An Abundance of Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Readers here know that toys and photos of cats are the mainstays of the Pictorama collection. This pleasant pile of pusses cheered me immensely when it crossed my path. Cow spotty mom and dad kitties (maybe – they look a bit possessive anyway) mill around with three evidently all white fluffy kittens. Playing with them are these no less picturesque women in early 20th century dresses, hair piled high, brooches pinned on lacy bodices. A careful look shows other women in the background, also in summer cottons of the period.

Kittens, even in small doses, are a bit of work to live with and when our adored Cookie and Blackie entered the picture I was reminded. Less needy maybe than puppies (which seem to rank somewhere just newborn children for labor intensiveness in my opinion) kittens will still race around your house (in this case our single room) knocking things over, scratching and have their decidedly stinky and disastrous moments. Nonetheless, there is little as cheerful and charming in my mind than a pile of kitties.

The image cuts across the more than 100 years since this photo was made. Interesting to think that playing with kittens on a spring day in the yard remains the same activity it was then.

Naughty but charming Cookie and Blackie as kits, sitting on Kim’s desk – forbidden of course, but so cute!

I have only lived with a litter of kittens once in my life during what I have described before as an especially cat rich time of my childhood. Our cat Winkie escaped outside and mated before we were able to have her spade and her calico design when combined with a local tabby tom resulted in two all grays, a long thin drink of water orange stripe and a black and white tabby. They were in turn named Ping and Pong, Squash and Tigger. I don’t remember who in the family did the naming honors, but I do remember that Winks chose my parent’s closet to birth her kittens. (This after my parent’s bed had been rejected as the site by said mom and dad.)

Winkie was in turns both a very watchful cat mom and sometimes a neglectful one. She went through a period of dutifully moving the kittens from one hiding place (stuffing them under a low dresser at one point) to another because we insisted on looking at them and playing with them. Or was she actually trying to lose them? She would occasionally forget to move one with the others and said kitten would be found crying and rescued. Winkie was an unusually smart cat – barn born and polydactyl, with big mitt like front paws. She may have had a kitten abandonment plan which we continually thwarted. As soon as they were sufficiently grown she immediately forgot she had had anything to do with their genesis and generally look upon them as interlopers.

So tiny they fit together on our computer chair which remains a favorite perch.

We kept all four kittens which did mean our cat population burgeoned overnight. I believe we were already in possession of at least one other cat, another orange tom named Pumpkin. Since we lived in a house, albeit a large one, that was a lot of felines although that was still at a time when they were free range in the neighborhood, and roamed in and out of the house more or less at will. In my memory at least, a good time was had by all during this period, although our German Shepherd was probably a bit put upon, not to mention my mother who had the daily responsibility for cats and kids. (Dad traveled a lot for work and seemed both unperturbed, but also less engaged with the pet excess of those days.)

This postcard was never mailed and clearly remained evidence of a lovely day in the yard, enjoying cats and kittens.

Cabinet Card Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: One somewhat sleepless night my phone buzzed a few times and instead of ignoring it I had a look. A dealer I follow was having a late night sale and she was sending me an advanced heads up on a few things she thought I might like. In my bleary state this one jumped out at me and I bought it – and went back to sleep. However, I was quite pleased with myself when it arrived. (Tip of the hat to @missmollystlantiques.) There is a nagging thought about another photo of a young girl with a cat in her lap I didn’t buy, but what can you do?

The composition on this card is kind of great with this natty fellow standing in front of the pole and the shadow of it going at an angle behind him. I could have asked that the darks be more distinct, either in the shooting or the printing, but even with that he forms an interesting triangle in the middle. His hat is tipped over his eyes so they are in shadow, roguish, but kitty is in full light and leaning toward the camera a bit – while safe in his arms of course. Is that a cigarette hanging from his mouth we see the shadow of?

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Kim is thinking it is from the 1890’s. I am not so good on dating men’s attire – any thoughts out there? I agree that the picture really looks like an early Kodak snapshot, despite being printed and mounted this way.

The background is a bit winter bleak with the trees and the ground barren. The sky is a flat cloudless white, it was hard if not impossible to capture clouds on film at the time. It appears to be a sort of residential urban spot, houses to our far left and a storefront peering out to the right, street behind him. It came to me from the midwest and there are no markings on the back so I will assume it may have originated there.

