King of the Cat Tin Toys

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: When I started collecting toy cats, in those days prior to the internet, I assumed that someday I would eventually discover an El Dorado of wind-up cat tin toys. After all, toy cats in other forms are very popular so of course there would be a number of interesting ones, right? However, about a decade into buying toys on the internet I realized otherwise. Frankly (surprisingly) there just aren’t dozens of models of tin toy cats. Variations on this cat with a ball seems to be the primary heir apparent and I have been hunting this version for quite awhile. The smaller and more widely available version, also made by Marx (shown below swiped off the internet) is a friction toy – the same essential design of a cat and ball, but I believe without knowing for certain, that mine is the earlier model. Today’s toy comes courtesy of Santa Deitch with thanks as Christmas in January posts continue here at Pictorama.

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The Marx toy company was founded in 1919 and stayed in business until roughly 1980. (Theirs was the less than memorable slogan, One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?) Marx was an American toy company and was certainly one of the best known in its day. They seem to have focused on tin toys (windup and friction) and the quality was good enough that even many of their early ones survive today – many variations on trains, but also some character toys depicting such favorites as Popeye and Little Orphan Annie.

Both this kitty and the smaller later version, had leather ears which universally seem to have disappeared from them. (Mine has a single ear held on with an ancient bit of scotch tape however.) It remains a bit of a mystery to me, now that I own this kitty, exactly how it worked. Sadly he no longer does work, and it is also unclear to me exactly what the mechanism was originally. I would be pleased to hear form anyone who knows. I long assumed that this was a wind-up, but there doesn’t seem to be a place for a key. If he was a friction toy (now my best guess) it isn’t clear how that worked either – or why it not longer does. His tail would have gone up and down and that he must be been very jolly indeed. I love his red ball and the graphics on him are splendid. He must have made a lot of children very happy before arriving here at Deitch Studio to entertain us.

 

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Cracker Jack Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I would have been a fat kid with bad teeth if Cracker Jack toys were as good as this when I was little! I discovered this fellow on eBay the other day and paused to imagine a tot’s world endowed with such wealth. I should start by saying I have always loved eating Cracker Jack and plowing my way through many boxes of it would not have been considered a hardship. I would say candy popcorn sprinkled with candied peanuts remains pretty high on my list of favorite junk foods. The fact that a toy of some sort was tucked in amongst all that yumminess of course just made it all the better.

A lot of research has been done on Cracker Jack and collecting these toys. I spent a little time on the comprehensive site, theartiscrackerjack.com for some information and a quick history. While Cracker Jack starts being made and sold as early as 1871 it is christened in 1896. Toys make their appearance in the boxes in 1912. The 1920’s seems to be the sweet spot for metal toys like my cat, although the first toys were flat metal soldiers so metal was used early on. Paper was surprisingly popular, and since it went into the box unprotected, that which survives today generally still bears the residual sugary stains. Celluloid takes over, followed by other molded plastic later.

I can appreciate the fascination with those early paper toys which have somehow survived, evidently the most prized by collectors. However, it is the metal toys like this one that capture my imagination and would have kept me popping candied popcorn in hopes of making a charm bracelet or finding the ultimate special toy. In a quick search of images online I did not turn up my new blue cat specifically, although cats seem to have been generously represented over the decades. It seems that cartoon characters were favored at one point and evidently Little Orphan Annie and Popeye were among those featured. There is a rather stunning Toonerville Trolley whistle as well, shown below. It must be some sort of high water mark among these prizes!

Toonerville Trolley not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Some of the metal toys are unbelievably elaborate and my mind boggles at how it could have been cost effective to produce and include them when Kim says even in his childhood the price was a nickel for the longest time. Meanwhile, his fondest memory of a Cracker Jack toy is of a red Scottie dog. I have found Scottie dogs in both metal and plastic – another popular model with a myriad of variations. I cannot seem to produce an image of the exact correct one as of right now. Kim says nothing reached the pinnacle of that acquisition afterward.

