Rattled

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I have made much of my reticence to acquire these delicate celluloid toys known and a few of the times I have written about them can be found at these links here – Fear of CelluloidFunny Little Felix and Ding Dong Kitty. However, I am here again today with an item I have purchased whose fragility in some ways defies its very creation as a baby toy. This rattle was made to be extra light and to a large degree expendable I would think. After all, they were purchased for baby to chew on, beat against things and, yes – rattle, and ultimately probably to lose if not mutilated entirely.

This one has a splendid rattle and kitty Cookie immediately took an intent interest, even as I removed it from the box and packing it was shipped in. Between the great rattle and the cat shape, I would imagine that this fellow would have been one of baby’s favorites. One of the weird things about celluloid is how light it is – it has no weight at all really, so it is easy to imagine that even a very small infant could have made this one of the first items it was able to clench in their tiny fists. Oh the better to command that rattle yourself!

As you can see below, he has not survived unscathed, and the back of his head is dented. He bears no markings of manufacture or place of origin. I have a nagging feeling I have seen the cat face before on something. It has to be said that he isn’t an especially jolly puss, is he? I might go so far as to say a sour puss. Still, with the shape of him, that big bow and the nice little handle (good for some chewing too) I can imagine being perfectly charmed by mom waving him in my face. I don’t pretend to know anything about contemporary toys for tots, but somehow I doubt there are rattles quite as charming as this one. If I am wrong, please let me know.

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Somehow he has wandered into this century and come to rest, for now anyway, among other cherished cat items where he will hopefully remain unscathed for a bit. That assumes that I keep him away from Cookie. Kitty claws and teeth can do more damage than a small child is likely to I do believe.

 

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Doll House

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: I walked past this store yesterday while running some errands. I believe this establishment did a stint on Lexington Avenue, where I would occasionally admire the wares in the window. A number of years ago it moved to East 78th Street, oddly enough, in a storefront where I once bought high-end vintage clothing. I was pleased to see it hadn’t disappeared. While it isn’t a block I find myself on too often, when I do I like to take a few moments have a look in the window. (It is next to Orwasher’s Bakery and I have to tear myself aware from the temptation of the bread and bagels in their window – yesterday I was only saved by the line of people more or less going out the door!) However, I will say I have a complicated relationship with dollhouses.

I had a nice dollhouse when I was a kid – it was about the size and shape of the one top left, sort of a two story horizontal model. It was handmade, like these, but unlike the one indicated it was closed on three sides, with a cheerful exterior in some detail, although nothing like this intricate yellow number above. It was white with light blue trim.

I both loved it and was somewhat frustrated by it. For one thing, I wasn’t actually much of a doll playing child. (Barbies were the exception and they were a creative endeavor for me – I hope to consider those in a subsequent post.) I do not believe I actually had dolls which were the inhabitants of said house. Scale was issue – you have to sort of figure out what works in proportion to the size of your house and furnish and inhabit accordingly. I purchased furniture over time, but it was expensive and I was not good at making my own. Something about it was a bit intimidating, and I never embraced just playing with it. It somehow didn’t inspire creativity in me. I would set it up and marvel at the tiny pieces admiringly – periodically our cat Snoopy would crash into it, and decide it was a splendid place for napping and everything would need arranging again. (I was a bit annoyed, but never one to deny my cat any pleasure even then.) I would have loved to electrify it – to me that would have been the height of fascinating – have lights I could turn on and off, but although I saw such things I had no idea where to start with such a project.

The idea of miniature worlds continued to fascinate me. I went through a long terrarium stage as a child. I was stuffing dirt and plants in every container I could get my hands on with varying degrees of success. As an adult I have considered recreating some of those terrariums and photographing them. Climbing inside those little, interior worlds of my own creation and sharing my bird’s eye perspective. Kim and I talk occasionally and ongoing about the ideal miniature town, most likely to be given life through his drawings someday than anywhere else. It will have an elaborate train set up and jolly houses like the yellow mansion above. I briefly went through a stage of considering taking on a dollhouse again as an adult and approaching it more organically and creatively, making the furniture and shaping the interior less inhibited by the conventions of scale and reality. My own dollhouse was long given away however and the issue of space in a cramped apartment made it unattractive to pursue.

