Tin Toy

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today tin is in and I am featuring this lovely, but very simple toy that Kim gave me for Christmas this year. It came from an auction and caught my eye. Pictorama readers may know that this falls well outside my usual area of collecting – nary a cat or even an animal to be seen, not a wind-up. Yet there is a sort of universal charm about this toy. If there was something akin to a toy archetype in my mind this toy might qualify.

Turn up the sound so you can hear it work – part of the charm!

The handle of the wood chopper turns and that causes the log to be sawed and the mill wheel to turn. The wear on this is a testament to the belovedness of the toy. The paint is gone on part of the roof from it’s proximity to the turning wheel, and also on the edges of the house where you tend to grasp it. There is something very satisfying and soothing about turning the wheel and watching the pieces move. The charm of the origin detail in the paint with shading and the texture of the house exterior and log – I think it was a very brightly painted toy in its day. There is something a bit amiss about the proportions – of house to log and mill, even assuming the “log” is indeed a tree.

My knowledge of this kind of tin toy is really about zero, but I assign it to the category of penny toys. These tin toys were the brain child of German manufacturing starting around 1885 these toys were designed to be accessible for purchase by working class families. In Great Britain they sold for the price of a penny – hence the term which has stayed with them. Although the manufacture of them continued longer, they were most popular from 1885 until about 1914 – I assume without knowing that the World War probably slowed production and export and killed the popularity for export. According to a brief entry in Wikipedia, countries of destination were considered in the making and marketing of these toys – British omnibuses, trains for the United States for example and we know they weren’t doing business with Germany much from 1914 on and for awhile.

In my mind penny toys are one notch smaller and less sophisticated in motion than this one, but I think that is my own prejudice on the subject. In reading about them online the term definitely seems to cover toys of this size and relative complexity and beyond.

This toy is marked with a tag it retains, DC Made in Germany and this was the mark of a company in Nuremberg, Germany called Distler – Johann Distler KG to be precise. The company was founded by Mr. Distler in 1895 making these sorts of penny toys in the early years, with a catalogue of about 500 items. An article I found in the Sheffield Telegraph mentions the company as having gotten on board with early licensed Disney toy production and cleaned up on early Mickey Mouse toys starting in 1928. (This seems early to me as the first cartoon appears in 1928.)

Mickey Mouse also from the Fabtintoy.com site.

At Johann’s death, in 1923 (meaning he completely missed the Mickey Mouse boom) the company was taken over by his partners and then ultimately sold in 1935. The company and name is ultimately sold again to a Belgian company where in particular their line of race cars is produced until the late 1960’s. (Much of this quick history of the company comes to me via the Bertoia Auction site – which is where I purchased this toy, although the history was note in the listing for it.)

Distler Felix from the Fabtintoy.com site – lust worthy!

Images for toys associated with the company does not immediately turn up any like mine – it is car heavy, even in the earlier toys. Notably there is a Felix, circa 1925, I would certainly like to get my hands on, shown here. (An early indication on prices show is that I might have to mortgage the apartment however!) My wind-up Felix, shown below, does declare that he was Made in Germany, but does not give a manufacturer’s name. I don’t believe he’s ever gotten his own post and maybe I will set my cap for that in the New Year.

Felix wind-up toy from the Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

It goes without saying that these toys, originally designed to be affordable and accessible are now sold for many multiples of their original sale price, somehow making the appellation a bit ironic for collectors like me. Nevertheless, I welcome this first example of this type into the Pictorama collection.

Turkey Talk

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Toys today again with this terrific turkey. This item made a rare route to Pictorama a few weeks ago by way of Kim posting an image of it on Facebook which was so glorious I went in search of the toy. A quick search turned one up in good condition on Etsy and he landed here a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, a tiny bolt on one side of his tail went missing, either in transit or the seller neglected to mention it. Kim has done a short term repair with a tiny bit of wire from a twist tie off a loaf of whole wheat bread. Click below for our best effort on filming him – we got his tail to stay together sufficiently to get him moving on film, but I don’t think he has a ton of runs in him. Watch the video through, the full rise and spread action of his tail is what makes it great!