While I have memories of plastic charms early on, replaced by paper later, I don’t actually have a specific memory of finding something great in particular. I always looked forward to the prize however, even after they had mostly been reduced to sorry little joke books. I believe it is possible I would have kicked off my life long collecting tendencies much earlier if I had found this kitty in a box of Cracker Jack I was munching. Sadly, the company has discontinued even a nominal prize. However it is fair to say that even now this discovery is threatening to kick off a whole new area of collecting here at Pictorama.

Peter the Great

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: There are things that are so great that you would never even dream them up on your own – and this film still of Peter the Great with this marvelous stuffed (somewhat extra large) Bonzo dog toy falls into that category. I believe if this photo had identified Bonzo in the listing it would have sold more competitively, but Bonzo fans were left in the dark and doggie film lovers were also asleep at the wheel luckily for me. Having said that, I paid a bit dearly for it, but I consider it an absolute find.

For starters, please know that the white writing on the front of this photo is neatly hand-painted on the photo surface in raised letters. On the back, written in pencil is MGM 1924. It also says The Silent Pal Gothan (?), 1925 which is crossed out. (The Silent Pal is a film starring an alternate dog star, Thunder. As this is pretty clearly identified I can’t imagine the initial confusion.) Printed on the back is John Cocci, 613 68th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11220 and typed, EXPLOITATION STILLS SALE AS REPRODUCED IN THE EXPLOITATION SECTION OF THE SERVICE BOOK.

Our film did indeed feature Peter the Great in his first leading role. Like many of his human counterparts, Peter got his start as a stunt double for more famous lead dogs of the day Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart. (I garnered this and the following other bio facts about Peter the Great’s brief career from the site Hollywooddogs.com.) Two years after Peter has his starring role here, he is tragically struck by a bullet while jumping to the aide of his master, for whom the bullet was intended. After valiant efforts to save him over several days, he dies with his paws in his master’s hands – thus ends his nascent career and even more sadly his life. His owner, Edward Faust, was awarded $125,000 in suit in the dog’s death which was a sizable sum in 1926.

Our film, although noted as lost on Wikipedia, does have a review on the IMDB database implying otherwise. In addition to Peter, the cast included: Eleanor Boardman, Raymond McKee, Earl Metcalfe, Paul Weigel, and Edna Tichenor. The review is by someone who didn’t seem to think a lot of it, but who was rather taken with Edna Tichenor as the film’s vamp. It appears to have been a typical story of a man wrongly accused who will be executed if his girlfriend and stalwart dog don’t save the day against the ever ticking clock. It evidently provided many opportunities for Peter to show off his talents and stunts. Some internet grabs of lobby cards and another (albeit lesser) film still from the film are supplied below.

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Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pictorama readers already know I have a soft spot for German Shepherds as I have written about growing up with a beloved one. (For a post that includes some stories about Dutchess have a look here at Mr. Frank, In the Dog House.) You also know that despite being of cat collecting fame I have nonetheless invested in some serious Bonzo in recent years. (For the toy curious, a few of those posts can be found by clicking on any of the following: Going to the Dogs – BonzoBlame it on the Blog 2: Bonzo Dog Edition and Happy Ooloo to Me!) It is hard to say whether Bonzo’s appearance ever made it into this film, if it hit the cutting room floor, or if this photo was actually somehow just promotional in nature. However for me there is no question that this splendid photo of Peter the Great posing with Bonzo of cartoon (and toy) fame, makes it wall worthy even in our cramped apartment.

 

Little Yellow Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: No bigger that half the length of my thumb, this little guy caught my attention the other day. I’m generally not a collector of these little lead figures, which are myriad and prized enough to be expensive in general, but I had never seen one like this guy before. I love his little yellow sweater and especially the jolly script Felix across his chest. He reminds me of a bumble bee. I usually like my Felixes of the pointier design variety. I also own a more typical one, shown below, by I admit I was very charmed by this little guy.