The rowboat pond in Central Park on Thursday this week.

It is a chilly, but sunny November morning here – clocks fell back and Marathon here in NYC today. I was largely sidelined from outside by a bad cold for a week, but made the trip through Central Park twice toward the end of last week for work. Almost overnight the trees have gone to an aching beauty of all too brief color, and the light has what I think of as a golden fall hue which seems particular to the northeast at this time of the year. (The one fall of my life I spent in London I was shocked by its absence. I went to Berlin for a weekend in October and there it was. Go figure.) One cat is snoozing endlessly on the couch while the other is chasing her tail in the bathtub.

This fall respite seems brief and fragile as we go headlong into winter and I know soon the trees will be bare and that light will have turned pale like it is in this photo. I have been adding to my inventory of layers for running and trying to remind myself I ran through it all last year so it is possible. Yes to gloves, no (at least for now) to hand warmers, and yes to a hat. Shall we try fleece lined tights? I feel the cold deeply so it is sheer discipline and these layers that will get me out the door in these coming mornings. (My true inclination and nature would be to curl up in the warm apartment and stay in bed.) I am having one of those years when it seems like wait, winter was just here and where did summer go?

Squirrel posing for a bunch of us at the south end of Central Park. Num, num, num!

The squirrels have been in a frenzy. Perhaps I have just never noticed before, but as I walk through the park I see them congregated in groups and they are stuffing their little faces madly with nuts and burying them at an equally notable rate! Wow! They are so distracted with their nut consumption that they allowed me and my fellow denizens to take photos of them munching away. (Admittedly, me and my fellow New Yorkers are easily attracted by even these nominal displays of nature.) Of course their wild activity is creating a great stir among the many dogs being walked there and a sort of unbridled squirrel chasing ensues. Distracted or not, dogs chase but never catch squirrels in the park. It is like an endless comforting cartoon animation cycle.

This from a week ago in Central Park. Already most of these leaves already gone.

Meanwhile, I am fervently hoping these squirrels don’t know something we should and that they are preparing for an especially cold winter. We are continuing to work largely from home until February for now so my trips will remain a few times a week for outside meetings meetings. (Perhaps even outdoor, we’ll see.) For now I am going to put a few layers on and get over to the East River and get started. Let’s enjoy fall while we can.

Felix at the Chelsea Arts Ball

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Recently I have been in the midst of chasing down the remains of a Felix postcard collection, but this one popped up on its own from a different source in the middle of it. Felix on parade could be a real sub-genre of Felix photo collecting. Unlike the photo postcards of folks posing with Felix which hail exclusively from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the parade photos are as often from the US. While many seem to be variations on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloons, the best of them are from small parades elsewhere in the county. (Some of these previous examples can be found in posts here and here. Some of the photos from those posts are pictured below.) However, it has been a long time since one has come up for purchase. Hang onto your hats though folks – I think this is an interesting one.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Today’s comes to Pictorama from Great Britain and celebrates the Chelsea Arts Ball. The card was never sent. The only information printed on the back is Pathe Freres Cinema Ltd. Series Copyright. It turns out to be the 1922 edition of the ball. A bit of further research reveals that the design was overseen that year by artist Fred Leist and the theme (somewhat ironically as I write now in 2021) was Brighter London 100 years Hence. (I am thinking another worldwide pandemic was not on his mind at the time having just lived through the 1918 one.) That year the revelers danced to the Ceadon-West Orchestra, noted as a Big Band, but I cannot find many traces of them online.

Meanwhile, the Chelsea Arts Ball dates back to 1891, as far as I can tell from a brief history on the website of the club, (found here – and note the image of Felix on the side of their building in the photo!) having grown out of a tradition of fancy dress parties in the studios of artists in the 1880’s. It was meant to rival the already established Arts Club of Mayfair. (A side note that women were not admitted for membership in the Chelsea Arts Club until 1968!) The balls typically seemed to take place over New Year’s and/or Mardi Gras and eventually settled in at the Royal Albert Hall as a venue for a decades long run until the 1958 one was so raucous (Wikipedia sites, rowdiness, nudity and public homosexuality – which was illegal at the time – as what caused the ousting) that the ball was banned from the venue for the next 30 years. If I understand correctly, I believe that the party tradition continued until December of 2020 when, for Covid reasons, it was banned. The parties have been held at the site of the club at 143 Church Street in recent years.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The hope had been to rival the French equivalent, the Bal des Quat’s’Arts established in 1892, I gather a similar soiree produced by architecture students there. They achieved their goal and the Chelsea Arts Ball grew to be extravagant affairs with a hundred performers, lavish decor and thousands of participants who partied until dawn when breakfast was served. It was, according the the Chelsea Arts Club website, the centerpiece of London society. I will also credit them with providing the quote, The mere mention of the Chelsea Arts Ball would make the debutante blush and the dowager blench. Lady Muriel Beckwith, 1936. It leaves me with questions about the participants – had the ball left its roots among artists and become a fête only of the wealthy? Or was it an event that embraced both, high and low brow so to speak?

