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.)

Still pic of pig

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.

Schuco Bird

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.

The Big Wind-up: Part 2, the Funny Face Man

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: The toy procession continues today with the crowning glory of my birthday gifts which eluded the star role here until today. (Earlier posts about the magnificent birthday haul and our trip to my friend at The Antique Toy Shop can be found here and here.) Kim and I spied this fellow early in our birthday visit and Kim indulged me by purchasing him. Much to my surprise, he even came with his original box, shown below, carefully wrapped in plastic. I’m always a bit hinky about owning these original boxes as I am a nervous custodian of them (see my post about the Aesop Fable doll and it’s box here) but nonetheless it is interesting to be able to study.

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Our tin friend, who by tacit agreement online appears to depict the silent film comedy star Harold Lloyd, was produced by Marx toys. Back in January of this year I opined a bit on the history of Marx toys – founded in 1919 and meandered all the way to about 1980 – as one of the lead makers of early 20th century toys. Their mission was to produce quality toys for less money than other companies, and the vast amount of their early toys that remain with us almost 100 years later is a tribute to their conscientiousness and success of their mission.

Our man was one of an early line of walkers (tin figures that hippity hoppety walk when wound up) depicting a variety of popular characters of the time – some of these now mostly forgotten. Among the ones I found were: Popeye, Amos & Andy, Mortimer Snerd, Pinocchio, Charlie McCarthy, and B.O. Plenty of Dick Tracy fame.

I find it interesting that all the other examples I can find name the actual character on the box, unlike this one which does not name Harold Lloyd, but instead calls this toy the Funny Face Man. Was copyright not forthcoming in this case? In addition, I note that this particular character was repurposed for several others with a slight litho painting change. This figure repainted does turns, at a minimum, as a black face entertainer and a policeman as far as I can tell. Even beyond those doppelgangers, the tin parts were produced to satisfy many characters – for example Amos & Andy have the same bottom as Harold – with the faces changed a bit and the litho design slightly altered to suit. A cost effective presto-chango.

Harold’s charm is largely in his wind-up motion and his side to side walk, eyes rolling, as shown in my very homemade video below. Later versions of walkers did not wind up, but instead were designed to toddle down an incline. This mechanism lasts into my childhood and plastic versions, still depicting popular characters of the time like Donald Duck. I remember finding them fascinating.

 

I have a soft spot for Harold Lloyd. Although I grew up with silent film comedy, I came to Harold late in the game. In my childhood my father had supplied a diet of W.C. Fields and Buster Keaton, but I was left to discover both Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd on my own in adulthood. As I remember, Chaplin came to me via the production of a boxed set and documentary series (The Unknown Chaplin) in the 1980’s. Harold Lloyd was a bit later for me and many of those films were viewed at our great New York movie theater institution Film Forum in my young adulthood here. Great discoveries, both.

As an aside, their comedic talents notwithstanding, I have always thought that both Chaplin and Lloyd were extremely handsome men. However it is their comedy that draws me into all those films again every time I see them. (As recently as a few weeks ago, TCM sucked me into a Chaplin I have probably now seen a dozen times.) And now I have my very own Harold, sitting high on a shelf amongst the Felix-es, where I hope the kitties cannot take a swat at him.

 

Big Wind-up: Part One, Meow

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post:  As previously bemoaned in this space last week, our scanner here at Deitch Studio died with a tick, tick groan as it ground to a halt halfway through the back cover of Kim’s new book, Reincarnation Stories. (Yes, here’s the pre-order link on Amazon here – never miss a chance to plug the family product I say! It has a not insignificant dose of Pam Butler in it and comes out in October.) But now we have an excuse to happily explore and exploit a small cache of wind-up toys that have crossed the threshold here recently. Let the wind-up toy parade begin.

Today’s wind-up kitty is one I have in fact chased hither and yon for a number of years. It should be noted that he was the runner up as my avatar on this site, Twitter, and Instagram, but the rare Italian version of Felix on a scooter (which I am unlikely to ever own as it tends to go for a vast sum of money) won out instead. Still, there is for me an undeniable goofy charm to this rotund kitty with his jolly tin bottom half. I have bid on him via eBay and on numerous other sites and always lost to a more ambitious buyer for significant sums of money.

Last week I was trolling eBay and found a listing with a photo that was almost impossible to see it was so dark and indistinct, yet I knew that cat immediately. Even with all of that there were several buyers who also knew however in the end I bought him for much less than expected. Although he has some dents in his celluloid head that I was not able to discern in the photo, he was a welcome sight when he turned up last week.

On close inspection I found a mostly indiscernible tag on his underside which identifies him as being made in Occupied Japan which dates him from between 1947 and 1952. Made with the US export market in mind toys from that era tend to have a slightly skewed American sensibility. His dented celluloid head is a reminder of how fragile that stuff is, but it doesn’t lessen his appeal for me.

I share an image from the internet of him in perfect condition, with his box, and most notably he is holding a bell in his hand (paw) which is missing from mine. (There is a slit in the upturned paw it would have hung from and it is easy to see how it went missing on many over the past 70 years or so. The bell would be fun though as he races around in circles.) The internet also has examples with his tin bottom in blue and a bit less appealing, a mouse-headed version I didn’t care for at all – a bit terrifying. Part of this fellow’s charm for me is his up-turned tail, a bit like a third leg, and his cartoon-like gloved hands.

