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.

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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.

 

 

 

Parade of Toys: Part 2, Bow Wow!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I continue my toy tale today with another acquisition at the The Antique Toy Shop, here in Chelsea, on my birthday. When I left readers yesterday, we were re-acquainting ourselves with the owner, Jean-Pol Ventugol. This tin dog was the first item that caught my eye and I knew I wanted to take him home immediately.

As a collector of toy cats, I have mostly resisted the temptation to acquire dogs. I acknowledge that I have long ceded to the lure of mice, another ancillary to cats, especially those evil looking Dean’s Rag ones, some of mine shown below, but have held the line on dogs.

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From the previous post, Starting Small with Mice, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Meanwhile, some dogs, especially stuffed ones, have tempted me over the years, but with limited space they seem to murky up the waters and I rarely make an exception. Nonetheless, I fell for this little fellow as soon as I walked into the toy store the other day. I have never seen another quite like him, nor have I been able to discover anything about him online.

His only marking is Japan on his tummy and like yesterday’s ducks, he has a permanent key there as well. As you can see from my very amateur video below, when wound his tail goes in circles and his head bobs gently up and down. His ears are jointed, although the ears and bone only waft gently with the motion, creating a sense of doggy delight when he moves. He more than suits the requirement of toy joy resulting in purchase. For all the world, he is a vision of a happy dog with a bone I think and I say welcome to the largely feline family.

 

 

 

 

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.