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.

 

 

 

Score

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This is one of those lovely occasions when I get to write about acquiring something I have wanted for ages! Today it is this wonderful Felix toffee tin turned toy pail.

Allow me to start by saying that I love toffee. Seriously, caloric concerns are thrown out the window as soon as I see sticky toffee…followed by virtually anything written on a menu. It is a little known fact about me, but a fact nonetheless. I came to it late in life, but I think that has more to do with having had limited exposure to it when younger. I believe if I had been introduced to it earlier I would have been a life-long toffee fanatic. Somewhere in a parallel universe I am simply ruining both my teeth and my waistline contentedly stuffing myself silly with toffee.

e828ba91-0804-48b0-97a5-833a81a96188.jpg

So if nothing else for me the vision of this delightful pail stuffed with British toffees is a wonderful one indeed. Oh the gluttony! Oddly and somewhat mysteriously, the tin bears no label for said toffees sold, only the maker of the tin, E.T. Gee & Sons and this pail is always advertised by that name. One might imagine that a toffee maker of the time like Mackintosh’s might have filled it. The candy descendants of Macintosh’s Toffee exist today and are the makers of Rolos and other delights. Macintosh was definitely selling similar pails of toffee, but those are all emblazoned with their name leaving me wondering and somewhat stumped. It is possible that the lid had a name embossed inside perhaps, or that there was a paper label/sticker. One version online seems to have the remnants of an odd sticker that says …sweet little babies.

E.T. Gee & Sons is not especially well documented as a company – I could not find much history on them. However, I find tracks showing they made a whole line of similar candy containers that were also tin toys once emptied of their confectionary treats so this must have been the side of the street they were working. Although the Felix pail is the most prevalent one, I found evidence of two others online and sadly could only fine this single small image of the house which held creams. (Google images revealed no larger photos nor additional examples.) The house, doubling as a bank, is a photo from the Worthpoint auction site and the biscuit tin wagon from an auction site called Bukowski’s.

download-2

At auction on Worthpoint, a toffee tin that doubles as a bank.

10573906_fullsize

A biscuit tin that doubles as a toy truck, image from the Bukowski auction website.

 

Meanwhile, I have been admiring this Felix pail for a number of years now, stealthy hunting of it on eBay, tracking prices and failing each time to be the high bidder. A version in condition only somewhat superior to my own, but with the top (shown below with this mischievous Felix whose tiny rendition of the toffee pail is stuffed with toffee – mine does not have the top sadly) went for more than $3,500 just several years back at Hake’s. I have lost several on eBay that went for much less than that, although probably all without the top. My example does come from Hake’s – just a bad day at auction?Maybe, but clearly for whatever reason the price of them has dropped considerably. I paid a tiny fraction of that for mine.

image-1

From a Hake’s auction catalogue, lid to the Felix pail which mine is sadly missing.

 

The decoration is decidedly and delightfully cryptic – the scenes are certainly comical, but you really have to wonder where they came from. On one side Felix rides a white horse or pony (sort of Felix as Lady Godiva in my mind) along the water’s edge. He is being chased by a young boy (with an outsized head) brandishing a spatula? Or perhaps it is the shovel to a sand pail? The boy seems to be running full speed while the awkward drawing of the horse seems to have Felix at a slower pace. (His toes curling upward in an interesting manner.) Most bizarre of all however, is the female Felix in an old fashioned bonnet and dress, taking the scene in at the water’s edge. A broken fence in the foreground leads the mind further down the path of an unknown narrative. The horsey hardly looks like he’d break down a fence. Curious indeed!

felix pail side 1

My very own Felix toffee pail! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

The more benign scene on the other side is my favorite – a large family of Felix-es, Mom, Dad and three babies – having their photo portrait taken! Of course as someone who collects photos of people posing with Felix on the beach this is a very funny inside joke. They are dress for the occasion – the Dad in a vest, mom in a long dress – in this alternate universe Mrs. Felix evidently dresses like a Mennonite. One child splashes in the water with a small sand shovel, the other getting his feet wet while a small girl perched on a rock beckons to him. The photographer, complete with tri-pod, camera with bellows and (I think in my mind) long exposure film, appears to be a young boy. Daddy Felix is gesturing approvingly to the camera. A toy looking sailboat appears in the distance. A splendid Felix walking decoration rings both top and bottom of the pail.

felix pail side 2

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

My version of the pail is about 8″ high and I understand that there is a slightly smaller version with a single row of Felix around it. (I’m glad mine has those!) It has a satisfying sturdy handle for holding and swinging merrily as you walk, and I think it would make a jolly pail at the beach, although I am pleased this one doesn’t appear to have spent much time in that capacity.

As a child who grew up on the shores of the Atlantic ocean I know a little something about playing in the sand at the beach and I can assure you much could be accomplished with a nice little pail like this, accompanied perhaps by a small sand shovel. One could dig deep caverns, carry water to fill moats or to dampen sand into the proper consistency for the construction of castles and related buildings. One’s pail was essentially a ticket to hours of beach fun and this would make a splendid addition to any discerning child’s collection.

