Comforting Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: It’s back to basics today with a toy cat post! I have a photo or two of kids with this type of toy and a post where I lost a Felix version at auction which I desperately wanted. (That post can be found by clicking Jimmie and His Cat Toy) I found this little fellow on eBay where I was the only one interested in him and picked him up for very little.

He is a tad smaller than I expected, almost exactly the length and width of my hand. He has white pearl button eyes and I regret that one errant whisker has come loose. He is made of a soft leather and that has become a bit fragile with age so it is probably best that he has come to rest in a relatively quiet cat collection here at Pictorama.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection
Pams-Pictorama.com

What you cannot tell is that he has a delightful crunchy filling – beans or rice maybe? The tactile experience of holding him is sort of wonderful and is the reason for the title of this post. I can easily imagine slipping him in my pocket and carrying him around, demanding that he be with me when I was tucked into bed at night. (Pictorama readers might remember that my own childhood talisman was a dog named Squeaky. I wrote about him in a post you can find by clicking here.) He has an understanding face as well, a bit concerned but earnest. Like my real cat, Blackie, I will dub him to be a lucky black kitty.

Your Pictorama Pam as a tiny tot, holding Squeaky on a Christmas morning about 1967

I cannot decide if he was homemade, from a kit maybe, or inexpensively mass produced. There are enough of them, all similar, to say it was at least a kit. His stitching is a tad uneven, his upper paws gone over twice, his “left” arm double sewn. I have never seen evidence of the kits if they existed, but I would say it was more than just a pattern as they seem to all be made of the same lightweight leather, easier sewing than leather might imply. I would say that, at least in his day, he would be considered a durable little fellow, easily wiped clean after the occasionally sticky or messy encounter.

All in all, he seems like an ideal toy really. I cannot imagine what if any his equivalent is now, but for the small children of today, I certainly hope there is one.

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.

The First Little Piggy

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s a porcine weekend here at Pictorama starting with this Three Little Pigs mug I purchased for my birthday. Much like mice (mostly Mickey) and dogs, pigs seem to make up a sub-genre of the Pictorama collection. I’m fond of the little fellas. I keep a particularly nice plastic one on my desk at work (a post that includes him can be found here) and I purchased a very snappy wind-up version from my same beloved toy vendor in Chelsea a few years back. (Pause to advertise for the Antique Toy Shop New York whose website can be found here.) Like this mug, that wind-up, shown below (the post can be found here) is a marketing tribute to the Disney animated classic of The Three Little Pigs and the juggernaut of toys that came out of that film.

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Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

 

And of course there was the recent unexpected purchase of my (absolutely splendid) stuffed Wolf recently. He has the honor of sitting on my bedside table and I will say, I like to sleep at eye level with his clever little, hoary paw feet. The Wolf has quickly become a favorite item. (That entire post is here.)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

When I went to pluck today’s mug off a high bookcase shelf this morning I realized it is virtually identical to the Little Orphan Annie mug I keep up there as well. (China lives on high cat-proof shelves here at Deitch Studio!) I show them together below.  The Little Orphan Annie mug (detailed in a post here) was a Kim find and gift to me. While its markings, Manufactured exclusively for the Wander Co., Chicago, Makers of Ovaltine, fail to identify S.C. Co Patriot China as identified on the Pig mug, it is clearly the same company.

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Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

 

A quick search turns up plenty of Disney related items (I feel a Mickey Mouse version of this mug coming on for me) there was not much history about the company itself easily found. Clearly they had a significant Disney contract as well as the Ovaltine novelty one. As per my post, the Little Orphan Annie mug predates this one by a few years. However, the style and molds are identical.

This Pig mug is pretty raucous. The Piggies are standing atop of a firmly trounced Wolf, looking like a Wolf-rug here, singing their Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf song. (I like this Sing-Along version on Youtube, here.) A look at the lyrics below are a reminder that the story is a bit of Ant and the Grasshopper tale of the pig who works hard to build his house of bricks as opposed to his brethren who slap theirs together out of straw and sticks. Luckily the brick house building pig is charitable and rescues the others and they defeat the Wolf.

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Written by Frank Churchill with additional lyrics by Ann Ronell and featured in the 1933 cartoon, the song had long legs of its own and was recorded by numerous artists. It is one of the most popular to come out of the Disney canon.

