Cars

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Probably because I have been thinking a lot about my father recently, a memory of the beloved Matchbox cars of my childhood has pushed its way to the top of mind. One of my earliest memories was racing these cars with my father on the wide expanse of a bare wooden floor in a house we lived in when I was a toddler. Dad would get on the floor with me and my sister and we would choose cars and push them – Ready, Set, Go! and see which would go furthest. Some cars were favored as being believed to be faster and some were just cooler than others.

So stubborn and persistent is this renewed memory that I began to think about purchasing these cars again. There are toy collectors who are largely preoccupied with repurchasing their childhood – a glorified version of their childhood or exactly what they owned, or perhaps what they never had. I, of course, am generally a sort of extreme version of the last, assembling the childhood of an extremely wealthy if somewhat odd British-American child of the 1920’s and 30’s. Other than a few books (posts on some of these can be found at The Cricket in Times SquarePush Kitty and also The Story About Ping) I have not attempted to replace any toys of my own past.

However, I was gratified that images of my favorite cars were immediately and easily found. A child of the early 1960’s Lesney’s Matchbox cars (founded in Britain in 1957) had probably only reached our shores a few years before, the true explosion of these models just taking hold. Unsurprisingly, there are a myriad of fan sites and Pinterest pages devoted to collecting Matchbox cars. Photos of my favorites were readily found online, leading also to discovering others I have owned. These very cars are in fact also available, in a wide range of condition, for sale on eBay – albeit not inexpensive and frequently necessitating the purchase of several cars along with the ones I want, ones that I have no interest in. Therefore, I have not yet pulled the trigger.

For some reason I was shocked to discover that my very favorite car, the white converible with the red seats as above, was a Mercedes Benz – expensive taste even as a child! It was the favorite and fastest. Another prized one was the Mercury Couger below. In researching this I was reminded that we also had an ambulance (that blue bit on the roof slides back and forth and I was crazy about that) and a beloved double decker bus, both special, but slower when racing.

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This Mercury Couger was usually in competition with the Mercedes Benz above

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Matchbox Ambulance, Studebaker Wagonaire, we’d race this one, but not the fastest

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Also slower was this double decker bus

 

The detail on these cars is what you remember, the doors opened, some you could pop the hood open; sometimes there were trailer hitches on the back. I can’t seem to find one we had where the exposed engine wiggled up and down when it ran – it made a slight ticka-ticka sound as a result – and it was fast! These details made them memorable and wonderful. Cast in metal, they had a bit of heft to them. It turns out that the series was founded by a man who was a co-owner of the nascent toy car company, Jack Odell, who designed the first tiny model car for his daughter. She was allowed to take a toy no larger than a matchbox to school. Frankly, I had never realized that it was a British company and was surprised to realize this – I had always associated them with the much later purchase of the company by Mattel in my mind.

My dim memory of purchasing our Matchbox cars is that they were in a display or bin at the supermarket near the register where you could convince mom of a last minute impulse buy – they were designed to be extremely affordable and this ploy worked. Meanwhile, I do not believe my parents were making any significant unisex statement with the fact that my sister and I played with cars, and we had electric trains too. I seem to remember the occasional baby doll, although admittedly they were not high on my or my sister’s list. (I did have a lovely metal baby carriage that I used to coax the cat into and would occasional try to dress him in some doll clothes however.) Barbie later ranked very high with me and certainly there are those who say she epitomizes a sexist toy. (I adored my Barbies, more about that another time.)

By the time my brother was in the picture, my mother’s toy politics profile was raised and she was marginally disapproving of guns and war toys. However, my Barbie dated a GI Joe purchased instead of the lunkhead Ken sold for that purpose. (GI Joe was full posable with articulated joints, Heidelberg dueling scar and all, and was the optimum date; Barbie also had an off model doctor doll – Dr. Bob maybe? – she deigned to hang out with occasionally.) My brother had water pistols and at least a nominal few GI Joe’s as well so mom wasn’t maniacal about this. However, I think it was largely the availability and affordable nature of Matchbox cars that got mom to pop a new one in the shopping cart occasionally to quiet us kids down. Dad brought home what may have been a rip off by Esso of a gasoline truck at one point, purchased at the gas station or given as a premium. I was entertained and pleased to learn that Mr. Odell designed them originally for his daughter.

