Steiff

 

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I think it is fair to say that given any opportunity where I might ferret out a Pictorama worthy toy I am likely to achieve. After the first five minutes at yesterday’s East Coast Comic Con (Deitch Studio was fully represented and I did a somewhat real time post of our day which can be found here – for those of you who are wondering the cold I was fighting bloomed overnight, now complete with chesty baritone cough) I rapidly assessed it as not the kind of gathering that would produce much antique toy fodder. While I was generally right about that, I did find this little guy stuffed away on a shelf while Kim and I took a break wandering the con.

This little bear breaks several of the Pictorama essential guiding principles of toy purchase: he’s a teddy bear (I own very few and I have written about those here), made by the Steiff company, and a reproduction. Don’t get me wrong, teddy bears are wonderful and it is only because they are such a deep rabbit hole to go down that I generally have excluded them as potentially overwhelming my limited resources of space and funds. (Some early examples of Steiff bears have gone for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, but I could easily do a lot of damage at the hundreds of dollars level myself.) I have seen several that would indeed tempt me, but fortunately I generally don’t run across those rarified items and do not go looking for them.

If I did buy teddy bears many would actually probably be Steiff, as I have always felt that somehow the antique Steiff produced bears have an extraordinarily life-like and human look in their eye. They are unquestionably, beautifully made. For those of you who aren’t in the toy know, Steiff is sort of the gold standard of early stuffed toys, marked by a metal button and tag in the left ear of the toy. Started in Germany in 1880 by a Margarete Steiff, a seamstress who created a line of elephant pincushions which evolved into toys, Steiff evolved into a world renown toy maker. Margarete’s own story is an interesting one of perseverance as she was left paralyzed and never walked after an infantile illness.

With the help of her siblings and others Margarete attended school and ultimately bought a sewing machine, starting her own tailoring business which morphed into plush toys. A favorite nephew drew animals at the zoo for designs (hence the elephant and then the introduction of other animals) and his bear was turned into a plush toy, purchased in volume by an American company. It was this mohair fellow that was, in 1906, then christened the Teddy Bear in honor of Teddy Roosevelt. The toy company, whose motto was, Für Kinder ist nur das Beste gut genug! – for children, only the best is good enough! Well over a hundred years later the company still thrives today. (There is a strange and wonderful silent short from the teens where Steiff bears are animated into a Goldilocks and the Three Bears story – the toy bears are shot at the end by a Roosevelt-like character.)

So, now my Pictorama friends are wondering, why isn’t my collection chock a block full of Steiff cats? They did indeed make cats, including one model of my friend Felix, which has long eluded me as a very expensive item. Strangely, while I find the teddy bears very alluring and compelling, I have never been that charmed by their cats. A few small examples have wandered into my collection and I posted about them once before. (That post can be found here.) However, there is not much variation and somehow they lack an essential humanity (so to speak) of some of the bears.

Lastly, I rarely buy contemporary toys. The quality and sometimes patina of old toys is generally what interests me and I am rarely charmed by new toys. I have occasionally made exceptions however, for something especially well made or otherwise compelling. (I made an exception for a few toys by a company called Hansa which makes beautiful toys representing a vast variety of animals. I own a rooster and a beaver and my post about them can be found here – definitely an avenue of collecting that could easily swamp my resources!)

I have been aware of this line of reproduction Steiff bears. These were expensive toys when they were sold new and used fetch a generous amounts in resale too, as much as a few hundred dollars. I had never seen one in person and frankly I was amazed at how well the reproduction matches the quality and feeling of the original toys. Steiff was clearly aware that their reproduction was good enough to fool a casual observer and therefore it is well marked with its ear tag as a coll ed 1987 replica 1913.

According to the tag which Steiff used mohair and traditional (kapok) stuffing, pads of felt, as well as hand embroidery. As someone who handles antique toys daily, for me he truly has the look, feel and heft of an original toy – slightly prickly mohair and all. I am very impressed with all aspects of him. His arms and legs move independently, although his head does not turn. The label mentions a voice box which I find no evidence of – neither functionally, nor can I locate by feeling his body.

