L’il Felix

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

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

Felix back

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

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Squeaky Cat Head

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

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

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

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

Plastic Puss

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: My ambivalence about collecting these fragile items is well documented, although I don’t think those past items were expected to stand up to heavy childhood play for the most part. However, this little fellow, and his bulldog mate, shown below, were meant to really be handled and played with. (As always, I am sad when a set gets broken up. These toys were listed separately and despite a best effort I lost a bidding war on the bulldog, which for some reason was much more popular than the kitty. They were a great pair.) I believe in his day this toy was reasonably sturdy – although his thin plastic probably always prone to denting and breaking. The plastic seems brittle now with age, but I assume a bit more pliable closer to its time of origin, and his joints a bit more tightly strung. However, someone kept these in splendid condition all these years.

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This fine fellow is fully articulated – head turns, legs move – only tail does not wag. He has a serious look on his face despite that jolly pink nose and that tail is aloft at a jaunty angle. The white string seems to be a recent addition, but I am nervous about how best to extract it and have left it for now. On his tummy he is marked Japan with a small cross symbol, and there is a red and white sticker on one foot that says inspection and some other bits I cannot read. I believe his mark means he was made in a pre-war Japan, or the mark would be occupied Japan. This duo resided most recently in Fargo, North Dakota.

This is the sort of small toy, coupled with the dog, that your mom would buy you to occupy you for the an afternoon or weekend somewhere, to be spent at your grandmother’s house perhaps. Sometimes those five and dime buys turn out to be most beloved items. In addition to endless sets of Colorforms (I met someone who worked on many of those and it was hard to begin to describe to him what a huge part of my childhood they were – a visual vocabulary all their own in my memory) there was a black plastic doctor’s bag which fell into this category of toy too. Frankly not sure what mom was thinking on that one, but I did love it and was going to be a doctor for a hot five minutes. It had tiny pills in it – somehow I suspect that would not be allowed today – best part though. The ultimate of all these casual acquisitions was my stuffed dog Squeaky (already memorialized in the post Felix on an Outing) which I insisted on taking everywhere with me for what in memory seems like years.

I occasionally see small children clutching toys on the streets and subways of Manhattan. The carrying of toys seems like a much more precarious endeavor here than my suburban childhood of travel which took place predominantly in our sea green, Pontiac station wagon. Without knowing for sure, my guess is that the rate of loss is much higher on the streets of the big city. (In fact for a time Kim was forming a casual but interesting collection of small plastic abandoned toys acquired on the streets and sidewalks here.) There is a part of my childhood self which asserts itself and I find I worrying a bit when I see a child with what is clearly a much beloved toy on the subway or street. However, it does allow for a form of toy voyeurism that suburbia provides in lesser degree. Not often, but once in awhile I see a really great toy. I remember several years ago a little girl on the subway with a simple, but very nice stuffed cat that was almost collection worthy. A smart little girl, she kept a firm grip on it.

A Pip of a Pip

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: It’s been quite a stretch without a toy post – mostly because I have not acquired any since my adventures in Shanghai, and that was more about the trip than the toy. I have written on the subject of the (now obscure) British comicstrip which emerged post-WWI, Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. My post Pip Squeak and Wilfred Perform, based on a postcard purchase, examines the strip in depth and my more recent Close Quarters which kicks off with my acquisition lust for a piece of furniture based on one of these characters.

Nonetheless, it was a splendid Pip toy that lead me to discover the strip in the first place, although I was unable to purchase him. Subsequently, I have bid on numerous versions of this toy and to my surprise I won this one and for a quite reasonable price. Pip is in such good shape I think buyers might have wondered if he was a re-issue of some sort. (The same seller is in fact selling a knitted version which may very well be newer – much to my shock patterns were sold for such things. I cover this strange DIY opportunity in a post here Homemade Mickey. Kim assures me, after having a sniff, that he does indeed have the smell of nostalgia.) Pip has a vaguely, early Felix-y air here, I believe.