He is the earlier model of at least two that I found online (see further below),with greater definition and better action than the later one. There is something wonderfully Art Deco about the colors and design of his tail feathers that I especially like as well and what attracted me in the first place; his color is pretty glorious. Mr. Turkey is marked Made in the US Zone Germany on his tummy, which puts his manufacture in the mid-40’s to early 50’s. A Google search turns up an auction listing which mentions it was produced by Blomer and Schüler (or Bloomer and Schüler), a company founded for making parts in 1919, but which started making its own toys in 1930. It had an early hit with a Jumbo Elephant wind-up toy which is described as running. I have a weakness for elephant toys so I may need to investigate this more closely. Toys do lead to toys and a good wind-up toy is just the jolliest thing I can think of. (There is also a very hotsy totsy peacock too, but I must say, his mechanism looks even more fragile than Mr. Turkey’s.)

I didn’t see many of these on the internet, but would love to see him move!

The turkey’s action really does recall a come hither Tom Turkey trotting, showing off his glorious tail feathers to attract a girlfriend which makes me think he was designed by someone who knew turkeys. When living in England many years ago, I was surprised to discover that not only is turkey not indigenous to Britain, nor indeed Europe, but that they don’t have much of a taste for it and do not import it widely. (My Thanksgiving dinner that year was a Chinese recipe for orange chicken as a result. In retrospect, and knowing more about cooking now than I did then, just as well. I had the tiniest oven imaginable which would have taken three days to cook the smallest turkey.)

I will add that my surprise grew when I discovered that pumpkin isn’t eaten there, and they aren’t big on corn on the cob either. (Corn is grown there but is fed to farm animals. As a result, I don’t think they produce corn flour either.) Although admittedly my first hand information on the subject is now decades out of date. All this to say, I believe it was the American influence which designed this turkey as I do not believe at the time Germans were widely familiar with the mating habits of turkeys or eating them either, although the internet says they have caught up with a taste for turkey in recent decades.

From the collection of Deb Mostert via Pinterest – the image that started it all!

Although I do not eat fowl these days, nor have I for many decades, I was in charge of the family turkey on Thanksgiving for many years after my brief stint of professional cooking – my mother happily ceding this responsibility to me, my father never much of a turkey carving dad either. However, I cannot think about cooking a turkey without remembering a French chef I knew going on in honest bewilderment on the subject – not only at the American fondness for them, but the cultural necessity for serving it whole and carving it at the table. He pointed out, the thickness of a turkey’s legs demand significantly more cooking time than the thinner breast and wing meat and to think that there is a way of getting the legs done without drying out the breast was, in his opinion, a fool’s errand. He would have had you cook the bird whole, let it rest, carve the legs and put them back in the oven to finish cooking. I venture that cooking the bird stuffed, while slowing the whole venture considerably, helps ameliorate this issue, but his point was well taken and an easy solve if you aren’t married to carving a full bird at the Thanksgiving table. (The attenuated cooking time needed for the bird cooked stuffed also set him going – in all fairness, he was not only French but a restaurant chef which is another bird altogether. Clearly he wasn’t familiar with Norman Rockwell paintings on the subject!)

Later version by same company.

Given my early defection away from eating (and therefore cooking) red meat and fowl, I have never attempted to cook a turkey in a Manhattan apartment. Our ovens run small though, as do our kitchens, and I can tell you that New York is evidently littered with beautiful turkey roasting pans purchased each year without measuring the apartment oven in question. From the stories I hear from first time turkey chefs, they often find themselves with pans and even birds that do not fit our abbreviated oven sizes. I encourage first time city cooks to use a doubled up disposable pan on that first go, but to go easy on the turkey size too. We are so used to our ovens that we’ve forgotten how comparatively enormous a regular one is. I glory in how many things I can fit in my mom’s oven by comparison.

As we finally slam the door on 2020 with my turkey post, we at Pictorama and Deitch Studio are wishing all the best in the coming New Year. I look forward to seeing you all on the other side, at the dawn of ’21!

Boxing Day!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I’m not sure I remember a Pictorama post falling on Boxing Day, but here we find ourselves on a sunny if cold New York City day post-Christmas as we do our best to shove 2020 behind us. Kim and I were recently speaking of Boxing Day and I looked up its history. It started in the 1830’s in Britain and it was a day to be charitable – boxes were taken to the poor and were given to servants who got the day off as well. It spread to the British colonies and remains a holiday there whereas, as we know, traditionally the day after Christmas in this country is usually about shopping. Of course nothing is really usual about this year, and I cannot imagine stores teeming with post-Christmas folks under the current Covid circumstances.