As I mentioned, he has his original tag with some history as well as his ear tag. Our fellow is identified as a Circus Bear. He was available in a selection of colors; green and yellow variations are available online, but a photo shows blue and red too. For the princely sum of $30 Kim purchased him for me yesterday and now he resides in the Pictorama collection, welcomed among his antique and largely feline brethren.

Felix in the Palm of Your Hand

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As a determined and fairly thorough collector of Felix the Cat items, variations on these dexterity puzzles have come and gone over the years without my taking the plunge – or at least never landing one. I am always a sucker for this question mark tail pose myself and I have always liked Felix a bit squared off as he appeared in his earliest cartoons and reproductions. (He gets rounder and rounder over the decades until he is looking like Mickey Mouse by the 1940’s or early ’50’s – this seems to be an issue with cartoon characters as they age – they round off over time, a sort of gelding in my mind. I will write about this at greater length some time – I have theories!) He is also toothy in his early incarnation and I like the fiercer, cattier version of him best.

Here is is shown in quite a mood indeed. A (presumably) empty bottle labeled scotch whiskey at his feet with these sort of exclamation lines radiating out from his head. Felix is ready to take on all comers! Not so much angry as just very wound up. The scraggly mouse figure next to him exclaims, What O! Felix has the Kruschen Feeling! At the bottom is also marked Germany. There is no further information on the back.

Our friends over at Google inform me that Kruschen Feeling was an advertising campaign for Kruschen Salts, a popular packaged remedy of the day. This series of ads boasted visuals such as elderly gents leaping around and exclaiming something along the lines of – if this isn’t you it should be! The product and the company still exist today. In case you are wondering the salts in question are ingested.

The whole thing sounds a bit wretched to me, but evidently they turned the trick for Felix. This image and saying was also used in a series of game cards that were made with Felix. The version I have and have written about were more like premiums that came with chocolate and I wrote about them here. These were made of a flimsy not-quite-cardboard paper. As below, the top two are mine and then there was a boxed set you could purchase and those images are taken from the internet, the box from a Hake’s auction. These same images were also repurposed for a series of popular postcards that remain widely available but pricey.

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Box for Felix card game, not in Pictorama collection.

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Felix playing cards, not in Pictorama collection.

 

It is not clear to me that this item was a premium to advertise the products, although I admit it is certainly a possibility. Weirdly the feeling I get is that it was a popular phrase of the day and aptly described the early ill tempered version of Felix and they adopted it. I sort of like the scrubby mouse as a sort of alter ego for Felix. He does chase mice in the cartoons – presumably with the intention of eating them. This one is remarkably undefined – ears, tail and whiskers readable, as are five fingers on each hand (unlike the four fingered look that most animated and cartoon characters sport) and even toes, but no face. There was no fear that the Mickey Mouse crowd would get their backs up with this fellow, if that was a concern.

This toy has seen many years and miles in pockets and undoubtedly in the grimy mitts of small children. It looks a tad more fragile than it actually feels and I immediately started trying to place the three balls. (It is hard to see, one needs to land in his mouth, one in his left eye and one at the bottom of the question mark.) It is harder than it may look. So far I have failed to nail it, but I have all the time I need to figure it out.

The Big Wind-up: Part 2, the Funny Face Man

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: The toy procession continues today with the crowning glory of my birthday gifts which eluded the star role here until today. (Earlier posts about the magnificent birthday haul and our trip to my friend at The Antique Toy Shop can be found here and here.) Kim and I spied this fellow early in our birthday visit and Kim indulged me by purchasing him. Much to my surprise, he even came with his original box, shown below, carefully wrapped in plastic. I’m always a bit hinky about owning these original boxes as I am a nervous custodian of them (see my post about the Aesop Fable doll and it’s box here) but nonetheless it is interesting to be able to study.