Felix stereocard. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Each ball was punctuated by a parade at midnight – presumably we are seeing some sort of a dry run here with a photo taken during a misty day and used for promotional purposes. There is no real indication, London weather being what it is, if this was a Mardi Gras or New Year’s version. While seemed to me that it is a New Year’s version, no hint of spring in this photo, research shows that this ball was held on February 8 of 1922 – still very cold, and a bit early for Mardi Gras. Very chilly for those short dresses! Somehow the gray mistiness of it adds to the appeal and creates the right atmosphere in this photo.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

And oh what a photo is it is! A giant paper-mâché Felix with a distinctly worried look (hands behind his back in the Felix Thinking Position) hovers over this bevy of women in short white dresses – it is hard to see their masks but I believe they are little birds; I think I see beaks! They are cute little white fluffy skirts however, with ruffles and a bow. As noted, they are not warmly dressed. The dancers are being herded by Felix costume clad men. These gents are also in charge of Felix’s movement and he is balanced (precariously?) on a sort of dolly. Felix appears to have three of these escorts. A few folks are onlookers, as they are largely men and hard to see them clearly.

The real scoop here is that film exists of the pre-ball parade shown on this card. It can be found on the British Pathe website. However a superior and decidedly longer version exists on Youtube and can be found here or below. This one goes on to show the assembled costumed performers and even some of the individual wild costumes that could be found. The Felix men and white dressed women join hands and dance around Felix in a delightful fashion!

An interesting and somewhat moving account of the party given to celebrate the end of WWI, also found on the Chelsea Arts Club site, describes it as the most famous one, held on March 12, 1919. It used the concept of Dazzle, the Navy camouflage process which owed its roots to Cubism and Vorticists. (Okay, I had to look that up – Vorticistism was a brief industrial influenced abstract art movement of the pre-War teens in Britain – one of my facts for the day!) Dazzle is described as a visible expression of jazz syncopation. Here they were in 1922, a few short years later, wondering what the next hundred years would bring.

Another photo related to the ball, from the Royal Albert Hall website.

Felix in the Photo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As some Pictorama followers know, I have long favored Instagram as my favored social media poison pick. Kim is devoted to tending the curation of his Facebook page, but I prefer to pleasantly lose myself scrolling through my iteration of the universe which skews heavily into vintage jewelry and clothing, antiques, cat doings (go @sadieanddottie!), the antics of some real world friends, and of course early photos.

Cookie and Clark Gable recently.

The viewing world in return gets a version of me (@Deitchstudio) which includes these blog posts and related photos, the comings and goings of Cookie and Blackie lovingly chronicled, story vignettes of my morning runs along the East River (walks for since my great fall, see my post Busted, here, for that tale of woe), and in the before times my occasional travels with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra as the fund raiser for that organization. I try to avoid any whiff of politics and try to keep the chaos of our tiny abode visually within bounds admittedly. Photos of Kim only with his knowledge and permission. Selfies rarely, usually just with friends.

Running became walking about two minutes after I snapped this photo on Memorial Day.

When I look back on this time I think I will mostly vividly remember scrolling through IG and watching home renovation tv.

You all over here at Pictorama get more insight into the inner life of Deitch Studio, but the folks over on Instagram get a daily visual account of me and mine. Obviously there is crossover and I know many of you follow me there and a few of the folks who I “know” only from IG wander over to Pictorama on occasion. (There are some triple crown folks who are FB friends too!) It is a happy day when these parallel Pictorama worlds collide and today (and likely tomorrow) will highlight some finds attributable to those folks.