Try as hard as I can, I do not remember the cat, Snoopy, chasing these when we raced them although he must have. (I think Cookie and Blackie would assume this game was meant just for them.) Memory tells me that eventually we had a case for our cars and this one below strikes a familiar chord. Mom and Dad probably just got tired of constantly stepping on them. I seem to remember that too!

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Weakness

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Okay, so I admit I have a problem. I cannot seem to contain myself if an early Felix toy might be sold cheaply without attempting to acquire it. It’s an addiction and I am an addict. That is how I came to purchase this fellow recently. Yes, this is another Felix purchase post.

I am the first to say I do not really know what is going on with the cradle, shown below, or baby bottle attached to his hand, as it was sold. My thought is that Felix was just plunked in there and bottle tied on. Upon receiving it, I am not sure. I am open to any information or suggestions.

Meanwhile, additionally there is the question of how old this Felix is. His condition is so clean and mint that I did wonder if he was some sort of re-creation or even new old stock. Upon careful examination however there is a seam that has been re-sewn on his back (hard to see here) and his bow is quite old; his eyes appear to be glass. He is made from a fabric that reminds me more of a fine chenille than mohair, but I’m not an expert on fabrics. He is not jointed as his slightly larger free-standing brethren of this design, in my experience, generally are.

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Is it possible that he was really designed for this bizarre crib of a sort of faux Wedgwood design? The cradle is made of a hard plastic material and the pillow, mattress and blanket appear to be commercially (reasonably well) sewn – I had thought I would just find some cotton and fabric stuffed into it so I was surprised. I guess Felix could have been some sort of a carnival prize, tucked into this crib – and that preserved him unusually well. It was his extraordinary state of preservation, and a very low starting bid, that perked up my collecting instinct. It was sold by someone in Great Britain.

Obviously I would be happy to hear from anyone who knows more or who even has a strongly held opinion. Perhaps it goes without saying that if I found this little number at the Fireman’s Fair I would have been all over my date to win it for me (I am remarkably unskilled in those types of games so there would be no hope of my winning it for myself really) – and probably would have spent at least as much as I did buying him on eBay. But what a prize that would have been!

Aesop’s Fable Doll Revealed: I’m Puffie!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Picking up where I left off last week, a Pictorama cliff hanger first (can be found here), today I present Puffie. Those of you who have followed me over the course of my collecting know that I have a keen weakness for these somewhat obscure dolls and the sight of one I do not own, let alone have not seen, makes me a bit daffy. Puffie is one such toy, coming in an original box no less, which set my collecting senses a-tingle – more like ablaze! Caution thrown to the wind I snatched him up recently on eBay.

In the zoology of Aesop’s Fable dolls, he appears to be more of a bear according to the illustrations, as shown on the box below. In my opinion he doesn’t resemble his drawn self especially however. Anyone have any thoughts to enlighten me on this?

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Aesop Fable box, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection: Puffie’s tag – wonder if Edgar’s name was actually Wright instead of Wight?

 

Oh joy! He has his tag! Attached to a bright red ribbon as shown above it reads, I’m “Puffie” See my pals in the Aesop’s Fables Films and in a child’s hand in pencil EDGAR WIGHT is neatly printed. Let me tell you, Edgar took very good care of his toys. Unlike my other Aesop’s Fable dolls, Puffie has his W.R. Woodard Co. stamps on the bottoms of both feet. He sports the stick-on black eyes, not pie-eyes in his case. His ears are brown, at first I thought they had faded to that color, but that isn’t the case when I look more closely. I very much like the detail of a line of red in his mouth. I love his little blue trousers with the one strap holding them up and his stubby tail sticks out the back.

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Faded but visible stamps on the bottom of both feet, W. R. Woodard Co.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection, Puffie from the back

 

It is remarkable for the first time to see one of these dolls pretty much as it must have looked when it arrived under a Christmas tree in 1929 or ’30, almost 90 years ago. You might think that given my prediction for preserved toys that I was the kind of child who took exceptionally good care of mine. I did not. I mean, it wasn’t like I was especially abusive, but it really would not have occurred to me to keep a toy’s box (maybe with rare exception) let alone tag. My toys were played with and if anything excessively loved, worn down along the edges from being dragged around with me and tucked into bed nightly. Still, for all of that, I am so very glad that somewhere all those years ago, Edgar Wight was very different from me.

