If he only cooed he would be perfect indeed. For a quick look at his motion have a look below.

 

The concept of the homing pigeon, housed atop a New York apartment building has long lived in my imagination, fueled by period films. And as it is Memorial Day weekend I close with the reminder of how these birds, carrier pigeons, did military service in WWI and WWII carrying wartime messages across enemy lines. In fact, their military service did not end until about 1957. So consider a salute when you pass a pigeon on the street this weekend – his or her fine feathered forefathers did their bit too.

Felix in the Palm of Your Hand

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As a determined and fairly thorough collector of Felix the Cat items, variations on these dexterity puzzles have come and gone over the years without my taking the plunge – or at least never landing one. I am always a sucker for this question mark tail pose myself and I have always liked Felix a bit squared off as he appeared in his earliest cartoons and reproductions. (He gets rounder and rounder over the decades until he is looking like Mickey Mouse by the 1940’s or early ’50’s – this seems to be an issue with cartoon characters as they age – they round off over time, a sort of gelding in my mind. I will write about this at greater length some time – I have theories!) He is also toothy in his early incarnation and I like the fiercer, cattier version of him best.

Here is is shown in quite a mood indeed. A (presumably) empty bottle labeled scotch whiskey at his feet with these sort of exclamation lines radiating out from his head. Felix is ready to take on all comers! Not so much angry as just very wound up. The scraggly mouse figure next to him exclaims, What O! Felix has the Kruschen Feeling! At the bottom is also marked Germany. There is no further information on the back.

Our friends over at Google inform me that Kruschen Feeling was an advertising campaign for Kruschen Salts, a popular packaged remedy of the day. This series of ads boasted visuals such as elderly gents leaping around and exclaiming something along the lines of – if this isn’t you it should be! The product and the company still exist today. In case you are wondering the salts in question are ingested.

The whole thing sounds a bit wretched to me, but evidently they turned the trick for Felix. This image and saying was also used in a series of game cards that were made with Felix. The version I have and have written about were more like premiums that came with chocolate and I wrote about them here. These were made of a flimsy not-quite-cardboard paper. As below, the top two are mine and then there was a boxed set you could purchase and those images are taken from the internet, the box from a Hake’s auction. These same images were also repurposed for a series of popular postcards that remain widely available but pricey.

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Box for Felix card game, not in Pictorama collection.

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Felix playing cards, not in Pictorama collection.

 

It is not clear to me that this item was a premium to advertise the products, although I admit it is certainly a possibility. Weirdly the feeling I get is that it was a popular phrase of the day and aptly described the early ill tempered version of Felix and they adopted it. I sort of like the scrubby mouse as a sort of alter ego for Felix. He does chase mice in the cartoons – presumably with the intention of eating them. This one is remarkably undefined – ears, tail and whiskers readable, as are five fingers on each hand (unlike the four fingered look that most animated and cartoon characters sport) and even toes, but no face. There was no fear that the Mickey Mouse crowd would get their backs up with this fellow, if that was a concern.

This toy has seen many years and miles in pockets and undoubtedly in the grimy mitts of small children. It looks a tad more fragile than it actually feels and I immediately started trying to place the three balls. (It is hard to see, one needs to land in his mouth, one in his left eye and one at the bottom of the question mark.) It is harder than it may look. So far I have failed to nail it, but I have all the time I need to figure it out.