Today’s splendid photo find (you were wondering if I would ever get to it I am sure) was purchased on eBay. The listing made no mention of the presence of Felix in their midst (nor cat costume photo) so I wouldn’t have found it without the tip from @the_antique_lens. I only know them by that moniker, no name on the account or bio information. Unlike many of the folks I interact with the_antique_lens is a collector, like me, not a merchant.

Their exquisitely presented account reveals what seems to me to be a remarkably similar visual taste in early photos to my own (Felix notwithstanding) to my own, although less specifically focused than my heavily cat/toy related collection. It is with thanks to them that this little beauty found its way to the Pictorama collection. A thank you to their eagle eye and generosity in the tip.

The photo is oddly mounted on pieces of paper that have resisted the glue applied resulting in ripples. It does not appear to be from a photo album – I think maybe framed at one time, but there are push pin holes in the top corners and one side so it spent some time displayed that way. There is a bit of black tape across the bottom mystifies me which Kim has edited out in this scan. Nothing is written or indicated on the back.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

It is an interesting photograph. At first glance you might think was taken for Halloween, but the Christmas tree makes me think not. Perhaps a school play? Felix is especially curious in this case (hard to think of what that story line might be, but he is front and center), however given that several children wear similar costumes school play gets my vote. The costumes have a consistent quality too, all of the same quality. I am sure I cannot imagine a story that might incorporate the kid dressed as a gift box, an Indian, the little girl with a burlap bag over her head and the imaginatively rendered bear in the lower right. I am especially enamored of the teacher’s fairy costume, and as Felix the Cat costumes go, that is one I want!

The photographer had a good eye for framing this, especially if he or she arranged everyone. However I also feel that the photo maintains the aura of the stage presence of the kids – they do not mug, or even mostly smile much. There is a look of shared purpose and focus to them and they gaze directly at us. I am especially fond of the rifle bearing soldier and bear on all fours holding down the composition on the right, while the white fairy costume draws you back to the left.

A careful examination of the writing on the blackboard (a credit to that instructor’s neat hand which I am attempting to read more or less a hundred years later) appears to list three clubs. Furthest to the left (and easiest to decipher) states, The Right Club, Lois Dickason, President, and a list of names. The center reads, Our Writing Clubs, Gold Highest Honors, Blue Standard, Red Below Standard. (Underlined twice!) I can barely make out what it says on the board behind the teacher, but it appears to be, Gold Star Club, Ellen Montgomery, President, and a list of names too faint to decipher.

The Right Club and the Gold Star Club names listed have one or two stars after each name. (I would like to point out with girl Presidents of each, clearly the girls here were doing an excellent job representing for the fair sex.) The scrawny Christmas tree with its star is a poignant seasonal touch.

This is one of those photos that allows you to time travel and I think wall worthy – a tribute here in the cramped environs of Deitch Studio. Hope you enjoyed the trip.

Family Photos

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I get to combine my love of early photos with family. While I was visiting mom in New Jersey last week, my cousin Patti took out a huge basket of photos we went through together. Some folks remained unidentified, but a core group appeared throughout. (I wrote about this side of my family back in a post around a photo of a very early family wedding celebration. It can be found here.)

These are entirely my mother’s side of the family, the Italian immigrants who settled on the Jersey shore and ran a series of restaurants and food stands in what was a popular beach community. I apologize for the reproduction quality – I was just taking pictures of these photos on my phone.

As far as I can tell the genesis of these food enterprises was my great, great grandfather – last name Cittadino, first name not known to me. He is shown below in two photos, with car and bike.

Pams-Pictorama.com
Pams-Pictorama.com

I especially like the one of him with a bike. Regretfully no one knew who the two hotsy totsy looking, well dressed young women were. They showed up in some other photos. None of these photos were marked and had largely at one point been in an album, but we realized what everyone does when looking at family photos which is there are a lot of people who were friends or folks they worked with who were like family, but sadly no one remembers now.

The Deli, shown below, seems to have been the first restaurant incarnation of the family. I only recently learned of this earlier version of the family food establishments. As per an email from my mom below, I gather it was a place to eat as well as the take out sale of food. Sorry to say, these two fellows in the photo remain unidentified.

