Flummoxed by Felix

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I am taking a detour today from my discourse on my London loot and circling back to these fascinating Felix-es I purchased on eBay shortly before my trip. I have labeled this a toy post, but honestly, I have no idea what purpose these served so they may indeed not have been proper toys. However, when I saw them I had to have them and here we are now, on a bright if chilly St. Patrick’s Day morning in New York City, coffee in hand, contemplating them.

For once I believe I really did understand the tiny scale of these pre-purchase – no bigger than a quarter. Of course they came from Great Britain (they call it Great for a reason said the Felix collector) which is still the El Dorado of early Felix items, despite my recent disappointing foray. They are made of wood and appear to have been commercially produced – this wasn’t a pattern in a magazine or someone’s one-of-a-kind. The tiny Felix arm (paw?) on one has broken off. The scale is a tad wonky with the hands a bit enlarged. The bottoms are even and they stand up easily on their own, edges sharp. If they are pieces to a game, the most likely thought – I want it!  Surely they would be considered a choking hazard for small children today – and really, who could blame a small child for wanting to give these an experimental chew? I am sure Cookie and Blackie would give them a gnaw if I allowed it.

Here we are in paragraph 3 and I sort of assume it goes without saying that I have never seen the likes these before. My best guess is that they were markers for some sort of game played by grown ups – like a Bingo variation of some kind. My imagination races – were there Felix game boards or cards? How many variations on Felix are there and, most of all of course, will I ever find the rest of it? These are the most pleasant sort of mysteries of life – small and fascinating hints dropped in my way, leading me on a jolly, if long and winding, path of toy discovery.

Along these lines, I share a photograph I found online recently – it is the box for the Felix game I wrote about recently in my post Chocolate Felix. Just going to show, pieces of the toy puzzle do continue to turn up.





Travel Cat


Cats in Pams-Pictorama.com collection


Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I wrote yesterday, I was a bit devastated by the realization that there were no toy dealers at Portobello market on the day I was there. I had really been looking forward to it and one in particular, Mr. Punch’s Old Toys. (I was given the name of two other far flung antique centers which also proved a bust for my purposes – one ultimately specializing in very high-end jewelry, and the other devoted almost exclusively to furniture and lighting.)

However, I did manage to acquire this very nice fellow, shown above, from a man selling ropes of beads and other items from Central Asia. Meanwhile, he had four cat variations on this fellow lined up for sale as well. This one was the largest and his neck swivels which the others did not, enabling him to have what I like to think of as an inquiring look. The seller insisted that it is Steiff, although I see no hole where the Steiff button would have gone. While Steiff certainly made quality toys, it is not an affiliation that I am hung up on either way. I trotted off to an ATM machine and acquired some cash and returned to barter him down a bit before tucking this nice guy in my bag.

Although my collection focuses largely on black cats, I have a bit of a history of picking up striped cats out-of-town, although seeming never online. I like to think it is the expression of a each cat that calls to me. Included here is a random white cat as well. He was purchased in Dresden while on an especially stressful business trip for the Met. I stumbled into an antique store on a free afternoon and found him – or he found me. He cheered me immensely for the remainder of the trip and did a stint in my office as well. The smallest of these was purchased for me by Kim at an antique center in Cold Spring, New York, and is the only one that sports a Steiff button on one ear – although the white one has a hole where a button could have been. The other cat with a bell came from an earlier trip to Cold Spring, and was the first one, purchased in a store more or less dedicated to toys and early holiday decorations I used to visit periodically.

These cats have the appeal of being toys I can easily imagine as a childhood favorite; one that is carried tucked in a stroller or into bed with a child at night. One of the features I like best about the new cat is his long, soft tail, unlike his tail-in-the-air friends. There is a trace of red on the back of his neck which makes me think he too used to sport a red bow like the others. I think his is a sincere face. (I have always thought the smallest one has a very worried expression for a toy cat. Poor kitty!) The kitties with bells have whiskers and I assume there is a chance that all did at one time – these being the most susceptible to disappearing with handling over time. Smallest kitty also has a head that moves – white kitty has had his head re-sewn onto his body, so he could have had a moveable head, but we do not know. I am open to hearing from those of you with more information about whether or not all these cats are Steiff or not. Please do weigh in.

As I wrote in Shanghai Pam and the Toy Store Adventure there is something grounding for me about buying toys while in a far flung places – especially inviting, and on occasion outright comforting, about finding toys while out in the world. These cats currently reside scattered across our apartment, in fact I had trouble finding smallest kitty. I am thinking though that maybe one should head to Columbus Circle and take up residence in my office. Currently no toys reside there and maybe new kitty could take up residence for moral support and offer his inquiring yet welcoming look to all.