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An internet swipe – this one in finer shape and complete with box.

 

He still winds well and I close with an action shot for you – a hot four seconds – below. It looks messy, but it rights itself when you click and shows you his action. I do believe that wind-up toys are meant to be seen in motion and offer my modest attempt.

 

 

 

Premium

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Something given as a reward, prize, or incentive…Early 17th century (in the sense ‘reward, prize’): from Latin praemium ‘booty, reward’, from prae ‘before’ + emere ‘buy, take’. From the Oxford English Dictionary.

Pam’s Pictorama: For me one of the amazing and tantalizing pleasures of existing in the moment of time and space that I do is the relative availability of various premiums from the past. These items, only obtainable previously through either luck (think Cracker Jack) or by dint of labor (collecting cereal box tops shall we say), the products of early, crafty advertisers, are available now to us for examination and purchase more or less at will. It’s hard for me to describe how entertaining I find this to be – booty is the perfect word indeed, treasure! To a large degree, just being able to actually see them is enough, but yes of course, sometimes I find myself with a hankering to possess them as well.

I first became aware of this particular bounty while working my way through a Hake’s auction catalogue. On the festive occasion that those folks sends me one of their fat color catalogues I like nothing better than to curl up in bed and read every page, pointing out the best stuff to Kim. (If the folks from Hake’s are paying attention I would like to point out that I rarely disappoint them on the occasion of receiving their missive and have made many a purchase I may have not discovered online. I wrote a little ode to the Hake’s catalogue once which can be found here.) In the process of this, I have discovered things I never knew existed that deeply interest me. Among these are strange political buttons of elections long past and a wide variety of premiums – give aways from everything, cereal to radio program tie-ins. Most with origins I am at least passingly familiar with, although some dimly at best.

Therefore it is fair to say my fascination with these items is not linked to a particular affiliation with the origin. I can deeply enjoy perusing Lone Ranger premiums (silver bullet ring anyone?) while being only passingly familiar or interested in the lore of the Lone Ranger, his comrades and their adventures, having personally only ever been exposed to the television show as fodder for Sunday afternoons in my childhood. The rings alone – those that might decode, magnify, signal or contain a bit of mythical meteorite – tempt. Truly I would like to own them all and have only barely contained myself, limited by space, money and time.

Obviously where advertising and premiums intersect with felines I have made acquisitions (for example I opine on some splendid pin trays which sit happily on my dresser in my post Corbin Canadian Cats which can be found here), however I do wander astray occasionally however and give into something. Today’s item, this wonderful Little Orphan Annie Ovaltine mug purchased for me by Kim, is an example I am especially pleased with. It was easily obtained – I imagine the bar for acquiring it set purposely low and therefor in a sense still is – and you can all have one if you want. We paid a nominal amount for this very pristine example. I believed that it came in this cream color or a white version when I bought it. I purchased a cream colored one – but I now realize as I photograph it that the cream reads white – maybe all are cream colored? Ultimately I chose this one because of it’s utterly unworn state. It looks like it just came out of the box.

These mugs, manufactured exclusively for The Wander Co., Chicago makers of Ovaltine (as per the bottom of the mug) were evidently a tie in with the Little Orphan Annie radio broadcast, sponsored by Ovaltine from 1931-1940. I gather this was an extraordinarily effective tie in and, in the day, one rarely thought of the radio program without also thinking of Ovaltine.

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I have only a passing experience with Ovaltine from my own childhood. It wasn’t a favorite by any means but wander through it did. In my mind it was a lesser cocoa additive than the Nestle or Hershey scoop-able brown powders or (best of all) syrup that was preferred. My memory is that I sort of liked that it was more granular than powder which made it more interesting to dispense. I am not sure that the concept of it being more of a malted drink than a chocolate one was entirely coherent to me although my tastebuds knew it and preferred chocolate. I gather there was a nominal component of it being nutritious?

This mug surprised me by being somewhat child-sized, not tiny, but as an adult more appropriate for expresso than your morning cup of joe, which means I will not be using it for that end. I dearly love the image of Sandy on the back. I deeply regret that I have never found a Sandy toy that seems to entirely capture his mercurial charm. I continue to search. I am very enamored of the one I wrote about in my post Sandy Finds a Home which can be read here, but cuddly he is not. I would like to find a nice mohair version, something you can imagine a child taking to bed at night.

Sandy front scan

Sandy, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Little Orphan Annie is enjoying a prolonged vogue in our home. Kim is reading his way through the series, via the IDW volumes for the most part, and is currently enjoying and very involved in 1935. I read one of the volumes several years ago and intend to get back to it now that they are all in the house or will be. For now he recounts highlights and occasionally points out whole strips for my delectation. Weekend mornings are his primary comic strip reading time – while I work on these posts as a matter of fact.

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The siren call of premiums has started to take hold of me however and I think Pictorama readers can anticipate a trend here. The lure of these items, hard won and carefully hoarded for us future generations, is one I cannot seem to resist.