My grandfather had a deli and related food sale place in Long Branch on the Main Street Broadway. Every morning he walked to the bank for day cash on the way passed the owner of the bar getting to the bank. They struck up a conversation the fellow told him he was tired and wanted out. My grandfather then struck a deal walked on to the bank and got the loan went back and gave him the cash and that was it. He walked back to the deli told my grandmother and the customers eating there at the time and agreed all would help move down the street and that is how he moved down to the building with friends and customers helping shortly after when they did.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Norwood was the name of a street in Long Branch, in fact the street where my grandmother and the extended family had a home. (I wrote about that house in a post that can be found here). As per my mother’s email, the deli and the bar that followed, were actually on Broadway, the long main drag of what was once the thriving downtown which I believe ends at the ocean where the Boardwalk once thrived. The family home was within walking distance of the Deli and Bar, I think probably 15 or twenty minute walk, of it.

The family also seems to have two food concessions on the Long Branch Boardwalk as well, one I had always heard about, owned by my Aunt Ro. However, another turned up in these photos and I am not sure who owned this stand, but the general consensus was that this was not Ro’s but another. Not sure who is pictured here either, although he resembles my great uncle Frankie, but is too long ago to be him. Perhaps the Al mentioned on the awning boasting a Quick Lunch.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The family’s bar is what is remembered best by my mom, run by her grandparents, her mom and aunts. Mom would go to their apartment above the bar after school as a small child. Although much of the family worked there – not Mom’s father, Frank, who was an engineer for Bendix. While it is always referred to by family as The Bar, it served a lot of food as well. In addition to the daily fare special Sunday dinners were offered to steady customers, all prepared by the women of the extended family. Mom remembers them cooking non-stop between the restaurant and family.

The photo below is the aforementioned Frankie, father of my cousin Patti who stays with my mom these days and found these photos cleaning out her house. I believe this shot was at the bar although I would have voted for it being one of the beach concessions. (I wrote about my sectioned blue Willoware plates which were the Blue Plate Special plates at the bar and are our everyday dishes. You can find that post here.) My mom and uncle were too young to work there, although my mother used her restaurant background to waitress her way through college later in life.

Hot dog concession with Frankie manning the flatop and Great Grandpa Cittadino behind him. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The establishment remains today, at 591 Broadway in Long Branch – currently Johnny Piancone’s, ironically also an Italian bar restaurant. I have never been – although once my father and I had pizza in the place next door which I gathered from him had been there as long as he has known my mother.

My uncle ate at the restaurant several years back and they allowed him to visit the apartment upstairs which he also remembered vividly from afternoons there as a child. I have shown the bar today below which I found on the FB page. The bar pictured may be the originally one, although I believe my uncle said it had been cut down. The restaurant appears to have survived the pandemic with outdoor dining in a backyard and I would think doing take out. It’s nice to know that it is still there, still going in its own way.

A Girl’s Best Friend

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is an intensely foggy morning here in Manhattan and we can see nothing but a sheet of white out our 16th story window. It is a bit doom and gloom so I have dug into my photo archive for a jolly one and have come up with this calmly happy one of this full-on flapper and her canine friend on a porch swing.

It is printed on photo paper, not a photo postcard, and bears signs of black photo album paper on the back. It is a very good shot with those interesting shadows I couldn’t have resisted either and the porch railing, the swing she is on, and trees behind create a nice frame of geometric shapes. However, the printing is a bit disappointing, not enough contrast and the blacks sink together although a careful look indicates that there was information there. They have cheated a bit and there is a white line added behind the dog’s hind quarters which I can see on the original, but you probably cannot in reproduction of the photo above. Nonetheless, despite any flaws, she takes us right to a time and place and holds us there for a moment.

I don’t know why, but it is her shoes that interest me in particular. As a collector of vintage clothing and photographs, you rarely get to really see shoes and while these aren’t notable, I just find myself looking at them and thinking, well, hmmm that’s what women’s shoes really looked like.

Recently a seller on Instagram has had a few pairs of women’s shoes from this period (@witchyvintge or witchyvintage.com) and they are surprisingly modern. There was a pair with kitten heels – or perhaps really more French heels – from this period that I commented I could slip on today and happily wear – if of course I ever wore anything but sneakers and slippers these days. (As an aside, @witchyvintage posts and sells some of the most remarkable vintage clothing I have ever seen in my years of collecting it. There are everyday pieces from the 1800’s, everything from long calico work dresses to corsets and dress clothes, the likes I have never seen outside a museum exhibit. It is fascinating to see them and know there are collectors out there who are sourcing and purchasing such early pieces actively.)