London Fog: Chapter 2

Pam’s Pictorama (Adventure) Post: When I left off of my last entry I was wandering around a sodden, snowy London, briefly cheered by my encounter at Marchpane books and meeting the lovely Natalie Kay-Thatcher. (London Fog, Chapter 1 for those of you just tuning in.) After a cozy solo lunch and a run off to another part of town for an appointment, I found my brain chanting buy the Louis Wain book! Therefore, before heading up to Covent Garden to look up Natalie’s toy friend, Simon at Benjamin Pollocks Toy Shop, I wandered back to Marchpane and purchased the coveted volume. By that time Natalie was ensconced in conversation with a musician named Stuart, who was stuck in London on his way to a gig out-of-town. (Yes, clearly this children’s antiquarian bookshop is some sort of crossroads of the universe.) Stuart was going to a Pinter play that evening and enticing Natalie to come along. (I would have happily horned in if I could, however I was to spend my evening at a Pizza Express with a jazz contact who turned out to be very nice and whose job is to book jazz and other music for the numerous venues of this oddly named chain.) Louis Wain indulgence tucked safely in my bag I wandered up to Convent Garden.

By now on this trip I have also acquired snow boots and on this day, despite layers under a good, heavy wool coat, umbrella and all, I am a soaking mess, as is all of London. Nonetheless, a long buried walking map of the city floats up in my brain and I find my way to the above mentioned toy store, which specializes in toy theaters. (I have always thought Kim and I should design one of these – can we just pause to imagine how great a Kim Deitch toy theater would be?) Although they have a small section of antique toys, I did not make a purchase there. However, I had a splendid conversation about the state of purchasing antique toys with Simon, who gave me a few toy tips while I informed him of the existence of photo postcards of mostly denizens of Britain’s seaside past, posing with giant Felix dolls – those of course Pictorama readers know I collect. His family is from a small seaside town and he promised to keep an eye out for such items.

Pollock toy shop

Undeterred by Bermondsey as a no show and by Natalie and Stuart’s warnings that the snow would deter dealers, the next morning at dawn and with hotel room tea and a muffin under my belt, I was up and out to get to the long anticipated and much beloved Portobello market as early as possible. Much as I remember from other trips, crowds gather several blocks away, tourists and interested locals, building in numbers and snaking their way up the narrow street which serves as a quiet avenue of expensive homes the rest of the week. I will however get to the point – there were no toy dealers at Portobello market! I was very sad indeed. I emailed Kim who sent words of sympathy.

That is not to say there were no dealers however, and with what I like to think of as amazing adaptability and fortitude, I rallied and dove into what was available – jewelry. I know I am going to lose some of you on this tributary, but I have long been interested in Victorian mourning jewelry and it abounded at this market. A close friend, whose family has been intertwined with mine for several generations, gave me this stunning hair brooch for Christmas last year and mourning rings had always interested me.

Memorializing and remembering loved ones gone with a physical memento, such as this jewelry, lockets or in other cases a daguerreotype or other photo, has always fascinated me. While these were not always made with the hair of the dead, that is what they have become most associated with. In the end I treated myself to the ring shown here. It does not have an inscription inside the band as many do, but it does appear to contain a tiny bit of hair, and in gold around the outside it reads in memory of.


Victorian memorial hair ring, Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Although no Felix toys were purchased, I will wrap this travel tale tomorrow with an interesting Felix connection and shift to the important work of a closer look at the cat-related loot I did manage to bring home.


Foxy Squirrel?

Al 2

Al the Squirrel Aesop Fable doll from Pams-Pictorama.com collection


Pam’s Pictoram Toy Post: Oh joy and bliss! My first of several post-birthday posts is devoted to this utterly magnificent birthday gift from Kim, the most unusual of the Aesop Fable dolls in some ways. This toy came to me via a lovely toy dealer in Belgium, Regine Beghin, who has been the source of several holiday and birthday acquisitions in recent years. I will hope that my travels eventually land me nearby so I can say hello in person one day. (That does of course have the potential to be a very expensive trip indeed.)

Unlike his brethren, this is the only one of the dolls I know of with a very different body type, a strangely long skinny neck and puffy tail. As seen in this publicity photo below, the others are largely interchangeable bodies, different heads, clothes and expressions. So now comes the big question – what animal exactly does my new friend portray and what is his name? Looking at my prior research, presented in my post Mine, all mine…at long last – a personal favorite post – I listed the names for those characters as identified on the back of the photo, but realize this fellow remained nameless!

