Pigeon

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: It’s joyfully back to toys today and I have been sitting on this beauty for a few weeks, waiting for the chance to share him with you all. Those very devoted early readers may remember a post about pigeons (which can be found here) where I first mentioned my fondness for the fine feathered fellows. Despite quite bad publicity here (rats with wings, etc.) I remain their champion.

Pigeons live quietly among us here, rarely kicking up a fuss, eliminating tons of garbage annually by consuming as their daily repast. For most New Yorkers they are ubiquitous fellow denizens, thought of with derision if thought about at all. However Kim and I share an affection for pigeons and I have always appreciated that I could point out a particularly nice one or pair to him for admiration. (There are some commonalities that married couples should share in my opinion and a fondness for pigeons is one is one in our case.) I have told this story before, but I love the idea that when Kim was a child and first came to New York he thrilled to find these birds just walking sedately among the humans.

When I worked at the Met I had a nesting pair out my window which returned over several years. I worried about them as we had many hawks nesting in the rooftops there as well. Whenever I saw one without the other I hoped for the best. Their nest was not visible, further down the glorified airshaft that I overlooked. I understand that they are casual nesters at best, eggs frequently lost or broken. As all New Yorkers know, they largely manage to nest out of sight and nests, eggs and baby pigeons are rarely on view.

While researching this I did find a rather delightful story from 2017 about a woman in Greenwich Village who returned home from vacation to find a pigeon nesting in the pasta strainer in her kitchen. She allowed her to stay and created an Instagram account for her. The story can be found here. Evidently young pigeons are almost adult size by the time they leave the nest and then blend with the adults, leading to the idea that we never see young pigeons. (It is said that they are identifiable by a patch of downy feathers at the back of their neck.)

When I saw this tin pigeon on auction I must say I immediately set my cap for it. Luckily for me and the old bank account, only one or two other folks had interest and I didn’t end up going to the wall to acquire him. He is marked VEBE on his chest, which appears to be one of the divisions of a French toy company Victor Bonnet. I couldn’t find out much about the company other than they produced high end friction and wind-up toys from early to mid-20th century. With a few exceptions, they seem to have made beautiful race cars and trucks – and pigeons. The pigeons appear to have been made in the early 1950’s and a number of them are extant, although generally much more beat-up than mine. (Children played hard with their pigeons I gather.)

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I thought this was a friction toy when I purchased him, but upon examination he turns out to be a wind-up. He was sold without a key but I found one in my collection that works, and he has a wonderful life-like pigeon head motion, life-like enough to capture Cookie’s attention this morning. I find his practical and almost industrial design very satisfying. If he only cooed he would be perfect indeed. For a quick look at his motion have a look below.

 

The concept of the homing pigeon, housed atop a New York apartment building has long lived in my imagination, fueled by period films. And as it is Memorial Day weekend I close with the reminder of how these birds, carrier pigeons, did military service in WWI and WWII carrying wartime messages across enemy lines. In fact, their military service did not end until about 1957. So consider a salute when you pass a pigeon on the street this weekend – his or her fine feathered forefathers did their bit too.

Big Wind-up: Part One, Meow

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post:  As previously bemoaned in this space last week, our scanner here at Deitch Studio died with a tick, tick groan as it ground to a halt halfway through the back cover of Kim’s new book, Reincarnation Stories. (Yes, here’s the pre-order link on Amazon here – never miss a chance to plug the family product I say! It has a not insignificant dose of Pam Butler in it and comes out in October.) But now we have an excuse to happily explore and exploit a small cache of wind-up toys that have crossed the threshold here recently. Let the wind-up toy parade begin.

Today’s wind-up kitty is one I have in fact chased hither and yon for a number of years. It should be noted that he was the runner up as my avatar on this site, Twitter, and Instagram, but the rare Italian version of Felix on a scooter (which I am unlikely to ever own as it tends to go for a vast sum of money) won out instead. Still, there is for me an undeniable goofy charm to this rotund kitty with his jolly tin bottom half. I have bid on him via eBay and on numerous other sites and always lost to a more ambitious buyer for significant sums of money.

Last week I was trolling eBay and found a listing with a photo that was almost impossible to see it was so dark and indistinct, yet I knew that cat immediately. Even with all of that there were several buyers who also knew however in the end I bought him for much less than expected. Although he has some dents in his celluloid head that I was not able to discern in the photo, he was a welcome sight when he turned up last week.

On close inspection I found a mostly indiscernible tag on his underside which identifies him as being made in Occupied Japan which dates him from between 1947 and 1952. Made with the US export market in mind toys from that era tend to have a slightly skewed American sensibility. His dented celluloid head is a reminder of how fragile that stuff is, but it doesn’t lessen his appeal for me.

I share an image from the internet of him in perfect condition, with his box, and most notably he is holding a bell in his hand (paw) which is missing from mine. (There is a slit in the upturned paw it would have hung from and it is easy to see how it went missing on many over the past 70 years or so. The bell would be fun though as he races around in circles.) The internet also has examples with his tin bottom in blue and a bit less appealing, a mouse-headed version I didn’t care for at all – a bit terrifying. Part of this fellow’s charm for me is his up-turned tail, a bit like a third leg, and his cartoon-like gloved hands.