From Witchyvintage.com, still available, $265

Her hair is styled in the signature Louis Brooks bob of the day and it does a fair imitation. I wonder if it went up in the back the way Louis’s did. Her embroidered dress is perfectly of the time and so is the long strand of beads which was a length popular in the teens through the thirties, but not beyond.

This doggy is a large fellow to be even a partial lap dog, but canine affection knows no bounds. Dogs species are not well developed asset in my toolbox, but this seems to be an Airdale. I have never known one personally, but he seems very likable and clearly devoted to her. I remember when I was a kid our German Shepard couldn’t understand that she was no longer a puppy and would try to climb into bed with my parents, up between the headboard and their pillows. This of course was more possible for a pup than a seventy pound dog and caused some chaos – among the kids and cats that were also likely climbing on my folks at the time.

It’s hard to see the stages on the leaves on the trees, but I am going to gamble and call this an early spring photo, with the trees just starting to bud, about the same as where we are now in the process, maybe a week or two behind. Just warm enough to sit on the porch a bit in the sun without a coat and cuddled up with your dog.

Lined Up

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I purchased these two photos on Instagram in a wave of ones from the same period and probably place. While I suspect I purchased them at the same time and from the same vendor, I do not remember for sure. Both are snapshots printed on thin, early paper and bear the black paper stuck to the back that is evidence that they came from a photo album. They were sold to me by someone in the Midwest and I think that is the area they depict as well.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

I can only say there was a time last summer when images, mostly of women, from the turn of the century were attracting my attention and I purchased a pile. They are mostly in outdoor settings of the beach (see the one above), garden or yard and notably they show a persistent passion for being presented in a line – not just these photos, but many I didn’t or wasn’t able to purchase of women sitting on the ground in a line, or even finding ways to do a vertical with a ladder. (Some of my posts of these photos can be found here and here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

In the smaller grouping, which is also the smaller photo, the women pose in what appears to be the lush side-yard garden. They peer at us above and through these leafy vines on this bright sunny day. You can almost feel the heat of the midday sun looking at the short shadows. I might hazard a guess that it is mother and four daughters. It is hard to see, but I think the daughters are in white cotton dresses; mom appears to be wearing a dark skirt. Their hair is piled up on their heads, although one has it wound in tight braids. The shadow of a ladder is in evidence in the doorway.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The larger photo is the one I favor a bit. There is something just wonderful about this group of young women in white, lined up behind this somewhat ramshackle fencing, covered in overgrowth – is it hay in front of and behind them? Hard to say how they managed to get back there without getting stuck by the barbed wire of the fence, but the photographer had a good eye and got them between the posts. Their long, white dresses are partially visible behind a layer of the plants. The white, cloudless sky is a tribute to the inability of early film to capture clouds at the time, however curiously it works to the favor of the picture. (The soiling and bend of the early paper creates an illusion of sky that is not really of the image.) The photo is very much of a specific time and place, but also has a timeless quality.

If you look carefully, they are all smiling and laughing. At first I thought it was a group of young, female friends but one or two women look older – second and third from the left. I wonder if it is a coincidence that my reading this year, young plucky girl stories such as Ruth Fielding and the Camp Fire Girls, (some of those posts here and here) take place in the same period during the halcyon days of the early and mid-teens of the last century.

Spark Plug: Our One Ring Circus

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Thorough Pictorama readers may remember back in March of 2018 (March 24, almost exactly three years ago!) when I posted about the photo below in the post It’s Clint Flynn – on Spark Plug (which can be found here).

At that time I confessed my rather specific interest in this mini-genre of photos which depict people on various homemade versions of Spark Plug, the horse character of the Barney Google comic strip fame, which made its debut in 1919. (In my mind these are like an addendum to people posing with Felix – collecting those photos being part of my life’s work.) In 1925, the year today’s photo was snapped, Barney Google and Spark Plug would have been hitting their stride fame-wise.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

When I say mini-genre of photos I do not exaggerate as I have only seen three in my life (although I am convinced that there are many more to be found which I plan to uncover and of course acquire.) I was able to purchase two of the three known to me. It was the first one, at a Hake’s auction I believe, that got away which started me on my hunt for further ones. (Strangely, like some of my Felix photos, I believe that first one hailed from Australia. Australia in the 1920’s must have been a crazy, great place.)