I was greatly under the spell of Rumer Godden’s book The Doll’s House which, if you are not familiar with it already, is a juvenile chapter book about the Doll family. It is a bit terrifying actually, with an awful, proud doll named Marchpane which is introduced into the lives of the happy Doll family – ending in the death of one of the celluloid dolls by melting! Oh my. I bought myself another copy of it a few years ago and can’t lay my hands on it right now, but found it almost every bit as frightening all over again when I read it. (In researching this I discovered she is also the author of the novel Black Narcissus, on which the somewhat creepy and alarming film with Deborah Kerr is based. Makes sense!)

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The sight of a great dollhouse, such as the Stettheimer one at the Museum of the City of New York which I think of as the ultimate version in some ways, still sets my heart racing and the wheels turning in my head. The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death created by Frances Glessner Lee is another such perfection, although her intention in creating them was forensic study rather than creativity or play. Fascinating! I realize that somehow my childhood dollhouse experience was somewhat stillborn and it still itches at the back of my brain. Perhaps this toy collector will have a chance to travel down that particular road still.

In it for the Toys: Part 1

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

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

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

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

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Toy Sleuth

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I write today from an airplane, speeding (or so they say, feels pokey and small today) across the country to catch up with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in Santa Barbara, California. I am nibbling a square of dark, mint, organic chocolate I packed for the occasion and contemplating a rather satisfactory toy interaction I had earlier this week.

A number of months ago, maybe as long as a year, my good friend Eileen was opining on a toy she had as a child, but had long lost track of. She described it as a mouse playground which puzzled me – what the heck did that mean? Nothing came to mind. I began asking questions. Eventually Eileen located one mouse and I used the photo of it to do an image search on Google. Bingo! Turns out it was a German company, Kunstlerschutz. Wagner Kunstlerschutz produced sturdy looking toys in conjunction with Max Carl Toys of Germany during the years of 1951-1965. These figures were “flocked” rather than made of actual felt. I recognized them from my childhood, but have no memory of actually owning any.

I believe that most, if not all, of the world’s toys pass through the wondrous portals of eBay so next I began searching for said playground to see if it could be purchased. I found Kunstlerschutz animal houses (vaguely European in design), a school, a sort of a farm and of course ultimately the playground as well. However, while the animals are widely available, probably a tribute to their fairly indestructible nature and popularity, the buildings and playground are much harder to find. They seem sturdy enough, but still with pieces that could be lost or broken. I found record of one that had been sold on eBay previously for a large sum of money. Nonetheless, knowing that anything can happen on eBay, I put an alert on my account for Wagner Kunstlerschutz and playground and waited. I never heard a word until the other morning when at 5:30 AM this little gem popped into my inbox – complete, mice and all, for a fairly reasonable price. It was meant to be.

Other than a few books (my posts on A Cricket in Times Square can be found here, but I have also written revisiting my childhood favorites in The Story About Ping and Push Kitty), I have not largely pursued acquiring toys from my own childhood. I understand the thrill  and emotion of being able to experience them again however. Our books and toys were how we constructed our childhood worlds and possessing them again gives us our portal back to the past in a special way. Coming home from California on the airplane I watched the recent documentary on Fred Rogers which left me weeping. (Yep, sitting next to a pleasant seeming young German couple who were wondering why. I should have gone to a theater like everyone else.) Meanwhile, I wish Eileen (and her cat Apollo, who is meeting the Mouse Playground for the first time in these photos) much enjoyment with their newly re-acquired toy.

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Wagner Kunstlerschutz playground now in the Eileen Travell collection! All photos by Eileen Travell.

 

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