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Pams-Pictoram.com collection

 

The genesis of most of these types of toys seems to be a company known as Pixyland-Kew. The history there is in short that there were two companies doing mostly the same thing, Pixyland started in 1921 taking the lead on characters such as Felix and Pip, Squeak and Wilfred as well as nursery characters such as Old Mother Hubbard and Little Red Riding Hood. Meanwhile, in 1926, Kew started producing similar items pursuing cartoon characters aggressively, including Bonzo (must find one of those now that I know about them!) and other Daily Mirror strips. They also produced a line of farm animals and both seemed to be top players in the toy soldier market. Kew seems to have bought out Pixyland around 1929 and everything went swimmingly until lead was pulled for the war effort. The market for these little gems never recovered post-war and the company is later absorbed by another called Timpo.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As you can see, the scale on my two toys differs widely. I can’t find much drill down history to have a sense of where my two guys fall in the grander scheme of the two companies. Alas, my larger Felix is missing his tail, which would steady him and allow him to be freestanding. I bought him at a bargain price, probably for that reason. Although the small scale proves amenable to our tiny Manhattan digs, the exorbitant prices of these has mostly discouraged my collecting. Also, in the visual noise of an apartment where a riot of toys, photos, art, cats and Kim and Pam exist, it is hard to find an appropriate perch for little fellows like these. For now they reside in a small mirrored cabinet, at the foot of our bed (on what I like to think of as the famed shelves of Felix and other toy cats) where the tiniest of toys make their home here.

The Elephant Eyes Have It

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today’s Pictorama is an odd item in a few ways. It was found, not purchased and it was Kim who encountered it on the street one day, not me. (Kim casually, somewhat unconsciously and occasionally, collects detritus – generally interesting metal bits and tiny plastic toys – off the street. These pile up in his pockets and eventually migrate to shelves in the apartment.) Elephants make up only the tiniest subset of collectibles and collected here at Deitch Studios (although for one you can see this nifty box Kim gave me here), but Kim and I have a soft spot for elephants, both real and toy. I for one have always wanted a good size elephant on wheels riding toy and keep a weather-eye out for the right one. Today’s item isn’t an especially old toy like most of the early 20th century items in the house, some starting to bump up toward the 100 year mark now. He began life as standard issue contemporary. I sometimes worry about the child who must have been sad to lose him.

For those of you who follow us on a variety of social media you might know that we went to the Prospect Park Zoo this summer, following our noses on an elephant that was or might have been story, research for a tale Kim is mulling over for his next book. This September, in his work that combines dance and music about animals called Spaces, Wynton Marsalis informed that elephants can be trained to dance in tandem, perhaps the only animals to do so. In another performance he also reminded that, while elephant hide is advertised to be tough, it is in reality very sensitive both to touch and the sun, and therefore that you might want to bring one some lotion if you had the chance to meet one.

This little fellow was found by Kim many years ago now. His is a simple and economical profile, but somehow has just enough elephant charm. One day I came home from work and much to my surprise, Kim had replaced the elephant’s casually applied on and missing features (shadows of his former eyes and toes can be seen if you look carefully) with painted on Deitchien new ones, making him a one-of-a-kind. He has subsequently taken up residence on a shelf, after sampling several other perches in the apartment. He is shown below in a page from Kim’s book Alias the Cat, sitting on his desk. That was probably shortly after Kim christened his new features.

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The one thing we all know about elephants is their great memories, repositories of much which of good and bad. They hold long grudges and deep affections, almost as if these were in proportion to their out-sized selves. I like to think this fellow is grateful to Kim for rescuing him from the streets of New York and supplying him with a fine new set of sporty features. For us he is a lucky elephant and are pleased that he is a member of the family here, contentedly spending his days amongst the kitties and toy cats.