All three photos I have encountered sold for a significant price. The card I share today started at a price even I wouldn’t pay for it and eventually came down as I had expressed interest and gather I was the only taker. In part, I think this card suffered a bit because it was hard to be certain at first that it is an original photo postcard, not a reproduction, which it is.

Back of card. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Unlike most outstandingly great photo postcards I have encountered, this one was mailed. Luckily it didn’t suffer noticibly on its journey. I show the back below and you will note the postmark, March 23, 1925! (I am loving all the coinciding of March dates today. March must be Spark Plug photo month, right down through the decades.) It was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Chalfont, Muncie Ind. 720 W. Ponders Street. (The street address is added like an afterthought which I don’t believe I have ever seen.) The sender, unnamed, writes (somewhat cryptically), Golden Banders. Come and see our 1 ring circus it is free Thurs. We. is the date. Please come early don’t be late. March 26. 7.30.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

On the front of the card 1 Ring Circus and a $ have been painted neatly onto the neg and printed. I’m not sure what the $ is referring to, tucked as it is between these two splendidly attired and painted clowns, adorned with pointy caps, each of them accessorized with a feather duster.

The woman, less sporty in her dress, but fully in the spirit of the thing, seems to be an assistant of sorts; she is holding Spark Plug’s head a bit possessively, although maybe she is also keeping him steady. (I really like her shoes – I own a pair like those that I am quite partial to.) The tot fortunate enough to be perch atop him is in a Buster Brown suit, with bow tie, and looks pretty smug and pleased with himself – who can blame him? Hotsy totsy!

Unlike the sturdy fellow in my earlier photo, this Spark Plug is a wonder of casual construction. I think he may have real plungers for feet and lower extremities and something mysterious above that connecting it all. (Interestingly plungers are frequently used to depict Spark Plug’s feet, he is not drawn that way in the strip where he just has enormous, clunky hooves.) His body appears to be an ambitious combination of wood and cardboard if I had to guess.

An interesting question is whether or not Spark Plug has back legs here – I do not see them. (Do you?) It seems like maybe white hat clown is holding him up? Not sure how that works – perhaps the clown jiggles you up and down? The solution behind this mystery is hidden now. Whoa! Steady there fellow I say!

Hard to Find the Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Tomorrow we will have our annual Deitch Studio Valentine reveal (one of the highlights of the Pictorama and Deitch Studio year – if you are new to Pictorama or just need to see a Kim Deitch Valentine right now, last year’s can be found here), but today we are back to a Felix photos. This 8″x10″ came to me via @missmollysantiques on Instagram (a fascinating source for things Halloween and exotica from our nation’s great Midwest), and although it was a rollicking good Halloween photo, I didn’t see the Felix at first.

This interior from the early decades of the 20th century is homey and nice. The window dressings form their own patterns in the background, and the piano on one side and mantel on the other frame the group nicely. There is no carpet on the floor, it is shining wood beneath the bent knees of one of the young Indians, but perhaps it has been rolled up and put aside for this shindig. It is hard to imagine that this well-appointed room didn’t have a carpet most days.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

These folks have embraced the costume spirit with a fair amount of enthusiasm. If I was the judge for Best Costume I would likely hover around the gypsy fortune teller (second row, second from the left, holding a tambourine, sassy sash at her hips), or perhaps the clown in the back corner behind the piano – but I am a sucker for a period clown costume and her pointed hat has a nice Halloween pumpkin and black cat. (You can find an earlier rather splendid similar Halloween clown in the snow photo post here. It heralds from the same Midwestern source. Those folks really knew how to celebrate Halloween.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

The men have largely, although not entirely uniformly, embraced cross dressing as their fancy dress and I count four of those here. Others seem to have adopted funny suit clothes without a self-evident definition – comical hats and ties largely. One fellow got into the spirit fully and is in a sort of jester costume, although he looks a tad unhappy, sad jester – he holds something in his hands I can’t make out. Maybe being next to the flashy gypsy à la flapper has him put out.