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection – Puffie like new in his box!

 

W.R. Woodard Aesops Fable Doll, Part 1: Original Box, Puffy

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today I am pleased and even somewhat surprised to have this extraordinary tidbit to offer. On July 4 I was typing away at one of these blog posts when I decided to take a momentary procrastination break and look at incoming email. There was an eBay alert for Aesop Fable and much to my surprise, instead of an aging 8mm film print of one of the cartoons, there, pristine in their boxes no less, with tags were two Aesop’s Fable dolls for sale! Glory be! I almost fell out of my chair.

For those of you who have followed Pam’s Pictorama for a bit, you know I have a somewhat pathological interest in these dolls and collecting them. These dolls and a handful of other promotions. (I was most recently debating the merits of a handkerchief book at auction – a book of and about hankies embroidered with the various Aesop’s Fables characters on them. Fascinating, but really sort of odd. See below.) These are of course the products of the merchandising arm of cartoons of the same name, which are also much beloved by me.

These fine, if somewhat disparate, items are the product of the W. R. Woodard Company of Los Angeles, California. I have only found scant information about the company online, they were in existence for the lone year of 1929-1930. As toys go this tends to be high stakes collecting with the strange caveat that the dolls are not hugely well-known, and therefore can indeed languish until I, or one of my largely unknown compatriots, runs across it. Therefore, depending, one can be in an expensive dog fight over one, or they can lay unclaimed, sold cheaply.

Without a moment’s concern for my bank balance (toy blood lust takes this form), I seized on the one of these dolls I did not already have. Bam! I wasn’t going to have it snatched out from under me. When Kim came home from a quick trip to the drugstore I broke the news of my acquisition, which he took characteristically in stride. Less than a week later it arrived in all its glory. I made inquiries with the seller and she said all she knew was that it was part of a large buy she had made of an elderly woman’s things, being sold since she was moving into smaller, retirement home digs. The other doll, also in the box, Don, sold eleven days later.

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The box, shown above, is a bit longer and thinner than a shoebox. It is decorated with red line illustrations of the various Aesop’s Fable characters. It has a hole in on side that looks like someone took a big bite out of it, but we will assume it occurred in a less interesting and romantic fashion. Written in several places on the box in red is Genuine Aesop’s Fable Film Character. Stamped in black, VELVET DON periodically (yep, the seller gave me the wrong box. I thought it said DOLL at first, but it says DON.) Part of the pattern, shown below, is a mark that declares W R Woodard Co Los Angeles and also A Genuine Aesop’s Fable Film Character. There are renderings of the dolls including: Waffles, Don, Mike, Puffie, Al, Countess and Waffles. 

I was stunned to find that the enclosed doll was in pristine condition, but more about him in our next post!

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Aesop’s Fables handkerchief book, not in my collection (yet) from the Creighton University site

Tiny Mug of Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Sometimes I run into Felix items online that just surprise the heck out of me. And after looking at Felix china in various forms for years I thought there will be nothing new – until there is. Not surprisingly, it is often the Felix loving Britons who seem to cough up a surprising new tidbit and today’s purchase is no exception in that regard.

This mug is unmarked, but unlike my prior post Dishing Felix, which featured a bowl I deeply suspected was hand painted, this little item may have been factory made. The Felix is charmingly off model and there is some smudging of the glaze, and when I look very carefully there is a extra daub of blue on the handle. which means even if it was made in a factory, it was likely to have been the product of human hands. (Felix seems to have been a cottage industry there. I imagine lines of early 20th century British women seated and painting scores of these.)

I was quite surprised to discover how small this cup was when it arrived. It is a bit larger than doll size or toy size, more like the size of a cup of espresso, no saucer. There are no factory or maker marks on it anywhere. I especially like the way Felix’s ears and paw touch the lip of the cup, like he is ducking under. His whiskers are jaunty as well and his design seems to be stenciled on rather than painted freehand, like the bowl mentioned above.

If I had hopes of sipping my morning coffee out of this guy, it is disappointingly small, although charming. I don’t remember playing with a tea set when I was little, but think I would have found this cup endearing at any age. It leaves me wondering if there was a full set that went along with it – coffee or teapot, saucers. However, this may have been a sole gewgaw that sat on a shelf, or perhaps someone did indeed drink small bitter coffees from it. Since I am known for wading in deep, plentiful cups of coffee (for an ode to my love of coffee a post about it can be found here at Coffee) this tiny mug will not serve my purposes. If I want to drink my daily joe from an ancient Felix mug I will need to continue my search.

