Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wagner's Lucky Black Cats

Black cats, in American culture, have long been associated with Halloween and superstitions that blame them for bad luck--especially when they cross your path.

But this stigma isn't universal. In Great Britain, Ireland, and Japan, for example, a black cat is a symbol of good luck. Gamblers view black cats as bad luck, while sailors consider them lucky omens and prefer to have a black ship's cat.

In Germany, home of the Wagner workshop, black cats have a dual identity: an old superstition holds that if a black cat crosses your path from right to left, that's bad luck, but if it trots the opposite way, you can expect good fortune.

The Wagner crafters clearly weren't afraid of black cats, as the workshop eagerly produced them in a variety of sizes and forms.

The smallest is the little black kitten with a red ball, just the right size for a dollhouse. She has nylon whiskers, black bead eyes and nose, and a furry tail.

Very cute at just about an inch and a half in length!

The workshop was clearly very fond of posing their cats with fuzzy pompoms as playthings from an early date. Here's a black cat with a purple ball who bears the old green "monkey-head" MC Originals label (used from 1951 to 1965). Note the skinny tail--no rabbit fur for this girl! She also has the paper-wrapped wire-stem legs typical of so many Wagner animals ranging from pigs and mice to horses and giraffes.

Later models of the cat-with-ball featured fur tails and a red pompom, but the body was now a one-piece unit with thick legs. The one below is a kitty that features a Wagner Kunstlerschutz label of the type used from 1966 to 1983.

This cat, below, is stockier and about a quarter-inch taller than the one above. She was made more recently, as she bears a label used between 1990 and 1998. She also has a much more luxurious tail.

 The black cat really came into its glory with the creation of Wagner's Halloween cat. This one stands nearly an inch taller than the pompom-playing version. It also boasts the same paper-wrapped wire legs of its ancestor, an incredibly bouffant tail, and a maniacal expression complete with white teeth. Below are two versions, one without any neckwear and one sporting a jaunty orange bow for the holiday.

I love how the Halloween cat has a classic face reminiscent of the puss on a vintage Halloween cat made by Beistle, a company that's made holiday decor since 1900.

Far more placid than the feisty Halloween cat is the sitting kittycat. This standard cat, like the one with the arched back and pompom farther up on this page, was made not only in black but also in white, gray, and tabby colors.

You can see this one's tail has "rusted," or turned somewhat reddish brown--this even happens to live black animals when their coats bake in sunlight. I assume this cat's home was on a shelf near a window. I know, Sherlockian, right?

Happy Halloween!