June 1927

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Frankly I don’t remember exactly when this Felix family photo wandered into Deitch Studio, but when I was clearing a work space for myself it turned up. It is a small photo, sort of 3″x5″, and June 1927 is all that is written, in ink, on the back.

There is great contrast in this photo between the family sporting their best summer bib and tucker and the pleasantly rundown and overgrown yard they pose in. Why they have grabbed up these two good size composition Felix-es is of course also utterly mysterious. Each is held by one of the be-suited men. The third man has one of the women perched on his knee and the second woman is tucked between them, all posed on these inviting broad steps – just meant for sitting on.

The porch is inviting, or at least it is to me from the limited environs of Deitch studio at the moment. There is a deep wooden rocking chair almost out of sight and a less comfortable chair where a newspaper was hastily abandoned in a heap atop of it – the reader perhaps hopping up to pose for the photo. The early summer is unfurling into lush, green overgrowth around them. I think of upstate New York, but it could be many places. (I tried to check but I cannot find a purchase history to see where it even shipped from.)

The phenomena of having your photo taken with Felix is of course the original premise of this blog. However, even as someone who has collected many photos of people posing with Felix (usually the human-sized stuffed ones of seaside resorts and fairs – an example can be found here if you are new to Pictorama) these sorts of family snap shots with Felix remain a bit cryptic to me. Had they just won them at a fair perhaps?

I remain somewhat baffled by family photos where folks just snatch up a Felix statue or toy for the family photo – was the message that Felix was an important part of the family? Or just such a part of the times – they probably didn’t realize that it would eventually mark their family photo as somewhat iconic of the period.

Meanwhile, I cannot imagine the equivalent for my family growing up. (Despite having been the daughter of a photographer we didn’t do a lot of family photos and they were sort of starchy compared to these folks and their Felix dolls. There are no photos of me and Barbie – there is only one of me with a toy that I can think of and I wrote about it a long time ago here and I once again share me and the much loved Squeaky below.) I have a clutch of other photos from the late 1920’s and early ’30’s with Felix joining the family for a photo. Off the top of my head though, I want to say those photos are all from Britain and it is usually a stuffed Felix that gets the place of honor. (One of those posts can be found here.)

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Me with my beloved toy dog Squeaky, probably around 1968

 

Whatever the early 20th century motivation for posing with Felix toys, I am glad to see these treasure turn up today – sometimes finding new ones in my own apartment. Let’s see what else turns up here at Pictorama, shopping in our own closet as it were, for items of interest while enduring and also enjoying bunker days here.

Three Piggy Pail

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This sharp little number is the other pig purchase made on in honor of my birthday, also from The Antique Toy Shop, New York. It is little, only about six inches high and is just the right size for a pint-size person.

This is a very sturdy little pail and, although it looks fairly pristine, it was well built for days of sand castles at the beach and the like and may have seen days of service. As a former sand castle building aficionado I note only that although the handle moves it does not go all the way down. This would be very inconvenient for the making of towers from piles of wet sand and the like. It looks as if it is nicely water tight however, which is another important feature, hauling water from the ocean to your construction site and all.

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Unlike the mug featured yesterday (see that post here) which shows the pigs having firmly trounced the wolf, this one shows two irresponsible pigs at play and the stolid one with his bricks, building, with the Wolf in his full glory. Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf ?is around the top. The responsible brick laying pig has wolf proof paint (something I think we could all use, right?) and the other two dance a jig in front of the half finished straw house. (This shoddy straw house looks a bit like one of the shacks from the Gilligan’s Island reruns of my childhood. I watched them every afternoon, The Flintstones on one side or the other of it. If I ever saw those again I could probably recite parts of dialogue.)

The stick or wooden house is absent. I have remarked before that the swift collapse of the wooden house confused me as a child who lived in a wooden house. My parents failed to supply a sufficiently comforting explanation to me and I can only hasten to point out that you will find Deitch Studio located in a large brick high rise building.

This pail has a mark from the Ohio Art Company, a tin lithography company still in existence today. It’s a good story and I share an excerpt from their history, from their website:

Dr. Henry S. Winzeler, a dentist in Archbold, Ohio, who sold his practice because he was convinced novelty manufacturing held great promise for him. Renting part of a band hall and employing 15 women, the company was soon shipping picture frames to all parts of the country, as well as Canada and Mexico. Business grew rapidly and Dr. Winzeler needed a larger plant.

Through the efforts of local citizens and the Chamber of Commerce, enough money was raised to build a new factory and lure The Ohio Art Company to a new location – Bryan, Ohio. With larger quarters and better shipping facilities, the firm continued to grow…Soon after the move to Bryan in 1912, the company installed metal lithography equipment, an addition that would shape the company’s future. New items began to appear; advertising signs, scale dials and a few small wagons, representing the beginning of a long and successful run in the toy business.

When WW1 halted the flow of German toys to this country, American manufacturers had a tremendous opportunity to surge forward. Quick to realize this, Dr. Winzeler increased his line of toys and toy parts and business boomed. A quality (and very popular) tea set line was introduced, and in 1923, sand pails appeared. In the early 1930’s, Ohio Art was one of the very first companies to license a character from Walt Disney for a toy; Steam Boat Willie, the precursor to Mickey Mouse. Other successful early metal lithographed toys included tops, shovels, farm houses, drums, globes, checker sets and more.

Once plastic takes over in toys the company diversifies again and makes the film canisters for Kodak and premiums for companies like Coca Cola and Budweiser even today. The mark on this pail, Ohio Art Co Bryan O USA, refers to the company’s post-move location in Bryan, Ohio.