Our own Christmas was celebrated with just us and the felines here on 86th Street, a Zoom call to New Jersey with my mom, cousin and friend Suzanne in the afternoon sadly substituting for an annual visit. In order to cheer us up I made a rather amazing bouillabaisse if I do say so myself – a sort of quick and cheaty one that has its origins with my grandmother, but I have manipulated a bit over time. (I managed six of the seven fishes – seven if you count the anchovy paste!) I served it with homemade corn muffins and a red pepper compound butter. Before I brag on myself too much I will admit that I forgot to consider dessert entirely and ran out to the store and acquired a frozen Dutch apple pie. Frankly it did the job just fine and I confess, diet be damned, I am looking forward to eating some for breakfast today. Yum.

Christmas was a cold, stormy day here with a wind whipping around – I discovered just how bad when I made that run to the store. Jazz at Lincoln Center unexpectedly announced that they were giving us all two weeks off over the holiday and I am easing into a blissful state of extra sleep and pajama wearing – house cleaning will follow I hope, as I have ignored the state of it long enough and one should go into the New Year with a clear mind and house I suspect. All this to say, I have not yet enjoyed the aforementioned improved weather but look forward to some outdoor exercise in a bit – New Year’s resolutions are lurking just around the corner to be sure.

Our newest toy, identified as French and a Krazy Kat, but I believe was meant to be Felix.
Side view.

However, the aspect of Christmas which was traditional and in no way disappointing were the toys Santa, aka Kim, brought me! Two absolutely wonderful toys, the first featured today by way of Bertoia auctions shown above. (Of course I still enjoy receiving toys on Christmas – not a surprise to Pictorama readers I am sure.)

This extraordinary wind-up toy was identified as a French Krazy Kat with no additional information. He is entirely unmarked, stands at about 8 inches, with a metal body covered in a heavy felt suit. His head and hands are composition and you can see that he probably fell on his face a lot from the chipping on his nose – his one ear is also a bit nibbled down. Despite that he is in pretty extraordinary condition, and of course it should be noted that I believe he is a Felix not a Krazy Kat. It should also be noted that his wind-up key is permanently affixed to him, not removable.

This one-footed fellow is seen a bit more than the latest acquisition.

I have never seen a toy like him and would appreciate any information folks might have about his origins. His mechanism spring is a bit shot or over-wound and I have only achieved a few bits of a hopping, splayed leg gait out of him (he fell on his face immediatley) which is too bad because I have seen enough to know it must have been comical. He is smaller and more delicate than the more typical wind-up mohair Felix, one that seems to always lose one foot. My example shown above. I assume that because of his composition parts this fellow didn’t last and few of these seem to be knocking around. I wrote about the one above and another more or less one-of-a-kind wind-up Felix toys, shown below, in a post that can be found here. While I had never seen that one before I was certainly familiar with the wind-up function he was built on.

Another admittedly unusual Felix wind-up toy.

So, we start to close out 2020 with a house full of leftovers and a moment to catch our collective breath. For those of you who still have some cooking ambition in you, or need a New Year’s meal, I lay out the basics of my fish stew below. Enjoy!

****

Fish Stew or Quick Bouillabaisse Recipe:

Saute onions, garlic and chopped carrots with salt and pepper until they begin to brown, add additional veggies. I like a little potato to thicken, green beans and a bit of corn. (If you are using corn on the cob you can wait and drop the full ear into the soup to cook and cut the corn off after – that will add taste and additionally thicken soup. I used frozen corn this time.) Add in a bit of anchovy paste and a smidge of tomato paste.

Add in fresh fish of choice, about a pound of each – I used a bit of halibut (skinned) although any thicker white meat fish will do, and cut it into bite-size chunks, I added shrimp, and scallops and let cook. I like to add a lobster tail or some crab legs and it does well to add them in here too if they aren’t frozen which my lobster tail was this time. (Snow crab legs are great, but messy to eat later – this was a faux lobster tail belonging broadly to the lobster family with sharp sprine-y bits – ouch!, but I was able to take it out after it had cooked and add the fish meat back into the stew so no eating time mess.)

Deglaze the pot with a cup or so of wine or vermouth. The cheating part starts here (and I am pretty sure this is my addition to this recipe) with some canned fish options. I start with a can of clams, with their liquid included, and this time added a tin of smoked oysters. (I prefer mussels but oysters was all the market had to offer and they were just fine. This is a very forgiving recipe.)