 

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Christmas in July – Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I decided that this summer weekend deserved some cooling down with recent Christmas finds. For many years when I worked at the Metropolitan Museum they had Christmas in July, a preview of the holiday line for the gift and bookshop. It would be set up in our boardroom and senior staff would be invited up to have a look. Anyway, the phrase stuck with me and ignited the holiday feeling with the British Felix card I shared yesterday. (It can be found here). Today’s treasure is a card that I saw a variation of quite awhile ago (same set and different photo? I wish I remembered), but it was priced very high. I snagged this one for considerably less.

Although this was a photo postcard it has traces of photo album paper stuck to the back of it. It does not appear to have been mailed. However, written neatly on it is Erma & Fred from Millard. While I think we can assume that Erma is the little girl perched on this grand beast, who is Fred? Is he dressed up as Santa? (Don’t suppose he could be the reindeer?) If you look carefully Santa is atop a box to make him sufficiently tall for the composition of this photo – and perhaps also to make him a little bit more grand?

If  you look carefully there is a small sign, on a little stand, which reads 1237 – December 1937? or a number to track which photo take this was to attach it to a person later? Of much more interest however are the toys scattered below, including a small Felix doll which is one that I neither own nor have seen previously. The dolls are generic from my perspective, but I say that understanding that perhaps to others they are as fascinating as Felix is to me. It is in some ways a sad and dry little set, yet I bet from Erma’s perspective it was pretty great to be there.

My own family wasn’t one for posed, studio holiday photos. We never sat on Santa’s lap for a photo or to tell him what we wanted for Christmas. We celebrated Christmas (and Hanukah), but in a secular way, and additionally we were never taught to believe in Santa Claus. My mother (raised Christian, but agnostic) thought lying to children about such things was an awful practice and told chagrined stories about her brother leaving the front door wide open on Christmas Eve to accommodate Santa better. My dad, as an atheist and ostensibly Jewish, was extremely ambivalent about the holidays and therefore no unnecessary pageantry was added. (Additionally, my younger brother Edward was born on Christmas Eve so we added a birthday party in there as well.) I don’t believe as a kid I felt like I missed much by not having the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap or to mail lists to the North Pole.  We had a tree, there were toys and big family meals – but alas, no toy-filled Santa photos!

 

 

Change?

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Luckily for me someone thought this was Felix and posted it on eBay where I snatched it up immediately. I believe this little change purse (obviously much beloved by one or several children over its lifetime) is Norokuro, the Japanese cat/dog character of early comic fame there. I have written about Norokuro a few times before when speculating on a celluloid toy (in the post found here, Norakuro, the Japanese Felix? and Pam Toy Post) and someday would love to find a stuffed toy one if such a thing exists – I have seen no evidence of that however. While searching for such a thing I did come across this photo of a larger than life one from an exhibition of his creator’s work, Suiho Tagawa, at a museum in Koto City, shown below. That guy reminds me of the giant Dean’s Mickey Mouse we have in our bedroom, but is a bit disappointing somehow. I am hoping for a more cuddly version to turn up.

Meanwhile, this worn little nubbin of a toy change purse is splendid. I am not certain, but I think his eyes moved originally and the zipper is designed so it looks like a large, toothy, grinning mouth. It is quite small – wasn’t holding much change and a bill would have to be folded some, although I confess I know nothing of Japanese currency at the time and maybe it was more adequate than I think. The inside is surprisingly untouched and new looking, the same blue as the back shown below, with a small tag that reads Chase Japan in English. He is well designed in my opinion. And, quite simply put, I would have been nuts about this as a kid, utterly delighted to own him.

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I have dim memories of owning less remarkable change purses as a child. This one tugs at my memory and vague, tactile but indistinct memories of mid-sixties versions of my own rise up. I know I had a bright blue cloth change purse in the shape of an animal of some sort, but there were plastic ones too, long lost to time and evidently memory as well. Strange, when I think about it, that change purses are so interesting to children considering that money doesn’t yet have real meaning, and not to mention that during my childhood the ownership of them would have largely excluded boys. Somehow though, if you had one of these with a few coins in your pocket you felt like you had the world on a string!

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