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An internet swipe – this one in finer shape and complete with box.

 

He still winds well and I close with an action shot for you – a hot four seconds – below. It looks messy, but it rights itself when you click and shows you his action. I do believe that wind-up toys are meant to be seen in motion and offer my modest attempt.

 

 

 

Parade of Toys: Part 2, Bow Wow!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I continue my toy tale today with another acquisition at the The Antique Toy Shop, here in Chelsea, on my birthday. When I left readers yesterday, we were re-acquainting ourselves with the owner, Jean-Pol Ventugol. This tin dog was the first item that caught my eye and I knew I wanted to take him home immediately.

As a collector of toy cats, I have mostly resisted the temptation to acquire dogs. I acknowledge that I have long ceded to the lure of mice, another ancillary to cats, especially those evil looking Dean’s Rag ones, some of mine shown below, but have held the line on dogs.

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From the previous post, Starting Small with Mice, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Meanwhile, some dogs, especially stuffed ones, have tempted me over the years, but with limited space they seem to murky up the waters and I rarely make an exception. Nonetheless, I fell for this little fellow as soon as I walked into the toy store the other day. I have never seen another quite like him, nor have I been able to discover anything about him online.

His only marking is Japan on his tummy and like yesterday’s ducks, he has a permanent key there as well. As you can see from my very amateur video below, when wound his tail goes in circles and his head bobs gently up and down. His ears are jointed, although the ears and bone only waft gently with the motion, creating a sense of doggy delight when he moves. He more than suits the requirement of toy joy resulting in purchase. For all the world, he is a vision of a happy dog with a bone I think and I say welcome to the largely feline family.

 

 

 

 

A Parade of Toys: Part One

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I am the first to admit this year I was a bit indulgent over my birthday, and Kim nicely enabled me to a nice degree. Last weekend I covered what ended up being day two and day three of a glorious birthday week. Today, I circle back and start at the beginning. So many treasures did I acquire in this first foray, the day before my actual birthday, that it will take at least a few photo and several toy posts to fit it all in, so now I begin.

Last year on my birthday I discovered a gem of a toy store I had somehow missed, located in my own backyard, over the past several years. It is called, quite simply The Antique Toy Shop (you can visit their site here) and it is the sort of El Dorado of antique toys that I haven’t had locally in years. It’s most recent predecessors in my affection were a tiny hole in the wall operation in Greenwich, Village owned by a remarkably elderly man which was a bit too neat, very expensive and had a few too many toy soldiers to really satisfy my toy yen deeply, and another store that never quite took root, across the street from the Film Forum movie theater. However that one skewed toward somewhat later toys and I have never really been someone fishing in my own past – I like to go back further, to the earlier part of the 20th century. This recently discovered, tiny outpost is a true trove of Pictorama pleasure.

Anyway, a friend out-of-town inquired about this establishment and I looked it up. At the time it was located in a strange high-end antique mall in Manhattan’s east fifties which I had never been aware of. One summer weekend Kim and I hiked down there only to find it closed. I believe the next time I checked online I found it had moved to Chelsea and for whatever reason, it wasn’t until my birthday last year that we made the trip to one of the last antique strong holds in Chelsea, across the street from the remnants of the weekend market that used to thrive there, now a handful of vendors holding onto this last gasp, a building that houses three floors of dealers in antique clothing, jewelry and a delightful variety of other things. (A reminder of that day’s haul can be found here and here.)

As fulfilling as my online toy buying experience has been (and Pictorama readers know how, um, deeply I have supported this industry) there is nothing like a well curated collection which represents someone else’s vision and therefore introduces you to things you never knew you would love and well, need. And I do love that on the website for the The Antique Toy Shop the owner, Jean-Pol Ventugol, declares, Nothing useful, you don’t need it, you DESERVE it. For you or your beloved collector, it’s the only place of it’s kind in New York. Packed with childhood dreams from the floor to the ceiling. A man after my own heart!

Jean-Pol did not immediately recognize us when we arrived. Perhaps in years to come he will develop that sixth sense around Christmas and my February birthday, as has my toy dealing compatriot Regine Beghin in Belgium. She knows when to tempt me with prime offerings and her thoughtful greetings and emails add cheer, both personal and toy related, to each of these events annually. Anyway, last year was a mere introduction. This year we walked out pleasantly laden with toy take.

Mr. Ventugol does not exaggerate when he says his shop is packed from floor to ceiling – it quite literally is. So tightly packed is it that we stripped off our heavy down jackets and left them outside the door; I parked my shoulder bag (large enough to potentially contain my toy loot) and handbag safely on a corner of the floor in order to move as unimpeded as possible in his space and not be in danger of knocking into toys. Jean-Pol’s taste runs ever so slightly to the masculine for my own taste (he has a thing for these sort of glorious toy race cars which I can absolutely appreciate but fall outside my areas of obsession) and which takes the occasional fascinating turn toward things like early bikes. (If I ever were to purchase a bicycle I would certainly check in with him first.) His stock runs from the late 1800’s through the 1970’s, with a broad swath in the early 20th century, right where I like it.