So, my advice is always be mindful of construction materials, build thoughtfully and work hard – and then you too can dance a jig and sing, Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

 

 

Mickey Mystery Solved

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Sharp eyed readers may have noted last week that I made not one but two birthday purchases at Doyle’s recent auction. This delightful Mickey was the other winning item that came home with us that day.

Mickey is small of stature – only about ten inches high. He is made from nice velvet and he has a on-model face which makes me think he was made with the knowledge and approval of the folks over at Disney. His ears are a stiff sort of velveteen. He is very well made and despite his advanced years there’s something sturdy about him. His tail especially entertains me – long and very mousy showing that Mickey was still a bit of a rodent at the time and had not been converted wholly into pablum for kiddies.

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Mickey back, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Frankly, Mickey’s mugshot in the auction catalogue did not flatter him, somehow it just featured his grime. However, he was much more charming when we showed up in person at Doyle on the aforementioned afternoon preview. (That was last week’s post on Olive Oyl which can be found here.) I put together an aggressive bid strategy and Mickey and Olive came home with us – Mickey is a birthday gift from Kim. Thank you Sweetie!

Mickey is unmarked and was tagged with Dean’s as the maker. Since he wasn’t bearing a toothy trademark Dean’s grin I knew that wasn’t the maker. (I have a number of Dean’s Rag Mickey Mouse toys, including one the size of a small child. Those posts can be found here and here for starters.) This one below isn’t one of my fellows which are admittedly a bit tattier and this pristine one was handy.

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A nice Dean’s Rag Co. Mickey not in my collection.

 

So the minor Mickey mystery was on as I puzzled through possible makers. If you look closely at Kim’s Valentine (below and revealed in full in a post that can be found here) this errant Mickey is running off the page on the bottom left.

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While drawing him, Kim observed the specific likeness of Mickey to my Aesop Fable dolls which he has also devoted hours to drawing in recent years. It is true when you consider the pie eyes, the hand and the feet specifically that there are significant similarities. That would make Mickey the output of the somewhat mysterious W.R. Woodard Company which produced those toys for a limited time and haven’t left many tracks as toy makers in the industry. (I examine those toys in many posts but delve the best I can into Woodard in a post to be found here.)

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Mickey Mouse, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Still, it itched at my brain that it seemed unlikely. So I turned to my friend Mel who is the Zen Master of all things early Mickey, and in fact, all things toys. (Toy enthusiasts all know his site, Mouse Heaven which can be found here.) It was Mel who suggested Steiff and Knickerbocker as possible makers. I expressed doubt about Steiff at first – Mickey’s ear where his button would be is a bit misshapen so I cannot see if there is a hole or a mark where it would have gone. However, a quick search turned up many very similar period Mickey brethren online. Mel hit it on the head. It would seem he is indeed made by the famous German toy makers, Steiff.

A few Steiff toys have wandered into my collection – a few striped kitties (one of those can be found in a post here), a bird and a bear that I can think of offhand. The bears seem to have very human expressions. And, if you stay tuned to Pictorama, there might be another Steiff toy in the offing in coming posts she typed with a mischievous grin…

As this posts on my site I will be in the frosty winter land of Chicago. Hopefully Sunday will find me back in this chair and bringing you more toy fodder!

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Just Whistle

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This ancient children’s whistle adds to my somewhat meagre, but slowly growing, holdings of toys related to Norakuro an early Japanese Felix-y cat-dog like character. (I have written about these toys previous and a few of those posts can be found here and here.) This whistle appeared, as things occasionally do, listed as Felix on ebay. Everything vintage associated with this character is extremely expensive – I just spied a DVD of the cartoons for $150 – which perhaps in part is exchange rate, but I also chalk up to a fairly limited and rarified collecting area. My quest for an early plush toy of this character (if such thing exists) continues – maybe I will make 2020 the year of Pictorama Norakura collecting. (Bank account beware!)

This humble whistle is in a style that seems to be from the 1930’s, but it continued with variation for a decade or two and who knows how long they were produced and exported from Japan. (This is marked Made in Japan in English and Japanese, so I assume it was made for export.) I think it is fair to say that the Japanese were significant contributors to the tin whistles in the US marketplace of this era.

In researching this a bit, I saw a few early examples of these tin whistles as premiums for kids for things like shoes. This snappy one below is for Poll Parrot shoes. (I never heard of this brand, but Kim has just told me he wore them as a kid and that they were a sponsor of Howdy Dowdy. Buster Brown was the property of Smilin’ Ed…) I must say I do like this image of a shoe clad parrot! I may have to find myself one of these, but most are much more beat up than this fine example shown here.

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In general the condition of these whistles seem to be pretty rough and it is easy to image that they spent much time in the grubby pockets of small children. Their survival at all is somewhat impressive when considered.

I do not have children, but I guess that giving your child a whistle is like giving your cat a toy with a bell, or that makes any noise. You should think twice about doing it if you don’t want to hear that sound a lot. (And in the case of kitties, probably in the middle of the night.) There is something about the very existence of a whistle that makes you want to blow it. This whistle wasn’t out of the package five minutes when Kim blew on it. It makes an awful sound and the cats freaked out. He said he’d never do it again, but did (repeatedly) a few minutes later. The cats did not run, but they remained deeply suspicious – ears perked and staring wide-eyed. Evidently adults are not immune to the appeal of tin whistles, but cats are.

I do not remember any significant tin whistles in my childhood. Sadly the world had moved onto plastic more or less entirely. I include a photo of the only whistle I remember from my own childhood, an Oscar Mayer Wiener one. I do not remember how I came into possession of it – I vaguely remember that it came to me in some sort of trade with a friend. Nor am I positive this was the precise design (several were in play in the early 70’s according to my friends on Google) of the one I owned. It was somewhat beloved though, however modest it now seems in comparison to these splendid tin affairs of childhood longer gone by.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

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.