If you look closely at the back row you spot several men and one elderly woman who are not in costume, tucked in among the more colorful celebrants. Dad and Mom as I think of them, are wedged between a straw hatted and bespectacled (not to mention jaunty) fellow striking a pose on the end and a well-dressed younger woman who may or may not be in costume. Dad is clad in vest and tie, mom with her hair up, eyes downcast, but wearing some lovely long beads, dressed up if not in costume.

Two other younger men who don’t appear to be in fancy dress are to the back. One with a loosened tie behind Dad and the other in a plaid flannel shirt is on the other end. Flannel shirt guy is taller than everyone else and good looking. Perhaps he is in costume but my guess is no. Meanwhile, he looks a bit grim at the prospect of this photo.

On the floor we have our small fry representing a sort of jester, the aforementioned Indian (feathers in her headdress vaguely askew), and a third little girl whose costume, if she is wearing one, is indistinct. She may be sporting something on her head that I can’t quite make out. It’s easy to imagine them running around wildly before and after this shot. I can almost, but not quite, assign them as siblings or offspring of the older generations in the photo. (Does our Indian look a bit like Dad? Does the jester look a bit look a little like the heavy set man with the huge, flowing tie in the middle row?)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

Meanwhile, if you haven’t found him yet, Felix takes the form of a posable toy, likely of the Schoenhut variety held in the hand of the woman to the far right, perched on the piano. Although she is in party dress, she does not appear to be in costume either and perhaps grabbing Felix was her attempt to be more festive. Perhaps after this photo she sat down at that piano and started to bang out some tunes, apples were bobbed and the party got underway.

The Girls on the Moon

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is a cold gray February morning here in NYC as I write. Snow (I think of it as more snow), which just commenced, is expected throughout today. Somehow it seems like a good opportunity to consider these pretty young women in spring dresses taken in July of 1912.

They are wonderful and somehow that shines through the fact that this photo was an unusually ham-handed product. Perhaps it is the sheer number that these photographers took at fairs or seaside resorts, but they are usually of at least adequate execution, if occasionally showing signs of exhausted chemicals (dunked in a nearby bucket a few too many times) or an image not washed of developer properly and fading over time. This photo would be the exception to the rule – the bottom of the image is out of focus and the top physically cropped crudely – although reading it, that seems to have happened later. Maybe it was cut down slightly to fit in a frame – there is no evidence that it was in a photo album. Perhaps the slightly slovenly execution is why this card was actually sent rather than just saved as a memento as is most often the case with these, at least those which are generally seen and collected today.

For all of that these two are charmers. One grasps the nose of the moon – poking him right in the eye! And the two hold hands. They are both enjoying themselves mightily and smile broad, sincere grins from their moon-side perch. One looks at the other and she looks out, at us and into the future.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

The notes are charming too though. Written at the bottom it says, This was taken in Muskogee. We had the finest of times there going to the parks & shows & most everywhere. On the back, also in pencil but lighter and very hard to read, it appears to say, Dear Ma, Say have you sent me any money? if you haven’t pls send some to Aunt Pearl’s for me. I’m leaving this afternoon for K.C. I sure had a grand time here especially…[arrow to the part about money] If you have sent it I will get it alright…will forward it for me. Jane. It is addressed to: Mr. Densel Brown, 2255 E Street, Granite City, Ill. (Yes, she has written to her mother but addressed the card to her father. Welcome to 1912 I guess.) In her hand it is dated 7/19/12.It was mailed from somewhere called Gibson and one wonders if these two are cousins.

A play on the typical Moon photo which I purchased years ago.

I have collected a few of these cards. One of my very first posts was devoted to an early acquisition. (It can be found here. A post about the other photo below can be found here.) They are a competitive area of collecting however so I only dabble a bit. They are a special joy when excellent examples are pulled together and framed or shown collectively – more is more – something I have seen well executed a few times. Much like my beloved posing with Felix photo postcards these always seem to be joyful. As if to say, who wouldn’t get a grin on their face when, in the midst of a fine day at a fair or seaside resort, dressed in your spring togs, you got to sit on the moon or mug with a giant Felix?

A happy group enjoying themselves for a pose on and around the moon.

As huge flakes of snow obliterate our view now (cartoon snow is how I think of these giant pieces, chunks really, floating and blowing around) accumulate outside my window, I am grateful to have spent an hour in July, 1912 in Muskogee, Oklahoma with Jane and her pal.