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf
The big bad wolf, the big bad wolf
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf
Tra la la la la
Long ago there were three pigs
Little handsome piggy wigs
For the big, bad the very big, very bad wolf
They did not give three figs
Number one was very gay
And he built his house with hay
With a hey hey toot he blew on his flute
And he played around all day
Now number two was fond of jigs
And so he built his house with twigs
Hey, diddle diddle he played on his fiddle
And danced with lady pigs
Number three said, “Nix on tricks
I shall build my house with bricks”
He had no chance to sing or dance
‘Cause work and play don’t mix
Ha, ha, ha, the two little do little pigs
Just winked and laughed ah, woo
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf
The big bad wolf,…
More porky pleasure to follow tomorrow!

My Felix Heaven

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers and other Deitch Studio fellow travelers know that there is a wonderful tradition of Kim making me my very own special valentine each year. It is the most beloved manifestation of my uber Deitch fan status and today I share it with you all.

One recent year Kim drew the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as a cat band for me (that one can be found here) and in 2017 Kim’s work on Reincarnation Stories had our minds focused on our 86th Street apartment building morphing into a rollicking toy museum for me, which in turn inspired the valentine that year. (Reincarnation Stories, that extraordinary missive, can be purchased here should you somehow be without a copy and that valentine post is here.)

Recently, I was strolling through ebay, looking over the array of Felix items and wondering specifically about a certain kind of china Felix I do not collect. Much of it seems to be promotional item give aways made by British Pathé Films. There are small ashtrays, match holders, miniature jugs, and things best described as gewgaws. They must have been universally saved as they are very available, almost a hundred years later.

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Pictorama readers also know that given the confines of our studio apartment (which I like to pretend expands magically to house an infinite number of toys, but in reality not really) and our two felines who race through (and up and down) it daily, I am somewhat discrete in my collecting and try to keep fragile items to a minimum. Therefore, there is a world of early Felix I have not really touched. In addition, there are tea sets and other space hogging items I must refrain from acquiring or threaten to tip the gentle ecosystem of our abode. (I have opined on my vision of a Felix filled home in my post Living the Felix Life which can be found here.)

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However, on this day as I was looking I was fantasizing about a seaside British cottage, filled to the brim, positively sparkling, with all these Felix items. As if somehow this woman collected them all in the late 1920’s and kept them all to perfection. Kim asked about my thoughts for the valentine right at that moment and over my morning coffee I conveyed that vision (very ineptly, I have to admit), to Kim who then somehow managed to translate it PERFECTLY in this valentine. Yay, Kim!

He asked me to do some image research so he could better see what I was talking about. And the real find during that research was this image from Getty below. Wow, wow, wow! This is one of the best Felix photographs I have ever seen. I must find a way to get a real copy from Getty somehow so I can hang it on my wall. (Look at the Felix dolls stuffed in their belts!) The big winking Felix in the middle finds a place of honor on my valentine and I get to wear the cool Felix girl outfit!

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Getty Image photo

 

Although in one sense I art direct the valentine, our largely unspoken division of labor means I generally do not make a lot of specific requests about execution concerning things like color. This year I think I surprised Kim with the request that my dress be orange. I think it mystified him a bit, but he has given me my orange dress and I do love it. Perfect.

Of course, Kim’s version of Felix memorabilia is far more ribald and raucous than any reality. Felix is tooting on a nippy hookah while I serve him tea; dancing animated Felixes make up the tablecloth edge (wouldn’t I love to own that); and Cookie and Blackie (who, as I write is trying to push me off the computer chair) make an appearance. Blackie is behind the hookah and Cookie is behind a Felix urn where she eyes her tail suspiciously. (Cookie, even as a very adult kitty, still chases her tail constantly. I think she’s convinced me that a demon really does reside there that periodically needs subduing.)

Of course, out the window is a jolly scene which is the East River version of my fantasy. There’s a Mickey Mouse running off the page and there will be more about him to come in future posts. (Think birthday gift.) A crazy Felix clock, the traditional one crossed with an especially good Norakuro one we were admiring online. Tea Time! Tea Time!

And there you have it, the 2020 Deitch Studio Valentine and it is a beaut! Thank you so much Kim! I am the luckiest wife in the world.