Here’s the big cheat – add a bottle of clam juice AND a large container of Clamato juice (I have often wondered what other use Clamato juice has in life – do people drink it? Make cocktails with it?) Also add a large can of chopped tomatoes at this stage. This creates a substitute fish broth base. I added fresh chopped basil and wide leaf parsley. I like basil in it in particular, but again this is another place where you can be creative. I also added a bit of oregano and at this stage adjust your seasoning overall – I tend to have been adding a bit of salt and pepper with each addition of fish. Bring to a boil and then simmer for at least 40 minutes.

If pressed, you can happily eat this immediately, but the real trick is to cool it down and refrigerate it over night. A glorious change takes place and it is even more amazing! Great dish for company made the day before and then only needs to be heated before serving.

Comforting Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: It’s back to basics today with a toy cat post! I have a photo or two of kids with this type of toy and a post where I lost a Felix version at auction which I desperately wanted. (That post can be found by clicking Jimmie and His Cat Toy) I found this little fellow on eBay where I was the only one interested in him and picked him up for very little.

He is a tad smaller than I expected, almost exactly the length and width of my hand. He has white pearl button eyes and I regret that one errant whisker has come loose. He is made of a soft leather and that has become a bit fragile with age so it is probably best that he has come to rest in a relatively quiet cat collection here at Pictorama.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection
Pams-Pictorama.com

What you cannot tell is that he has a delightful crunchy filling – beans or rice maybe? The tactile experience of holding him is sort of wonderful and is the reason for the title of this post. I can easily imagine slipping him in my pocket and carrying him around, demanding that he be with me when I was tucked into bed at night. (Pictorama readers might remember that my own childhood talisman was a dog named Squeaky. I wrote about him in a post you can find by clicking here.) He has an understanding face as well, a bit concerned but earnest. Like my real cat, Blackie, I will dub him to be a lucky black kitty.

Your Pictorama Pam as a tiny tot, holding Squeaky on a Christmas morning about 1967

I cannot decide if he was homemade, from a kit maybe, or inexpensively mass produced. There are enough of them, all similar, to say it was at least a kit. His stitching is a tad uneven, his upper paws gone over twice, his “left” arm double sewn. I have never seen evidence of the kits if they existed, but I would say it was more than just a pattern as they seem to all be made of the same lightweight leather, easier sewing than leather might imply. I would say that, at least in his day, he would be considered a durable little fellow, easily wiped clean after the occasionally sticky or messy encounter.

All in all, he seems like an ideal toy really. I cannot imagine what if any his equivalent is now, but for the small children of today, I certainly hope there is one.

Temporary Toys

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Lately I have been considering some photos that require looking closely to find Felix. This one I recently purchased on eBay and if we look carefully a lucky little kid has been handed a nice Felix doll to hold. Felix is sporting a huge bow which for me is a bit of a giveaway that he is a prop rather than a beloved object, dragged into the photo. The card is in excellent shape, was never mailed and has nothing written on the back. It came from Great Britain.

While borrowed finery in clothing dates back to early portraits, photos of children have often depended on toys on hand to quiet a child and add something to the proceedings. I have speculated previously that more than once it must have been hard to separate a small child from a prop toy handed over for a photo. (I can assure you I would have put up a fight if they handed me that Felix and then wanted it back – I’ll just say I would!)

Although this youngster clutching Felix looks like s/he is enjoying him or herself I don’t see an argument brewing over its return. (I’m stuck on whether that one is a boy or a girl – I was strongly leaning boy until I looked at the shoes, Mary Janes, and now I am leaning girl. Therefore for the purpose of this post I will say girl.) None of these children look as though they are the type to revolt.

These three are clearly siblings with an unusually strong family resemblance.  Unlike many of the photos I collect, which strongly suggest seaside spur of the moment appeal, this one appears to have been a less fly by night studio than most. It is a photo postcard, but these children appear to be dressed for the occasion, the little girls’ hair curled to perfection and the boy’s also just so. Everything about the set up a tad more upscale and in sort of good taste.

However, the small girl is perched on a splendidly faux rock, as if at the shore, sailboat at her feet – clearly a toy that has been little played with. I don’t know why, but this poor imitation of a boulder appeals to me. The top has been nicely flattened for a seat. The background is a wuzzy, cloudy affair.