Before we get too far into this post let me outline the comic strip for you a bit. Published in Britain’s Daily Mirror, written by Bertram Lamb (and signed as Uncle Dick) and elegantly drawn by A.B. (Austin Bowen) Payne, it is the ongoing story of Pip the dog dad, Squeak the penguin mom, and Wilfred the bunny boy-child, who form a family and live in a magnificent mansion called The Grange. (Where they are theoretically cared for by the aforementioned Uncle Dick, and a human housekeeper Angeline.) Pip was said to have been purchased for a half-crown from a dog’s home, where he was sent after being “arrested” for begging on the Embankment; Squeak was found in the London Zoological Garden although hatched in South Africa; and Wilfred who was found and adopted by them. (There are other characters and I am especially fond of Auntie penguin who is a bit frowzy with age and who has a penchant for money schemes.) Launched in 1919 one can easily imagine why a fatigued post-war England would embrace these characters and their whacky and low-key ongoing tales. It ran until 1959, although with the death of Lamb in ’38 and the subsequent defection of Payne in ’39 the heyday ends there.

I supply a sample strip from the ’30 annual below.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection, from a 1930 Annual

 

For the few (really guys, two or three) people who read the earlier Pip, Squeak and Wilfred post you know that it has been a long held desire to have (at a minimum, let’s be realistic) one each of these stuffed toys. I have achieved two out of three for now with the acquisition of Pip. I have made many attempts at purchasing a Squeak which have yet to bear fruit – stay tuned on that. Meanwhile, I share a photo below my then recently acquired Wilfred rabbit during my recovery from foot surgery a few years ago. (Hence the large, red cast in the background – that’s me.) He is perched on one of my nice annuals – more on those below.

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Wilfred rabbit toy, recently arrived. Blackie and toy shelf in background!

 

While I have labored to no effect to work up much interest in this strip they were, in their day in Britain, as big as Mickey Mouse – spawning early merchandise which included not just stuffed toys and various figurines, but postcards, furniture, recreations of The Grange, records of songs, as well as annual competitions and gatherings across Britain. (My previous posts above include some Youtube footage of a parade and a short on the making of the strip.) Here I include a photo of the badge from their fan club, the GUGNUNCs below. WWI medals were also issued in the names of each of the pet family. The club was in existence until fading with Britain’s entrance into WWII.

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Pip, Squeak and Wilfred fan club pin, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

I have collected several of the annuals, my 1930 one below. I read them while trapped in bed, doped up with pain meds, after foot surgery a few years back. Still, to know me is to know that I have a tremendous capacity for enjoying juvenile literary fare – take my posts on Honey Bunch and Grace Harlowe, the Automobile Girls and the Moving Picture Girls Novels. It is a great avenue of relaxation for me. Kim began his vacation last week, so I am playing catch up and trying to quickly free my mind from my new job and responsibilities during this week running into Labor Day weekend – the most vacation I could manage with the new gig. Re-reading some of these seems like it might just do the trick and help relax my work-addled brain

For those of you who would like a bit more background on them, you might try Forgotten Comic Charaters; Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, an excellent online article. In addition, many of the strips are available online. I say perfect for these last, lazy days of summer.

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1930 Annual, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Ho, ho, ho – a Felix Find

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: In my business (if you can call acquiring things and never selling any a business) it is rare to come across an early stuffed Felix that is really different than those I have seen, and in some ways this magnificent Christmas gift from Kim is one of those. Purchased from a British store I stumbled across online called All You Can Bear located some place in Great Britain, I was immediately very enamored of him. After paying a king’s ransom (thank you Santa Kim!) he arrived in a sizable box shortly after Thanksgiving. Christmas Day finally arrived for this Felix fanatic – and there he is in all his glory! This fellow is larger than I fully absorbed from the listing photos and the design of his tail as a sort of third leg makes him take up considerable space. (This will cause some major reshuffling among the stuffed shelves of our apartment!) He is shown here on Christmas morning, atop of a pile of very fine Deitch art work, complete with Christmas lights.

At first I thought he might be related to the Felix below, one that I have always considered the strangest design and of great curiosity, and that I wrote about in the aptly named post Odd Felix. The one below no longer stands, if indeed he was ever designed to, and the face is different, but there is something similar to our new inhabitant about the design of the body and the ears. It is hard to tell from my photo, but as I mention above, the new Felix uses his tail as a sort of third leg. However, looking at them side-by-side I am less inclined to think their origin is the same. The new Felix is an entirely new design for me.

Doggy Felix

Very Unusual Felix in Pictorama Collection, Pams-Pictorama.com

 

One of the reasons I love to collect these toys is that every single one of them ended up with a different expression and this makes them very human for me. After learning that many of those toys, made in London, were hand assembled by women (a blog post of mine I keep going back to myself, East London Toy Factory, Ltd.) it makes sense. It is what has always charmed me most about these guys and this one beguiled me immediately from his listing page. He looks as if he is about to begin a great oration – hand (paw?) held aloft. Or, from another angle, like he has a crazy secret or really off-color joke which is cracking him up and that he can barely keep to himself. Hmm – Felix, what could that be?