Meanwhile, I think maybe next year we need to make our way into the Felix tea room those women were beckoning us into…

Felix Fun

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Seldom does a toy have the come hither play with me quality that this jumping Felix does. Like a kid, once I start playing with it I just want to keep going. Look at Felix go! For such a simple toy it mesmerizes. You press the wooden handles together and Felix jiggles and jumps – every few times he tumbles all the way forward or backward. Yay! It has a satisfyingly substantial quality, made of wooden bits and despite its age gives it heft. This fellow was found on ebay and is a belated Christmas gift from Kim as it took awhile to cross the ocean and arrived on our doorstep in mid-January.

The design for this toy has evidently been around for a long time. Light research shows reference to eighteenth and nineteenth century France and China, but frankly no one seems to have the precise lowdown on the inception. These are truly timeless toys. Instructions for making these proliferate even today with Youtube tutorials, but versions of this toy have long been available commercially as well as being made at home. It is loosely defined as a wooden acrobat toy – jumping jack might get you there too, but that seems better reserved for the wooden toys with a string that make the arms and legs go up and down, a sort of kissing cousin of this Felix toy.

This Felix came from Great Britain and my guess is that instructions for making this and other models were probably available in magazines like Popular Mechanics or in this case whatever the equivalent was in Britain at the time. When I say at the time I am also a bit flummoxed, but from what I have read I would think  it could have been made any time after Felix’s appearance on the scene through the 1950’s.

The Felix himself is a bit endearingly lumpy in design and there is not real question that he would not have qualified for the Pat Sullivan seal of approval in the day. His tail has a small chip and he has some signs of wear in his black paint – I assume his white face was brighter in his youth as well. Below I share a Mickey Mouse, sans legs, which I found on Pinterest which seems to share the same gray area of homemade versus commercial origin.

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For those of you who, like me, need to see things in motion – a brief clip of Kim mastering and playing with Felix can be found by clicking below. Go cat, go!

Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today is a toy post in its full glory – dedicated to the recent acquisition of this absolutely extraordinary Big Bad Wolf toy! This wolf comes to me as a Christmas gift from Kim-as-Santa via a Bertoia auction. Mr. Wolf made a rather slow trip to Manhattan and just arrived the other day, but he was certainly worth waiting for and slow Santa by post is more than forgiven.

I’ll start by saying my yen for a wolf toy dates back to a street fair decades ago. This was a very mom and pop affair, just a single city block with German delicacies and an um-pa band mid-block. I was just passing through and stopped at a table and saw a very nice Big Bad Wolf puppet. Now, I was younger then and I made a mistake that I have tried not to make subsequently, and that is I walked away, to think about it. And yep, by the time I walked back, positive I had to have it, the puppet was long gone. She who hesitates is indeed lost and it lived on in memory. The one below is close enough, although I am unsure the one I saw that day was indeed Steiff. So, in a sense, I have waited all these years to fulfill my errant desire for a Big Bad Wolf.

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Steiff Wolf Puppet, sadly not in my collection

 

Somehow, despite the world wide web and all, it was a mistake I have never rectified. I am, after all, a collector of toy cats first and foremost and generally that is what I end up looking for and at – living in a single room, I try not to follow my nose in too many other directions. However, while taking a very last minute twirl through this December auction, late one night, I saw this little guy and decided that he was sort of grand, toy lust kicking in. After a brief discussion with Kim the following day, we decided that if acquired he would make a fine Christmas gift. Lucky for us, everyone else seemed to have other things on their mind and he was acquired for a relatively modest sum. (You don’t want to know what toy collectors consider modest.)

Bertoia offered no real information on him however and, glorious as he is, he is without makers markings. If I had to go out on a ledge with a guess I would say maybe he was made by the Lenci company in the 30’s or 40’s? Lenci was an Italian toy company from 1919 to 1944 founded by Elena Scavini (her nickname was evidently Lenci) which is better known for regulation dolls. At least one individual has identified him as such on the internet, although I remain somewhat unconvinced. I will continue to research and am open to any suggestions or further discussion.

Dating on either side of my Wolf I found this very nifty Knickerbocker example which is earlier and although more primitive I would have snatched up in a minute as well. This one, shown below from a Hake’s auction back in 2013. I find his bear-like simple look very appealing in a different way.