Perhaps it was being the daughter of a photographer, but like the cobbler’s children who went without shoes, my family rarely posed for a group photo and other than our requisite school photos and prom pics, never had professional photos taken. Maybe in reality most families don’t – I will let others weigh in on that. Ours was not a sit on Santa’s lap or line up at Sears for a photo family however.

Ultimately, this family did such a nice job with this photo that all these decades later it, with its small Felix doll, has earned a spot in the Pictorama collection.

 

Lucky Pup?

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: For someone who collects cats I think there is significant evidence that I have a pretty big gushy spot for the right dog as well. This was a birthday buy and I would say, strangely, that birthdays seem to end in dog buying. I guess I can only say that if you try to shop for cats and there are dogs this is the result.

This little Steiff canine appeared at my favorite haunt, The Antique Toy Shop New York in Chelsea, still gamely doing business while several floors of that market are renovated. (A link to the site for his store can be found here.) The weekend after my birthday, Kim and I headed over to their new digs, in a space right next to the old one, but about twice as big. Below is a photo of the new space off the Instagram account since I wasn’t prescient enough to take a few photos while I was there.

Jean-Pol Ventugol, proprietor, is a like-minded toy enthusiast and his shop is the best game in town I know of for vintage toys these days. He runs heavily toward rather beautiful toy race cars and rather outstanding robot toys, but lots of lovely items of Pictorama-type interest are tucked into cabinets and corners. (He and I discussed the size of our apartment, aka Deitch Studio, and I told him the main room is about the size of his shop.)

IMG_2F6704F0C877-1.jpeg

Speaking of dogs, check out those splendid papier mâché French bulldogs behind the counter! I had a nice chat about those fellows as I have always wanted one. (Although frankly there is a huge version which it is, of course, of the most interest to me.) I call them Growlers, which Jean-Pol clearly did not approve of. He gave me a quick history on them – if I remember correctly he said they began being made in the 1890’s and they continued to make them into the 1950’s. They are on wheels and open their mouths to growl when a chain is pulled. Small children were prone to trying to ride them which was the demise of many it seems – I do understand the inclination. Jean-Pol had several of these dogs from different periods. Tempting indeed, especially the oldest of them, but taxing beyond even a birthday budget for this year. More post-birthday purchases from The Antique Toy Shop New York will be forthcoming in the near future.

This extremely intelligent looking canine was one of two versions of similar dogs, this was the larger one and I knew he would come home with us right away. He retains the button in his ear, so tiny it is hard to see. He has the remnant of a tag behind one leg as well. In addition to the intelligent look in his eyes (something I feel like Steiff figured out somehow) there is the fine work and coloring around his snout that makes his mouth expressive as well. The rhinestone collar is a nice touch. It was a very French bulldog kind of day I would say in retrospect.

dog side.JPG

 

He brought to mind a small dog toy I bought in Paris years ago and I show here as well. They are quite different, but there is something about both that spoke to me. I guess it is representative of my canine aesthetic.

french dog.JPG

As for The Lucky Pup – it is a television show Kim remembers from childhood. The Lucky Pup and his cohorts (Foodini the Great and Pinhead?) were puppets on a CBS television show which may have morphed to ABC at some point, over the years of 1948-1951. (The opening credits for that ancient show can be found on Youtube here.) Kim recounted his memory of it – stirred to the top of consciousness by our dog today I gather. It created a brief tributary and flurry of research as I wrote this morning so I thought I would share it and tell this little fellow we have great hopes for him now that he is a denizen of Deitch Studio.

 

Olive Oyl

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Toy collecting is much like the rest of life, while you may head in one direction, opportunity may present itself in one you had not considered in another and take you there. My career has been entirely like that – who thinks about becoming a fundraiser when they grow up? I had not considered working for Jazz at Lincoln Center until suddenly here I am, almost three years later.

I don’t generally collect comic figures outside of the cats (Felix and Krazy) and Mickey (because you have to have mice if you have cats), but occasionally things present themselves that need buying. In this way I have a small enclave of Little Orphan Annie (those items can be found herehere and here, for starters) and a soft spot for Donald Duck I have never much explored in this blog. The occasional Pluto. Bonzo has proliferated, which might fall under the heading of if you have cats you need a few dogs too. However, I am perhaps light on the broader universe of characters.

When an acquaintance at Doyle Gallery told me that they were having a January toy sale I knew I would want to check it out for potential birthday fodder. It was a sale from the estate of a single collector and I felt like you could sense his or her eye in all of the choices in the collection which always interests me.