 

In It for the Toys: Part 2, Doggie

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post:  Last week I wrote about the thrill of a new celluloid toy purchase. (In It for the Toys: Part 1 can be found here in case you weren’t paying attention last week.) I bemoaned the fact that the toy is no longer functional. Long before stuffed Felix the cat dolls were a twinkle in my eye, my adult fascination with toys began with a small number of antique toys, wind up and battery operated, some that just make me laugh with sheer joy! Why wouldn’t you want to own that? It remains a mystery to me why anyone today would sell a wind-up toy without showing its movement – for me it is almost always the movement that will sell it.

I believe was in fact looking for a toy that would cheer when I stumbled across this little fellow on eBay and he fit the bill. Complete with his box he was a bargain; he isn’t especially rare although admittedly finding him complete with his candy, essential to the effect really, is a bit harder and you really do need the candy. The video he was sold with had loud annoying music, but nevertheless did the trick. While well preserved with his box, he does not appear to be new old stock. There are small signs of use and the balls that are the candy are not in their original wrapper. I am pleased to say he was fairly easily acquired, and does not disappoint.

The mechanism is very straightforward, much like a cycle in animation, he endlessly tosses “candy” in his mouth which falls out the bottom, through the can and back into position to be tossed again. Splendid! To seem him in action in a brief snippet I filmed you can go here.

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Candy Loving Canine box, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Instructive box illustration

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As always, the box offers additional charm, the text on the front Mechanical Candy Loving Canine, ALWAYS HUNGRY NEVER SATISFIED, with a fair cartoon rendering of the dog toy with a cat and dog looking on with amazement – Gosh how much can he eat? When will he stop? And then what appears to be for all the world, a mole popping up out of the ground in the bottom right corner. The mole shown on two sides with the dog too, the other sides are instructional about the use of the toy – in case you couldn’t figure it out. This little fellow was made in Japan, as is probably to be expected of a tin toy of this era. If you believe as I do, that toys bring joy, then hopefully this little fellow brightens up your day today.

In it for the Toys: Part 1

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: My interest in toy collecting actually did not begin with cats. My first toy purchases were battery operating and wind-up toys. Some of these were purchased for my then boyfriend, Kevin, as gifts and ultimately one or two for myself. I have written a little bit about this period of collecting in my post Happy Life Toy (can be found here), which consisted of haunting a now long-gone toy store called Darrow’s on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. My early fascination with those toys was all about their movement – funny drinking bartending men or tin monkey; a car with Japanese tourists taking photos. A great toy was entirely defined for me by its movement, some of which I would just delight in at times.

I knew that today’s toy was no longer functional when I purchased it, but somehow even just visualizing the movement captured my imagination. It is a wind-up toy. This little girl in her attire of the late ’30’s early 40’s, a somewhat grown-up outfit as well, is hitting the road, her beret over one eye, her bindle over her shoulder, and her dog following on a leash. The arm with the bindle would have gone up and down, and the dog (who has a charmingly piggish appearance) is a “nodder” and his head would have bounced up and down as they rolled forward. I am sorry to say that the action does not kick in even if you roll it forward manually.

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Meanwhile, I have also written about a wariness around collecting celluloid toys, those made of the early fragile plastic which disintegrates before your eyes when exposed to heat or light, which can also shatter or dent easily. Somehow I have always felt that my life is a bit rough and tumble for collecting in this category – that it should be the province of those with glass doored cabinets and the like. Paying a substantial amount of money for something this fragile makes me a bit nuts. Still, the occasional piece slips in under the wire and today’s post is one. There is no maker’s mark I can find on it, and I have never seen it or a similar toy before. She does bear a Made in Japan sticker, jauntily applied to her bottom as shown below, it is also embossed on her back.

Kim and I agree that there’s something harking to Little Orphan Annie about her – or maybe it comes to mind because Kim is reading his way through those strips right now. However, it cannot be denied that she is a plucky little girl, off to take on the world with her faithful dog friend, just like Annie.

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