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Our tin friend, who by tacit agreement online appears to depict the silent film comedy star Harold Lloyd, was produced by Marx toys. Back in January of this year I opined a bit on the history of Marx toys – founded in 1919 and meandered all the way to about 1980 – as one of the lead makers of early 20th century toys. Their mission was to produce quality toys for less money than other companies, and the vast amount of their early toys that remain with us almost 100 years later is a tribute to their conscientiousness and success of their mission.

Our man was one of an early line of walkers (tin figures that hippity hoppety walk when wound up) depicting a variety of popular characters of the time – some of these now mostly forgotten. Among the ones I found were: Popeye, Amos & Andy, Mortimer Snerd, Pinocchio, Charlie McCarthy, and B.O. Plenty of Dick Tracy fame.

I find it interesting that all the other examples I can find name the actual character on the box, unlike this one which does not name Harold Lloyd, but instead calls this toy the Funny Face Man. Was copyright not forthcoming in this case? In addition, I note that this particular character was repurposed for several others with a slight litho painting change. This figure repainted does turns, at a minimum, as a black face entertainer and a policeman as far as I can tell. Even beyond those doppelgangers, the tin parts were produced to satisfy many characters – for example Amos & Andy have the same bottom as Harold – with the faces changed a bit and the litho design slightly altered to suit. A cost effective presto-chango.

Harold’s charm is largely in his wind-up motion and his side to side walk, eyes rolling, as shown in my very homemade video below. Later versions of walkers did not wind up, but instead were designed to toddle down an incline. This mechanism lasts into my childhood and plastic versions, still depicting popular characters of the time like Donald Duck. I remember finding them fascinating.

 

I have a soft spot for Harold Lloyd. Although I grew up with silent film comedy, I came to Harold late in the game. In my childhood my father had supplied a diet of W.C. Fields and Buster Keaton, but I was left to discover both Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd on my own in adulthood. As I remember, Chaplin came to me via the production of a boxed set and documentary series (The Unknown Chaplin) in the 1980’s. Harold Lloyd was a bit later for me and many of those films were viewed at our great New York movie theater institution Film Forum in my young adulthood here. Great discoveries, both.

As an aside, their comedic talents notwithstanding, I have always thought that both Chaplin and Lloyd were extremely handsome men. However it is their comedy that draws me into all those films again every time I see them. (As recently as a few weeks ago, TCM sucked me into a Chaplin I have probably now seen a dozen times.) And now I have my very own Harold, sitting high on a shelf amongst the Felix-es, where I hope the kitties cannot take a swat at him.

 

Big Wind-up: Part One, Meow

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post:  As previously bemoaned in this space last week, our scanner here at Deitch Studio died with a tick, tick groan as it ground to a halt halfway through the back cover of Kim’s new book, Reincarnation Stories. (Yes, here’s the pre-order link on Amazon here – never miss a chance to plug the family product I say! It has a not insignificant dose of Pam Butler in it and comes out in October.) But now we have an excuse to happily explore and exploit a small cache of wind-up toys that have crossed the threshold here recently. Let the wind-up toy parade begin.

Today’s wind-up kitty is one I have in fact chased hither and yon for a number of years. It should be noted that he was the runner up as my avatar on this site, Twitter, and Instagram, but the rare Italian version of Felix on a scooter (which I am unlikely to ever own as it tends to go for a vast sum of money) won out instead. Still, there is for me an undeniable goofy charm to this rotund kitty with his jolly tin bottom half. I have bid on him via eBay and on numerous other sites and always lost to a more ambitious buyer for significant sums of money.

Last week I was trolling eBay and found a listing with a photo that was almost impossible to see it was so dark and indistinct, yet I knew that cat immediately. Even with all of that there were several buyers who also knew however in the end I bought him for much less than expected. Although he has some dents in his celluloid head that I was not able to discern in the photo, he was a welcome sight when he turned up last week.

On close inspection I found a mostly indiscernible tag on his underside which identifies him as being made in Occupied Japan which dates him from between 1947 and 1952. Made with the US export market in mind toys from that era tend to have a slightly skewed American sensibility. His dented celluloid head is a reminder of how fragile that stuff is, but it doesn’t lessen his appeal for me.