IMG_3438.JPG

An unintended selfie while aiming at this goat toy

 

Kim and I had a delightful afternoon looking at a large collection of toys, primarily early mechanical banks and early mechanical toys. People were stationed to help us by taking the toys out and showing the action of each. These toys, while utterly delightful, are another area of collecting I have never gone down, but I can easily understand falling in love with them. I was especially enamored of this swan toy and this tiger toy below which I did bid on.

 

However, one of the reasons I started collecting in the area I do is because, compared to these toys, mine is a relatively affordable avenue. The toys above ultimately went for several thousand dollars each, considerably above my humble bids. There was also a lovely wooden Noah’s Ark, but I knew it was out of my league in every sense including space for it in the apartment. (Among the surviving animals shown below are insects which sort of cracked me up.)

1347086.jpg

 

However, there were two items which caught my attention, in part because they were very different than the rest of the sale, and today’s Olive Oyl was one of them. We all know Olive as Popeye’s paramour in Segar’s comic strip where Popeye makes his appearance in 1929. Olive had been around in the earlier Thimble Theater strip since its inception in 1919 where she was the youngest in the Oyl family, sister to Castor and Crude Oyl, and engaged to Harold Hamgravy; he who she eventually dumps in favor of Popeye, her true love. I have read some of those early Thimble Theater strips and would very much like to dig deep into them sometime. Olive starts her life modeled on the flappers of the day – a long, straight drink of water to the extreme and maintains her girlish figure, so to speak, throughout her life.

1361015.jpg

Olive Oyl bank I was less interested in at Doyle auction

 

The toy collector whose collection was being auctioned had two Olive Oyl toys, indicating an interesting particular affection for her. The other item was a cast iron bank which could have been original or a reproduction and I didn’t care for it. But there was something about this Olive Oyl that I couldn’t resist. She appears to be a one of a kind but nicely made wooden toy. Her arms, feet and head are painted but her costume covers a simple wood and wire constructed body. Heavy wire connects her arms and legs enabling limited motion in each. Her head turns and her arms go up and down.

1361054

Olive Oyl, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

For me there is something especially engaging in her outfit although I can’t really tell you why. I think if asked, she would have preferred far more fashionable garb. There is something endearing and specific about her cowl neck sweater and the somewhat oversized pattern on her rickrack trimmed skirt, probably a bit longer than she was wearing them in the day. She has characteristically large (but not clownish) feet. For me this is a Depression era Olive at her best in every sense.

I assume there is a Popeye mate for her somewhere in the world, or at least there was. (Kim pointed out that he is a heck of a lot more ambitious to have to carve. He’s also come up with a story where Olive is carved by a man in prison for his girlfriend…) I have looked online to see if there’s any indication that this is not a singular piece. At a minimum the person who made it was skilled and my guess would be that this was not his or her only rodeo in this area.

If you are wondering, Olive joins a very slim collection of a single stuffed Popeye and Wimpy dolls. I bought them from a dealer in Canada many years ago and was disappointed to discover that they had lost much of their stuffing (sawdust) on their trip to New York. They are now so fragile that I am loathe to take them down from their high shelf and photograph them, but will try to find a way for Olive to join them. Excuse the dusty chaos – I was perched on the edge of the bed taking this earlier!

IMG_4028.JPG

 

 

Felix Fun

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Seldom does a toy have the come hither play with me quality that this jumping Felix does. Like a kid, once I start playing with it I just want to keep going. Look at Felix go! For such a simple toy it mesmerizes. You press the wooden handles together and Felix jiggles and jumps – every few times he tumbles all the way forward or backward. Yay! It has a satisfyingly substantial quality, made of wooden bits and despite its age gives it heft. This fellow was found on ebay and is a belated Christmas gift from Kim as it took awhile to cross the ocean and arrived on our doorstep in mid-January.

The design for this toy has evidently been around for a long time. Light research shows reference to eighteenth and nineteenth century France and China, but frankly no one seems to have the precise lowdown on the inception. These are truly timeless toys. Instructions for making these proliferate even today with Youtube tutorials, but versions of this toy have long been available commercially as well as being made at home. It is loosely defined as a wooden acrobat toy – jumping jack might get you there too, but that seems better reserved for the wooden toys with a string that make the arms and legs go up and down, a sort of kissing cousin of this Felix toy.