Aesope's Fables toys

Photo from the Pams-Pictorama.com collection


Google remains stubbornly inadequate on information about these Aesop Fable toys. In fact, it has gotten to where Google images on the subject are mostly my toys and posts! I reached out, deep into the toy network, and tapped a friend who I consider the Kingpin of Toy Lore. Mel agreed that he had always thought this was a fox (Max Fox perhaps?), but in examining the Aesop Fable hankies book – he owns his own copy, but some of you know this was recently the subject of some covetousness on eBay by yours truly – all the characters are laid out and identified. It would appear, as shown below, that this fellow isn’t a fox (or a wolf) after all – he is evidently Al Squirrel! (This and some much more can be seen at melbirnkrant.com.)


Collection of Mel Birnkrant – melbirnkrant.com



Collection of Mel Birnkrant – melbirnkrant.com


I must say, on the face of it a squirrel seems like a strange animal to attempt immortalized as a cartoon character. I kind of like the fact that they gave him such a straightforward name – Al. Upon reflection, perhaps a wolf or a fox carries negative cartoon connotations. (Think Three Little Pigs for starters.) Squirrels, on the other hand, are industrious, hard working little fellows. I suppose more likable – although the image above is anything but, holding a dead rabbit and a ditty about shooting a bee. Hmmm. Bottom, line, he is clearly a bit of a stretch aesthetically – more foxy than squirrelly  however.

I will note that this little fellow of mine seems to have replacement eyes (as above all of the dolls with open eyes have flat black pasted on ones, mostly but not all pie-eyed) and as a toy collector I should care about that, but his eyes are very fitting and I admit to liking them very much despite being later replacements. Otherwise his is in very good shape overall.

Al 3

Detail, Al the Squirrel Aesop Fable doll, Pams-Pictorama.com collection


In the process of writing this post I realized something else – in the above photo the Countess, the character at the far right, has different feet than all the others. I own two (yes, two – for the most recent acquisition see the post about that variation on a theme Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) Countess dolls and neither has those strange feet. Additionally, in what I now think of as true Aesop Fable tradition, my friend mentioned above also noted that his “hankie book” had a different cover than the one on eBay.

Finally, to muddy the waters further, below I share a photo of a partial doll I have, given to me by my friend Zach Sigall a few years ago. This was clearly another variation on the Wolf, Fox, Squirrel figure and is substantially different than our friend Al. Although his tail is missing, he doesn’t have the skinny neck and there’s no indication he had the fat tail. Unlike the other dolls his eyes are painted on and could not come off at all – other dolls seem to have eyes that are very firmly attached, but applied on. If we are using the hankie book as a reference or guide this fellow does not seem to have a match – perhaps there is a Max Fox after all.

Not Al

Mystery doll fragment, Pams-Pictorama.com collection


I remain totally enthralled and fascinated by what appears to be the mix and match mysterious nature of this enterprise. I cannot help but wonder if, like the East End shop I wrote about that churned out many of the more off-model Felix toys I enjoy today, this was not also a fairly small company that just randomly combined pieces to assemble these toys. Meanwhile, as for me, that means that I can dream about there being almost endless variation on each of these toys I can hope to some day find!

L’il Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Another toy today – and celebrating the acquisition of a new and unusual Felix no less. This fellow hails, at least most recently, from the United States. I have never seen this variation previously.  I spotted him on eBay and, although the bidding was robust, I would have been willing to pay more than I did for him. It is unusual for me to find a design I have never seen, given how much time I devote to looking at them I have seen most I think.

Some of the aspects of this Felix that are not immediately evident are a solidly sewn thread at the back of his head, and printing on his little red ribbon. My theory is that this Felix was a carnival prize which hung from that thread, now torn. (See back view below.) I wish I could read his ribbon, but maddeningly I think one half of it has smudged over time. I think it actually reads Made in… He is about seven inches high. If this gentlemen was a carnival prize, unlike his British counterparts which exist in large numbers speaking to broad popularity, he was not one that was widely distributed. His arms move, his legs and tail were meant to stand him up tripod fashion, although he seems to need some help. It is a very simple design, although the moving arms, glass eyes and felt ears speak to some care and expense.

Felix back

However, this benign faced fellow does not seem to belong to the same clan as those somewhat malevolent toothy grinned Brits. The argument could easily be made that he actually isn’t Felix, but a generic toy cat, but in all the looking at Felix I have done I believed immediately that he was someone’s off-model rendition, cheaply churned out for a cheerful Felix obsessed public. This mild mannered fellow has already found his spot on a bookshelf in our living room – a space that is starting to absorb the toy overflow from our cramped bedroom. Needless to say, I would have been very happy indeed to have won him at a fair. I can see a thrilled, small me, gripping him in one hand, perhaps some cotton candy or a candied apple (love those!) in the other. However, given my skills at those kinds of games, maybe I would have spent as much as I did buying him anyway.