 

Crinkle Cat – For Kiddies, not Kitties!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have been hunting this fellow, Crinkle Cat, for a long time. Despite essentially being easily acquired item, I have been holding out for one that had been sewn well and was in good shape which took longer to find. Introduced in 1935 the characters Crinkle Cat, Dinky Dog, Dandy Duck, Freckles the Frog (and later Johnny Bear and perhaps others), were established and offered as Kellogg’s cereal premiums (two box tops please) which arrived as below, to be cut out, sewn and stuffed by the recipient. Considering that these were hand sewn, oil cloth dolls, these have an excellent survival rate. Crinkle Cat seems to lead the pack here but although you will work a bit harder if you want a Freckles the Frog, for example, these also appear to be obtainable.

il_794xN.1586250025_od99.jpg

Beyond the survival rate which is notable, the frequently worn remains of these toys is evidence that they were played with and much beloved, perhaps a tribute to their Depression era timing. It was an inexpensive toy when finding toys for your kids wasn’t easy and just feeding them was a priority – this enabled you to do both. Many of the unexecuted oil cloth sheets are also in existence. (I could have bought one of those and made my own if my skills were up to it; they are not.) So back then, as is always the case, people acquired them and never managed to execute the sewing of the toy – but saved them for posterity.

1935_2_enlarge.jpg

I like Crinkle’s slightly worried, pie-eyed expression and I am a fan of his sort of country gentleman tie and vest – sporting buttons on the back and a small patch on his bottom. Kellogg’s is also emblazoned on his back and I will volunteer that he is indeed a cat I would trust with my cereal needs.

Despite their survival rate as toys well into the 21st century these characters didn’t seem to gain much traction. Information on them is scant and I don’t see much evidence that they had a life beyond these premiums. Before 1940 they were supplanted a few years later by Snap, Crackle and Pop and eventually Tony the Tiger. I would say it is possible that Vernon Grant, the designer and creator Snap, Crackle and Pop may have designed these characters, but I cannot confirm so I defer to those of you out there who may be more knowledgable on the subject to please chime in. I was interested to see that a somewhat rare toy of Tony the Tiger of surprisingly similar design exists from a much later era. The example I found was dated 1973.

I cannot do justice to the fulsome and whacky history of Kellogg’s here but will give enough of an encapsulation to intrigue those of you who wish to go further down that rabbit hole on your own. Essentially the Kellogg brothers, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and Will Keith Kellogg, invented it in 1896 (patented and into production in 1906) as part the answer to a need by the Seventh-day Adventists for vegetarian fare at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan where John was superintendent. As it unfolds into a commercial venture the company at Will’s urging (this caused a rift between the two) he not only makes the recipe a bit more palatable for the consumer by adding sugar to the mix, but is an early advocate of advertising and premiums. He kicks this campaign off with this rather splendid Funny Jungleland moving picture book for children in 1906. (I’m already working on acquiring one of these – so perhaps a future post there!)

Years later Crinkle’s little-known tagline was, For kiddies, not kitties! and perhaps for a company that went on to make pet food as well, this was a point worth making? Meanwhile, Crinkle has at last come to join the kitties (not kiddies) here at Pictorama.

FirstVersions_Kelloggs-book-adv.png

 

 

Pigeon

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: It’s joyfully back to toys today and I have been sitting on this beauty for a few weeks, waiting for the chance to share him with you all. Those very devoted early readers may remember a post about pigeons (which can be found here) where I first mentioned my fondness for the fine feathered fellows. Despite quite bad publicity here (rats with wings, etc.) I remain their champion.

Pigeons live quietly among us here, rarely kicking up a fuss, eliminating tons of garbage annually by consuming as their daily repast. For most New Yorkers they are ubiquitous fellow denizens, thought of with derision if thought about at all. However Kim and I share an affection for pigeons and I have always appreciated that I could point out a particularly nice one or pair to him for admiration. (There are some commonalities that married couples should share in my opinion and a fondness for pigeons is one is one in our case.) I have told this story before, but I love the idea that when Kim was a child and first came to New York he thrilled to find these birds just walking sedately among the humans.

When I worked at the Met I had a nesting pair out my window which returned over several years. I worried about them as we had many hawks nesting in the rooftops there as well. Whenever I saw one without the other I hoped for the best. Their nest was not visible, further down the glorified airshaft that I overlooked. I understand that they are casual nesters at best, eggs frequently lost or broken. As all New Yorkers know, they largely manage to nest out of sight and nests, eggs and baby pigeons are rarely on view.

While researching this I did find a rather delightful story from 2017 about a woman in Greenwich Village who returned home from vacation to find a pigeon nesting in the pasta strainer in her kitchen. She allowed her to stay and created an Instagram account for her. The story can be found here. Evidently young pigeons are almost adult size by the time they leave the nest and then blend with the adults, leading to the idea that we never see young pigeons. (It is said that they are identifiable by a patch of downy feathers at the back of their neck.)

When I saw this tin pigeon on auction I must say I immediately set my cap for it. Luckily for me and the old bank account, only one or two other folks had interest and I didn’t end up going to the wall to acquire him. He is marked VEBE on his chest, which appears to be one of the divisions of a French toy company Victor Bonnet. I couldn’t find out much about the company other than they produced high end friction and wind-up toys from early to mid-20th century. With a few exceptions, they seem to have made beautiful race cars and trucks – and pigeons. The pigeons appear to have been made in the early 1950’s and a number of them are extant, although generally much more beat-up than mine. (Children played hard with their pigeons I gather.)

IMG_2134

 

I thought this was a friction toy when I purchased him, but upon examination he turns out to be a wind-up. He was sold without a key but I found one in my collection that works, and he has a wonderful life-like pigeon head motion, life-like enough to capture Cookie’s attention this morning. I find his practical and almost industrial design very satisfying. If he only cooed he would be perfect indeed. For a quick look at his motion have a look below.

 

The concept of the homing pigeon, housed atop a New York apartment building has long lived in my imagination, fueled by period films. And as it is Memorial Day weekend I close with the reminder of how these birds, carrier pigeons, did military service in WWI and WWII carrying wartime messages across enemy lines. In fact, their military service did not end until about 1957. So consider a salute when you pass a pigeon on the street this weekend – his or her fine feathered forefathers did their bit too.