This Felix came from Great Britain and my guess is that instructions for making this and other models were probably available in magazines like Popular Mechanics or in this case whatever the equivalent was in Britain at the time. When I say at the time I am also a bit flummoxed, but from what I have read I would think  it could have been made any time after Felix’s appearance on the scene through the 1950’s.

The Felix himself is a bit endearingly lumpy in design and there is not real question that he would not have qualified for the Pat Sullivan seal of approval in the day. His tail has a small chip and he has some signs of wear in his black paint – I assume his white face was brighter in his youth as well. Below I share a Mickey Mouse, sans legs, which I found on Pinterest which seems to share the same gray area of homemade versus commercial origin.

c15d49ee840ae8dd88e1ce6d30ab2de0

For those of you who, like me, need to see things in motion – a brief clip of Kim mastering and playing with Felix can be found by clicking below. Go cat, go!

Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today is a toy post in its full glory – dedicated to the recent acquisition of this absolutely extraordinary Big Bad Wolf toy! This wolf comes to me as a Christmas gift from Kim-as-Santa via a Bertoia auction. Mr. Wolf made a rather slow trip to Manhattan and just arrived the other day, but he was certainly worth waiting for and slow Santa by post is more than forgiven.

I’ll start by saying my yen for a wolf toy dates back to a street fair decades ago. This was a very mom and pop affair, just a single city block with German delicacies and an um-pa band mid-block. I was just passing through and stopped at a table and saw a very nice Big Bad Wolf puppet. Now, I was younger then and I made a mistake that I have tried not to make subsequently, and that is I walked away, to think about it. And yep, by the time I walked back, positive I had to have it, the puppet was long gone. She who hesitates is indeed lost and it lived on in memory. The one below is close enough, although I am unsure the one I saw that day was indeed Steiff. So, in a sense, I have waited all these years to fulfill my errant desire for a Big Bad Wolf.

steiff-loopy-wolf-hand-glove-puppet-mohair-plush-1950s-teeth-vintage.jpg

Steiff Wolf Puppet, sadly not in my collection

 

Somehow, despite the world wide web and all, it was a mistake I have never rectified. I am, after all, a collector of toy cats first and foremost and generally that is what I end up looking for and at – living in a single room, I try not to follow my nose in too many other directions. However, while taking a very last minute twirl through this December auction, late one night, I saw this little guy and decided that he was sort of grand, toy lust kicking in. After a brief discussion with Kim the following day, we decided that if acquired he would make a fine Christmas gift. Lucky for us, everyone else seemed to have other things on their mind and he was acquired for a relatively modest sum. (You don’t want to know what toy collectors consider modest.)

Bertoia offered no real information on him however and, glorious as he is, he is without makers markings. If I had to go out on a ledge with a guess I would say maybe he was made by the Lenci company in the 30’s or 40’s? Lenci was an Italian toy company from 1919 to 1944 founded by Elena Scavini (her nickname was evidently Lenci) which is better known for regulation dolls. At least one individual has identified him as such on the internet, although I remain somewhat unconvinced. I will continue to research and am open to any suggestions or further discussion.

Dating on either side of my Wolf I found this very nifty Knickerbocker example which is earlier and although more primitive I would have snatched up in a minute as well. This one, shown below from a Hake’s auction back in 2013. I find his bear-like simple look very appealing in a different way.

 

 

Hake’s also had this listing shown below for a later Lars Wolf, probably made after mine, and Three Little Pigs.

 

8466670_1

Better view of the Lars version.

 

This lead me down a charming rabbit hole of Mel Birnkrant’s website (always a great read) and his great story about acquiring his Lars Mickey, Big Bad Wolf and other toys. It can be found here and I highly recommend it. Mel did a drawing for a really smash up alternative version shown there as well.

Meanwhile, I also include an alternative universe Wolf that appears to be an unlicensed version, but clearly got around as I found several examples. It is shown as listed on Morphy’s auctions below. It might be a slight exaggeration to say these abound, but they seem to get around more than some of the others. I especially like his tuxedo!

8466671_1m.jpg

Back on my birthday in 2018 I purchased the Little Pig below and wrote about him here.

Still pic of pig

Getting to the main event, my doll has some really splendid detail such as his felt tongue sticking out. I love his strangely spiky toothies and toy nails. He appears to be made of wool felt with cotton clothing and hands. His pre-tattered clothing has a few repairs and there are some moth holes on the soles of his feet, but otherwise he is in remarkably good shape. Details include some delicate coloring in this cheeks and on his toes and those strange painted eyes and I have to say he made me laugh out loud when I first unpacked him.