I share an image from the internet of him in perfect condition, with his box, and most notably he is holding a bell in his hand (paw) which is missing from mine. (There is a slit in the upturned paw it would have hung from and it is easy to see how it went missing on many over the past 70 years or so. The bell would be fun though as he races around in circles.) The internet also has examples with his tin bottom in blue and a bit less appealing, a mouse-headed version I didn’t care for at all – a bit terrifying. Part of this fellow’s charm for me is his up-turned tail, a bit like a third leg, and his cartoon-like gloved hands.

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An internet swipe – this one in finer shape and complete with box.

 

He still winds well and I close with an action shot for you – a hot four seconds – below. It looks messy, but it rights itself when you click and shows you his action. I do believe that wind-up toys are meant to be seen in motion and offer my modest attempt.

 

 

 

Toy Love

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I purchased this photo awhile back and it was put to one side in the heat of birthday purchases and other indulgences of recent weeks and months. I pull it out now and realize how much I like this photo. It is a somewhat perfect example of its genre. (That would be the children posing with a Felix doll category – in case you are new to the Felix photo genres of my collection – it is a whole swath of it.) It is a slightly odd size, 6″x 8″, and despite being mounted on thick cardboard there is evidence it was also pasted into an album at one time. Because of that, I think, it is curling a bit.

This is obviously a studio photo and therefore Felix is undoubtedly a prop, borrowed for the picture, rather than her own beloved toy. However, as she looks out at us with a bit of a smile for whoever is on the other side of the camera, for his part Felix appears to be looking up at her with an impression of real fondness. As I look at it the somewhat odd thought occurs to me that even in my most anthropomorphizing moments I can no longer see love in the eyes of my toys. I do have a flickering memory of looking deeply into the eyes of my dog Squeaky with adoration and finding it returned however. With strangely long eye lashes and glass eyes which roll open and closed, I remember being deep in communication with him when I was a tot and he accompanied me everywhere. (Those of you who are regular Pictorama readers know that I still have Squeaky. A very old, battered and beloved stuffed toy indeed. I have shared photos and other thoughts about the special place he has in my childhood in posts that can be found here and here.) I am quite sure I knew his affection for me equaled mine for him.

I wonder what the adult equivalent of toy love is. The closest I can come is the somewhat mystical relationship I have had with my cats which has continued more or less unchanged since childhood, although sadly I don’t have long hours to commit to communion with them I did as then. Of course cats, in this case a long line of them, are alive so it is different. (Kim offers that he has lost a feeling of tapping into deep cat wisdom he had enjoyed with kits as a child. He too still communicates with them however – I see him and Cookie and Blackie go about their daily routine and the three of them are clearly of a mind.)

As an adult and as much as I love my toys and they bring me a certain joy, I no longer communicate with them in the secret language of being a child. I ponder if this is true of some of my toy collecting colleagues. I think especially those folks who collect toys because they didn’t have them as children may have a different relationship to them, although this isn’t a question I have put to any of them. (I am grateful to report that my childhood was in no way deprived of toys.) I regret that loss a tiny bit as I consider it and I think I wouldn’t mind slipping back into that world – and perhaps there is a little gleam of approval in Squeaky’s eyes now that I take another look.

 

Premium

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Something given as a reward, prize, or incentive…Early 17th century (in the sense ‘reward, prize’): from Latin praemium ‘booty, reward’, from prae ‘before’ + emere ‘buy, take’. From the Oxford English Dictionary.

Pam’s Pictorama: For me one of the amazing and tantalizing pleasures of existing in the moment of time and space that I do is the relative availability of various premiums from the past. These items, only obtainable previously through either luck (think Cracker Jack) or by dint of labor (collecting cereal box tops shall we say), the products of early, crafty advertisers, are available now to us for examination and purchase more or less at will. It’s hard for me to describe how entertaining I find this to be – booty is the perfect word indeed, treasure! To a large degree, just being able to actually see them is enough, but yes of course, sometimes I find myself with a hankering to possess them as well.