Squeaky Cat Head

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have made much of fragile toys in other posts – mostly those devoted to brittle, delicate celluloid or equally ancient plastic. Today I focus on another toy, recently purchased, that was probably originally intended to have a similarly short life-span. This cat head, just a bit smaller than an actual cat head (I proved this by holding it up to Cookie shortly after arrival) hails from 1925, and it is my guess that no one imagined that it would still be kicking around, rolling forward to our current day, more than 90 years later. It is in fact unlikely, although not impossible, that the small child this was purchased for is still among us while this presumably disposable toy is.

For me there is a solid classic design to it that makes it almost archetypal. It is easy to imagine it as a prop in a silent film – or clutched in my hand as a toddler in the late ’60’s, or even today if it was a tad bit less frail. When I spotted it I wanted it immediately. While we can assume that the paint has faded with age over time and there is a dent in the back, I think it appears pretty much the way it most likely always did. I assume, without knowing, that it most likely squeaked when pressed at one time, there is a silver button on the bottom. It no longer squeaks, but there is a date, 1925, on the bottom with some other bits of information about the maker I can just make out. It reads, US Patent Nov. 18 1924 Jan 6 1925 Katnips Inc. Providence RI. I looked, but could not find information about the bygone Katnips company.

I found a listing for another one for sale online and that person was proposing that it is actually a cat toy. He or she must have some outsize cats! My Cookie and Blackie have shown little interest in this item – except that when I opened the package an amazing smell burst out – that old, attic-y, dusty age odor. Kim once called this the smell of nostalgia. Cookie was entranced by this and took a wide-eyed snoot full of it. It set her whiskers twitching!

I cannot even imagine what flashes through a cat brain when dissecting a smell like this, but I have always imagined that it is colorful and wild. While I don’t find this smell unpleasant, it is still more interesting than good. It snaps me back to attics, some houses and even antique stores I have known. Given my collecting interests it isn’t an uncommon smell, although perhaps not as frequent as you might think. Meanwhile, here in New York City it isn’t unusual to pass a construction site where a very old building is being torn down and be smacked with a variation of that smell. Strange, but somehow time passed, years and the life of a building or a toy, gets encapsulated in a smell. It comes out of nowhere as you hurry along say East 86th Street, a 19th or early 20th century smell, living again for a moment in your brain. Like Cookie, I pause for a moment and inhale that dusty (probably asbestos filled) smell and consider, before returning to my hurried walk and the email on my cell phone.

She Who Has the Most Toys Wins

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Much like my recent post Symmetry this photo surprised me by not being a photo postcard. Instead, it belongs to a genre of photos printed with fancy borders, one of the interesting come ons in the early days of home photography. Instead of an expensive cardboard holder, or being printed on cardboard stock, you had this nice frame for when you placed it in an album, which there is evidence this one was. There isn’t any information on the back of this photo which is too bad, I want to know who this little girl with her pile of toys is.

My first thought was to wonder if these were all toys she just acquired, or ones she was just assembled to show off for the photo opportunity. Then I realized that is a (slightly sad) warm-climate, outdoor Christmas tree, so it must be a sunny west coast Christmas Day. It is quite a haul! There is a total of five baby dolls if you include the ones in the carriage. (Perhaps the carriage is new and the dolls prior occupants? Hard to say, but five dolls in one Christmas does seem extraordinary. Like adopting an entire family at once.) In addition to this nice Felix there is what appears to be a book which (when I blow this up very large I can see) is The Three Bears, although the other titles are lost to me. The interesting scooter to the right, but doesn’t seem to belong to this pile of new toy plunder.

Meanwhile, I like her neat print dress, bobbed hair and those annoying thick white tights that bag at the knees. (Even in the 1960’s my tights bagged at the knees. I feel old saying this, but kids today don’t know how good they have it now that we live in a time with superior elastic and tights and bathing suits that stay up.) She is displaying her toys nicely. This is a tidy yard too with its white fence, outbuilding and brick one just beyond.

I can remember the sort of extreme sense of well-being such a wonderful pile of toys infused me with at this age. Being one of three children, perhaps it was more pronounced on my birthday than Christmas – a day that belonged to me! I remember one birthday in particular when I was probably about ten. I was born in February and for whatever reason it seemed as though my family showered me in books and toys. In particular I remember a silver metal early version of the Flexible Flyer seemed to really put the cherry on it all. (Aptly named, that thing really could fly in the snow.) I really felt like the Queen of Everything. A large Barbie residence and car induced the same feeling one Christmas about that time. That’s what this photo reminds me of.

Pictorama readers well know that I still get a big rush out of toys, and in fact, I share below a photo you may remember from a prior post, a photo of my posing not unlike this little girl!