IMG_0050.JPG

Detail of Big Bad Wolf from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

He is unexpectedly articulated with a head that turns a bit and arms with full range; he does not stand as his legs are not movable and is permanently in a seated position. He is very jolly though and cheered me up immensely while confined to bed with my bad back this weekend.

Of course this post would be utterly incomplete without a link to the Silly Symphony Three Little Pigs and Big Bad Wolf which can be found here and here. These cartoons elevated our Wolf to ever greater fame, one way or another, inspiring all of the toys mentioned here. And I, at last, have a great Big Bad Wolf of my very own.

220px-Three_Little_Pigs_poster.jpg

Annie and Sandy Reunited

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Joyously I finally return to the world of toys as the chaos of our abode recedes at long last. Pictorama readers may remember that as part of a delightful birthday toy haul back in February of 2018 I purchased a hotsy totsy little Sandy doll. (Shown below and that post can be found here.) I concluded that post opining that there was a very nice Little Orphan Annie doll as well and I vowed to look into that. I had a weather eye out and at last this one found a home here at Pictorama earlier this week. It had been quite awhile since we made a toy acquisition and it was delightful when this box, slightly larger than expected showed up yesterday.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Interestingly the history of oilcloth toys is not so easily found online, nor is the origin of these particular toys. For the information I did find I can thank Jeet Heer, Canadian author and comics scholar. His introduction to the Gasoline Alley volume covering the years 1925 and ’26 had the only information that satisfied my yen to know more this morning.

My collection of Little Orphan Annie toys is a very limited one. When I purchased the toy below I had no idea it was Annie and Sandy – although I was crazy about it! I found that out later when I saw one that was in better condition and had the box identifying it. I wrote about it last year in a post that you can read here.

final celluloid

The discussion around dating this Annie doll dominated Deitch Studio in a heated debate over breakfast this morning. Kim taking the position that this Annie design had to be later than the other one shown below in two similar variations. It was he who dug out the Gasoline Alley volume, after a quick tour of Little Orphan Annie volumes up to about 1935, and found the scant information I share with you.

 

Meanwhile, my thought had been that the nicer doll with the dress (mine) was earlier and that they discovered they could do it more cheaply without. Instead it seems it is a case of starting with a more primitive toy and getting grander. I am not a fan of the design on the left, but there is something charming about the one with the hat.

It would seem that this series of comic character toys are the brainchild of Eileen Benoliel, creator of a company called Live Long Toys. There wasn’t a lot of information readily available about the company or Ms. Benoliel (or Mrs. William A. Benoliel as she is also identified) except that the Chicago company was founded in 1923 and folds in the 1940’s. I am making the assumption she made these Little Orphan Annie toys as well although I guess the concept could have been stolen from her and marketed by someone else. These toys are unmarked, with the exception of Annie’s sash which reads Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray and under Patent Applied For.

There is not a lot of information about this company. I did find a reference to the company, via Google, in a book called Made to Play House: the Commercialization of American Girlhood 1830-1930. In essence this passage makes reference to how when companies started by women became successful that it was typical for their husbands to take control of them, rather than the women keeping control and growing it themselves. It is noted that Mr. Benoliel left his job in insurance, working for companies like Marshall Field and Sears, Roebuck, to manage the burgeoning company.

According to a snippet Jeet Heer includes in the introduction to this volume Ms. Benoliel began the craze with a Skeezix doll and then the other Gasoline Alley figures. The reprinted article from the 1924 Playthings magazine is shown from the book below as is the two-page spread from the book.

 

IMG_3228.JPG

 

Jeet also notes that the Skeezix doll (which I gathered aged over time but to what extent I cannot say) eventually had removable clothing, which means Mr. Deitch wins and clearly the dolls with the removable clothes were a later variation. The Sandy doll seems to have remained consistent with the original design going forward, although later ones seem have used the same template but is a tad more three-dimensional later.

I assume that these oilcloth toys came out of earlier, more homely, variations and that from them eventually come the premiums that you were required to sew yourself. I recently examined those via an acquisition of a Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat. (You can read that post here.) Oilcloth is sturdy and Annie is solidly made. There is evidence that she was much played with and beloved. As much as I like my toys in good condition, it is good to know they have been well used and loved too.