 

Let the Toys Begin!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: With Christmas rapidly approaching we at Pictorama are focused, as we so often are, on toys. Today is this splendid pedal car and nice, extra large, jointed Schoenhut Felix which appear to be the property of the toddler labeled Paul Shirley. There is no date and no writing on the photo, except the name near the top.

In some ways this is a timeless photo – or at least considering the toys within a certain period of time, between about 1925 and 1940’s. (Although the type of photo print places this firmly in the latter decade.) It is an extraordinary pedal car owned by Master Shirley. Built solidly like a tank, this toy car looks like it might weigh in at the poundage of a real car today. There is a vague farm vehicle utilitarian design about it. Felix is atop – helping to direct the operation no doubt. Despite the somewhat down at the heels nature of the yard shown, this is a pretty lucky kid toy-wise. One has to imagine that this was an expensive toy car – although I might also consider that it was home constructed. Is that possible? Quite a feat for someone if true, well beyond the average soap derby model.

Was Felix a favorite toy I wonder – or did he end up perched there for other reasons? There is a motometer or hood ornament on this car – sadly it does not appear to be the Felix model – the Felix toy makes me think of it. I have included a very nice example here from a Hake’s sale below in case you are not familiar with this item – I have never had the chance to buy one with nice paint on it like this. I do dream of living in a time when cars were decorated with Felix however – talk about jolly!

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Felix hood ornament, not in my collection

 

As children we all seem addicted to movement and locomotion at an early age. Funny that as tots we immediately want scooters, tricycles, bikes, roller skates, ice skates, sleds and toy cars. Why is that? Nothing like the sight of a bike under the Christmas tree or with a birthday bow to wind you up. We love the movement and speed – a taste of independence perhaps. You started dreaming of the adventures you’d have the moment you saw them. Paul actually seems a bit young and overwhelmed by his toy good fortune – or at least indifferent.

I have a vague memory of a bright red trike early on, but my purple and white two wheeler is the one I really remember. Never owned roller skates, they were not in fashion then I guess. I have very fond memory of sleds, first a wooden one with runners and later a metal one, a sort of flexible flyer, that especially pleased me. Sadly we lived near the ocean where snow did not accumulate and we rarely had very good sledding. We made up for it however with bodies of water that frequently froze for skating – a small pond near our house that froze easily, as well as two rivers that also occasionally froze for our ice skating pleasure. I hope Paul grew to love his toy car over time – not to mention his nice Felix toy – and remembered them both fondly.

Cat Purse

Pam’s Pictorama: This was very much an impulse buy on eBay a few months back. Perhaps because I had recently seen an exhibition of kimono at the Met with these fabulous fireman’s coats made with heavy woven fabric and this reminded me of them. (One is shown below – they had amazing designs on them. Images from this wonderful exhibition can still be found on the Met’s website at Kimono: A Modern History. Full disclosure for those who may not know – I work at the Met.) The cat image just made me laugh! It is the same image on both sides – the other side a bit faded.

Needless to say I would have loved this when I was a kid. I was trying to remember if I was especially enamored of a particular toy purse in childhood. There are a few vague memories that tug at the edges of my mind, but I don’t remember any special purses. I do remember that for a while I carried around a toy doctor’s bag. It was complete with fake pills (somehow I have trouble imagining that children today get fake pills in their doctor’s bags) and I am quite sure that the idea of being a doctor didn’t especially interest me, but carrying this case around did. I am not entirely sure what this says about me.

I also remember being pleased when it appeared that I had reached an age to carry a purse. Perhaps if you are a boy you have pockets in everything and therefore you don’t need a purse. However, it seemed very necessary to me – having a place to put the things I wanted to carry with me. In my twenties I graduated to very jolly vintage alligator bags that would sit on a table or bar like a proud little work of art. (Kim didn’t like them, felt bad for the alligators; I gave them up. He was right.) Shoulder injuries brought me to a world of lightweight bags recently – and last year’s foot surgery left me with a backpack in order to use a knee wheelie and then crutches – which I will need again in July, so I am hanging onto the backpack for now. Perhaps after I will find something a bit more interesting. Maybe I will just throw my phone and a credit card in this one!

Here is one of the fireman’s jackets from the Met’s exhibition, above:

From the exhibition,

From the exhibition, “Kimono: A Modern History” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art