I first became aware of this particular bounty while working my way through a Hake’s auction catalogue. On the festive occasion that those folks sends me one of their fat color catalogues I like nothing better than to curl up in bed and read every page, pointing out the best stuff to Kim. (If the folks from Hake’s are paying attention I would like to point out that I rarely disappoint them on the occasion of receiving their missive and have made many a purchase I may have not discovered online. I wrote a little ode to the Hake’s catalogue once which can be found here.) In the process of this, I have discovered things I never knew existed that deeply interest me. Among these are strange political buttons of elections long past and a wide variety of premiums – give aways from everything, cereal to radio program tie-ins. Most with origins I am at least passingly familiar with, although some dimly at best.

Therefore it is fair to say my fascination with these items is not linked to a particular affiliation with the origin. I can deeply enjoy perusing Lone Ranger premiums (silver bullet ring anyone?) while being only passingly familiar or interested in the lore of the Lone Ranger, his comrades and their adventures, having personally only ever been exposed to the television show as fodder for Sunday afternoons in my childhood. The rings alone – those that might decode, magnify, signal or contain a bit of mythical meteorite – tempt. Truly I would like to own them all and have only barely contained myself, limited by space, money and time.

Obviously where advertising and premiums intersect with felines I have made acquisitions (for example I opine on some splendid pin trays which sit happily on my dresser in my post Corbin Canadian Cats which can be found here), however I do wander astray occasionally however and give into something. Today’s item, this wonderful Little Orphan Annie Ovaltine mug purchased for me by Kim, is an example I am especially pleased with. It was easily obtained – I imagine the bar for acquiring it set purposely low and therefor in a sense still is – and you can all have one if you want. We paid a nominal amount for this very pristine example. I believed that it came in this cream color or a white version when I bought it. I purchased a cream colored one – but I now realize as I photograph it that the cream reads white – maybe all are cream colored? Ultimately I chose this one because of it’s utterly unworn state. It looks like it just came out of the box.

These mugs, manufactured exclusively for The Wander Co., Chicago makers of Ovaltine (as per the bottom of the mug) were evidently a tie in with the Little Orphan Annie radio broadcast, sponsored by Ovaltine from 1931-1940. I gather this was an extraordinarily effective tie in and, in the day, one rarely thought of the radio program without also thinking of Ovaltine.

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I have only a passing experience with Ovaltine from my own childhood. It wasn’t a favorite by any means but wander through it did. In my mind it was a lesser cocoa additive than the Nestle or Hershey scoop-able brown powders or (best of all) syrup that was preferred. My memory is that I sort of liked that it was more granular than powder which made it more interesting to dispense. I am not sure that the concept of it being more of a malted drink than a chocolate one was entirely coherent to me although my tastebuds knew it and preferred chocolate. I gather there was a nominal component of it being nutritious?

This mug surprised me by being somewhat child-sized, not tiny, but as an adult more appropriate for expresso than your morning cup of joe, which means I will not be using it for that end. I dearly love the image of Sandy on the back. I deeply regret that I have never found a Sandy toy that seems to entirely capture his mercurial charm. I continue to search. I am very enamored of the one I wrote about in my post Sandy Finds a Home which can be read here, but cuddly he is not. I would like to find a nice mohair version, something you can imagine a child taking to bed at night.

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Sandy, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Little Orphan Annie is enjoying a prolonged vogue in our home. Kim is reading his way through the series, via the IDW volumes for the most part, and is currently enjoying and very involved in 1935. I read one of the volumes several years ago and intend to get back to it now that they are all in the house or will be. For now he recounts highlights and occasionally points out whole strips for my delectation. Weekend mornings are his primary comic strip reading time – while I work on these posts as a matter of fact.

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The siren call of premiums has started to take hold of me however and I think Pictorama readers can anticipate a trend here. The lure of these items, hard won and carefully hoarded for us future generations, is one I cannot seem to resist.