Oddly, I have yet to purchase an actual toy cat from him – he is evidently not particular to them. As you can see, today we start out with this rather splendid Donald Duck (or as I like to think of it, a Donald Duck variation) Chein brand tin wind-up toy. Last year’s take away was a delightful felt covered wind-up pig which plays the fiddle, so the shop has broadened my horizons.

J. Chein & Co. was an American toy company started at the dawn of the 20th century and bumping along until the 1980’s. These early 20th century tin wind-up toys are what I think of as their real metier and although I don’t collect them deeply, I find the occasional one irresistible, usually for its wind-up movement. As I think I have shared before – it is the movement of tin toys that first attracted me to collecting, both wind-up and early battery toys. I am a sucker for the sputtering feet of this duck which provide his waddling walk. (I just wound him up and our cat Cookie sat up to take notice. Blackie, however and as is his tendency, remained asleep undisturbed or interested. Cookie however, is deeply interested and stares intently at me and Donald. She’s thinking – deep cat thoughts.) There is nothing like great toy movement to get my happy endorphins to kick in.

This is already a wildly meandering post so I will not go into the (rather fascinating) history of the Chein company too deeply. However a thumb nail of highlights are as follows: the company was founded in a loft in New York City, the original founder, Julius Chein died in a horseback riding accident in Central Park. His brother in-law, owner of the rival Mohawk Toys, took it over and merged the two enterprises. In addition, Chein was the producer and supplier of the early metal Cracker Jack toy prizes. (See here for a recent post on early Cracker Jack prizes, and do rest assured I have quite a future Cracker Jack post or posts in the making as they have become a new sub-genre of my collecting mania.) I also find it interesting that Woolworth’s was the later major client of Chein and as a result their financial fortunes waxed and wained along with that enterprise.

My duck is the second entry of this family to enter my collection and they are shown together below. The earlier and more beat-up variation was purchased in Europe I want to say. (A Google image search turns up a great penguin variation on the theme I will need to look out for.) I think I purchased the original Donald in a large buy of toys at a flea market in Paris several years ago.  Both examples seem sport sort of strange beanies (Donald with yamaka? Why?) whose origins I am unclear on. The new fellow is in splendid condition and sports a jolly painted on cane in one feathered hand. I particularly like the fact that these toys had wind-up keys that were a permanent part of them so no fussing over potential missing keys with these. My earlier example winds and will move if held aloft, but no longer can execute his waddling walk. The new entry waddles splendidly, as duly noted by Cookie.

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Chein Donald Duck toys, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Kudos to you readers who have made it through a post which is much longer than original conceived! I will save the further exploits of my birthday acquisitions for tomorrow and beyond.

In It for the Toys: Part 2, Doggie

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post:  Last week I wrote about the thrill of a new celluloid toy purchase. (In It for the Toys: Part 1 can be found here in case you weren’t paying attention last week.) I bemoaned the fact that the toy is no longer functional. Long before stuffed Felix the cat dolls were a twinkle in my eye, my adult fascination with toys began with a small number of antique toys, wind up and battery operated, some that just make me laugh with sheer joy! Why wouldn’t you want to own that? It remains a mystery to me why anyone today would sell a wind-up toy without showing its movement – for me it is almost always the movement that will sell it.

I believe was in fact looking for a toy that would cheer when I stumbled across this little fellow on eBay and he fit the bill. Complete with his box he was a bargain; he isn’t especially rare although admittedly finding him complete with his candy, essential to the effect really, is a bit harder and you really do need the candy. The video he was sold with had loud annoying music, but nevertheless did the trick. While well preserved with his box, he does not appear to be new old stock. There are small signs of use and the balls that are the candy are not in their original wrapper. I am pleased to say he was fairly easily acquired, and does not disappoint.

The mechanism is very straightforward, much like a cycle in animation, he endlessly tosses “candy” in his mouth which falls out the bottom, through the can and back into position to be tossed again. Splendid! To seem him in action in a brief snippet I filmed you can go here.

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Candy Loving Canine box, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Instructive box illustration

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As always, the box offers additional charm, the text on the front Mechanical Candy Loving Canine, ALWAYS HUNGRY NEVER SATISFIED, with a fair cartoon rendering of the dog toy with a cat and dog looking on with amazement – Gosh how much can he eat? When will he stop? And then what appears to be for all the world, a mole popping up out of the ground in the bottom right corner. The mole shown on two sides with the dog too, the other sides are instructional about the use of the toy – in case you couldn’t figure it out. This little fellow was made in Japan, as is probably to be expected of a tin toy of this era. If you believe as I do, that toys bring joy, then hopefully this little fellow brightens up your day today.

In it for the Toys: Part 1

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

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

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

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

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