 

 

Hake’s also had this listing shown below for a later Lars Wolf, probably made after mine, and Three Little Pigs.

 

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Better view of the Lars version.

 

This lead me down a charming rabbit hole of Mel Birnkrant’s website (always a great read) and his great story about acquiring his Lars Mickey, Big Bad Wolf and other toys. It can be found here and I highly recommend it. Mel did a drawing for a really smash up alternative version shown there as well.

Meanwhile, I also include an alternative universe Wolf that appears to be an unlicensed version, but clearly got around as I found several examples. It is shown as listed on Morphy’s auctions below. It might be a slight exaggeration to say these abound, but they seem to get around more than some of the others. I especially like his tuxedo!

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Back on my birthday in 2018 I purchased the Little Pig below and wrote about him here.

Still pic of pig

Getting to the main event, my doll has some really splendid detail such as his felt tongue sticking out. I love his strangely spiky toothies and toy nails. He appears to be made of wool felt with cotton clothing and hands. His pre-tattered clothing has a few repairs and there are some moth holes on the soles of his feet, but otherwise he is in remarkably good shape. Details include some delicate coloring in this cheeks and on his toes and those strange painted eyes and I have to say he made me laugh out loud when I first unpacked him.

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Detail of Big Bad Wolf from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

He is unexpectedly articulated with a head that turns a bit and arms with full range; he does not stand as his legs are not movable and is permanently in a seated position. He is very jolly though and cheered me up immensely while confined to bed with my bad back this weekend.

Of course this post would be utterly incomplete without a link to the Silly Symphony Three Little Pigs and Big Bad Wolf which can be found here and here. These cartoons elevated our Wolf to ever greater fame, one way or another, inspiring all of the toys mentioned here. And I, at last, have a great Big Bad Wolf of my very own.

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Winding up Felix

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This post is the tail end of a bunch of Felix posts that were pent up for awhile, awaiting their turn at publication. While last, he is by no means least, and although his mechanism is a familiar one (from the virtually archetypal cymbal playing monkey, who can be seen doing his thing on Youtube here), I have never seen this model of Felix before.

He has an almost homemade look to him, although ultimately we know he is not. The design screams off-model however and really, he barely passes for a Felix. I purchased him from a US seller on eBay.

For me, it is a bit of a surprise that there are not a few more Felix toys with wind-up mechanisms in general, mostly a few variations on walking ones – trying to capitalize on Felix’s specific animated motion. I show a few of mine below, although none walk much these days. I also have the remnants of this scooter Felix, although my example is sans mechanics. Still, given the popularity of Felix – I would have thought they might have proliferated further.

 

In my mind, the wind-up is to toys what animation is to drawings – I love when things come to life. In that regard might have been quite happy with a career in animation – or tinkering with wind-up toys, making things move. (Instead I watch cartoons and purchase and play with toys which is a nice option too.)

This Felix fellow has no markings aside from his key (permanently affixed to his back) which is the giveaway as it is marked Schuco. His motion is not as enthused as some I have seen (I show my own bad film of this below.

He appears to have received a certain amount of hard, loving use. I don’t remember having these solid sorts of wind-up toys as a child and perhaps that explains my fascination in part.

I have made up for lost time by purchasing numerous Schuco wind-up toys in the past few years however. A relatively recent purchase was this wind-up pig which was featured in a 2018 birthday post. (It can be found here.)

Still pic of pig

I am frankly a bit surprised that Schuco is his maker as I hadn’t realized they made the cymbal playing monkey. I cannot find a single other example of this model by searching for wind-up Schuco Felix the cat and wonder if there is a war-time production, unlicensed explanation. However, given how prolific Schuco was it is surprising more of these aren’t still knocking around.

I wrote a little bit about Schuco, a German company founded originally in 1912, it found its groove with this Pick Pick Bird toy, one of my own first wind-up acquisitions and which I wrote about back in 2016. (You can find that post here.) These are such solidly built toys – they have great heft – and their movement is expert. I am a sucker for them when I see them move.

Schuco Bird

This post was written several weeks ago for posting while I was working in South Africa. I apologize for any unedited mistakes. More from the US soon!