 

 

 

A Real Parade of Toys!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Picking up from where I left off last week, Kim and I were literally waist deep in vintage toys at The Antique Toy Shop  in Chelsea when the owner Jean-Pol remembered me from my previous visit, and then put me together with Pam’s Pictorama. I had shared some Pictorama toy posts with him when I met him last year and he has kept up via Instagram.

It may surprise some of you, but Instagram and Twitter are in many ways my happy places. Everyone complains about social media, but to a large degree I have managed these accounts to be nothing but delightful escapism. With careful tending my Instagram feed is mostly art and interesting photos of places and things I look forward to seeing. My Twitter feed is also jolly photos and GIFs of cats and silent film stills and news. Jean-Pol is my only entry with vintage toys, although I would welcome others if I found them.

In exchange, for those who follow Pam’s Pictorama, I also share antique toys, interesting photos, snippets from jazz concerts, cats, and early film back out to the world. Twitter gets a feed of articles of interest as well, largely from the New York Times as I read it in the morning, but fun or interesting articles exclusively. (Mice singing to each other anyone? A Detroit greenhouse that turns into a mini-movie theater at night perhaps? Found here and here.)

Politics is verboten on my feeds for the most part. I chose to get my hard news other ways and I don’t feel the need to share it or my views on it with the world on social media. I visit Twitter each morning and insist that Kim come look at such things as the best of #jellybellyFriday kitties and keep in touch with the doings of a young woman named Fritzi on the west coast who seems to have a small menagerie of cats and dogs, is a silent film blogger and to my knowledge never sleeps. (She is better known to me as @MoviesSilently.) There is also Lani Giles (@4gottenflapper) who appears to live in Alberta and Mad Cat Cattis (@GeneralCattis). I am, of course Pam’s Pictorama (@deitchstudio) on both. This is where you can find me, coffee in hand, each weekday morning around 5:30; Kim grinding away at his latest page at the same long table in our living room. (Yes, we live in a studio apartment, but the space is divided and therefore a living room and a bedroom.)

I have a few real world friends who Tweet politically and while I have not exiled them I refuse to share them. The Dalai Lama makes occasional appearances to help remind us to have a mindful day. Pictorama has acquired a few readers this way, mostly via Instagram and occasionally connections I never saw before occur between Facebook friends and other social media – a spouse’s account on Instagram (who knew that Fat Fink was married to Motivated Manslayer?) sporting a name that is different. On Instagram I recently uncovered a real life connection to someone in Monmouth County, NJ, where I grew up. He and his brother knew my sister in school. (Shout out to Rob Bruce @popculturizm.)

Anyway, I have digressed. Because Jean-Pol remembered me he began producing photographs of children with toys. The one shown here is beyond wonderful and I knew I had to have it immediately. In the background there is both an early car and a horse drawn carriage so it dates from the period when these things co-existed briefly, a paved road however, and in what appears to be a wealthy enclave judging from the amazing toys on display. (Not to mention the appearance of the pet goat with cart, lead by the boy with the news boy cap. May I just state for the record that I think having a goat drawn cart as a child is a sort of pinnacle of happy indulgence?) I would say the photo hales from the late 1900’s or early teens? (Women’s dresses are still long.)

Of course, the main event is that every child in this affluent neighborhood has dressed up in their best bib and tucker, some even in costume, and brought out their toys and pets in a most splendid toy parade! The little girls are especially be-ribboned and heavily bowed, with a few crowns even thrown in for good measure. I am especially fond of the kid in the clown costume, head covered almost entirely by his top hat, with a remarkable stuffed dog at his feet. (I thought it was a real dog at first, but a careful look weighs toward toy.) Flags are aloft, and there is this bit of some kind of bunting that is keeping them lined up, at least for the most part. Dolls are on prime display and one doll stroller has a small banner that reads, The Flower Girl. I can only imagine that even without this photo it was the sort of event that lived on in imagination and memory for those who were there. A Little Rascals type slice of real life.