All Photographs and Copy are Coryright MEL BIRNKRANT
Some of the imagery is Copyright The Walt Disney Company
THE MEL BIRNKRANT COLLECTION
A Guided Tour of
When I started collecting Bonzo, I had no idea who he was. To me, he was just a stray pup, who seemed to follow me home from flea markets and shows, because, like everything in this collection, I just liked the way he looked. And for the most part, I was the only one paying attention to him, early on, so naturally, many a homeless Bonzo found his way to me. It is ironic, that a character who is essentially Brittish, should find himself so thoroughly collected by someone in the USA. Over the years, I have corresponded with other Bonzo collectors, who are much more enthusiastic, immersed, and well-versed in the art of George Studdy than I will ever be. As might be expected, all of them, either come from, or live in England.
I had already acquired a kennel full of Bonzos, before I became interested in who his master was. Learning of George Studdy, and seeing examples of his work, was a revelation to me. I had never realized that Bonzo actually preceded Mickey, and in his heyday was, perhaps, as popular in England as Mickey was in the USA. Nor could I guess, from seeing just the toys, that Studdy was a such a Fantastic artist. Many Bonzo fans are more interested in the graphics than the stray products Bonzo sired. Collecting just the beautifully drawn Bonzo postcards, with their consistently appealing imagery is, in itself, a hobby, one that was too far afield for me. I concentrated on the objects, the toys, and dolls, and knickknacks, along with some of the games.
As English toy dealers started attending shows and events in the USA, they brought many Bonzo treasures with them, inevitably, their best things. And, more often than not, the man waiting to welcome them, and give them a good home, was me. Bonzo had some American Adventures, in his day, but the products he generated here were few. Two dolls made in America come to mind, a fabulous one by Schoenhut and a large imposing image by Cameo.
The main Bonzo showcase, above, is on the big wall downstairs. It is dominated by the Cameo doll in the center, with both variations of the fabulous German Animated Walking Bonzo, on the left. These toys are very similar to the Distler Walking Mickey. One is officially licensed “Bonzo”. The other, with slightly different ears, and spots, is not. On the right side, is the beautiful Artisco Bonzo Clock in the rare painted version. A charming Chad valley Bonzo doll with molded velvet face sits on top. The rest of the case contains the small “Bonzo Chase” and both ring toss games, as well as an assortment of velvet dolls by Deans. There are also both sizes of the German Windup scooters, and assorted celluloid toys and figurines, with a silver baby rattle in the center, and a Schoenhut wood jointed Bonzo, on the far right. One curious item, on the left, is the Bonzo Perfume atomizer. His body is porcelein. The spray comes out of his brass collar. And his squeeze bulb head is made of rubber.
Here is an extraordinary item, a velvet Bonzo Compact. According to the late great doll expert, Richard Wright, this was manufactured by Schuco. A quick check on the internet, just now, shows two compacts of identical construction, a turtle and a cat, and also a series of bear compacts, all attributed to Schuco. I believe Richard was right!
There is another great Bonzo item that will appear elsewhere, but Bonzo fans might never get there, so I will post a glimpse of it, here. This is a charming Bonzo Orchestra made in Italy, most likely by “Mina” of Torino. Twelve tiny wood jointed figures held together by elastic. I got this at Atlantic City. So sweet! A once in a lifetime find, complete.
The plaster statue of Bonzo on the left, is about as iconic an image of Bonzo as one can get. It appears to have been produced in conjunction with his appearances in the “Sketch.” Around the base it reads, “BONZO of The SKETCH SENDS HIS BEST WISHES”. On the back, it is “signed” “G. E. STUDDY.” This is an early piece, rendered in Studdy’s more realistic doggy style. Later on, Bonzo took on a rounder cuter more comic look. There is very subtle toning and tinting on the figure. It has been suggested that this might be a bookend. I tend to question that, as the side view reveals that the the 90 degree perpendicular, required to hold a book upright, is not flat.
The wood carving, on the right, is a mystery. Clearly, it is modeled after the plaster icon, on the left. Its purpose, this time, might have been to act as a bookend, as the back is perfectly flat. And, also, he is sitting on a book! Could that be a hint? Duh! So, I would dare say, at least, one more of these exists. But it wouldn’t surprise me if there are many. I have no idea of its age. I purchased it on eBay, ten years ago, fully expecting that more would follow, but I never saw another. The carving is as adept, as if it might be the product of a cottage industry, in some country where woodcarving is commonplace. It is made entirely by hand, with no evidence that any power tools were used. Old or new, it is a stunning image with great charisma and presence.
Here is an interesting Spanish card game. It appears to be a form of dominos. I really like objects in which divergent characters cross the licensing lines, and appear together in “illegal” merchandise. Here we see Bonzo and Felix together, and each remains in character. Which reminds me; there is a fabulous figural vase in one of the Felix cases that represents Felix and Bonzo embracing (They might be dancing?). The flowers are held in their upturned mouths. I'll point it out when we get there.
There are two Excellent Bonzo Websites, online, where you can feast your eyes on fabulous art and merchandise, and learn more than you ever thought you’d want to know about the fascinating life and times of Bonzo and his talented master George Studdy. Both sites present a wealth of art and information, and both are up to date, ongoing and alive:
George Studdy & Bonzo the Dog - By Richard Fitzpatrick
Studdying with Bonzo - By Reg Richardson
Now, here’s where this MisGuided Tour begins to go astray, already. I wondered how long it would take. The bulk of the other Bonzo items are mixed into another showcase, along with many other things. A three tiered tower sits beside me, here at the computer, where I can see it every day. It is so rich with many treasures that it deserves its own page. One of the items it contains is the Schoenhut Bonzo with his original box. That is an item that few have seen. I was thinking of sharing it with you, properly, by removing it from the case, where it is fairly hidden, and photographing it separately. So why don’t I do that now? Then, I’ll photograph a couple of other stray Bonzo items, around the house, and post them here, as well, before we move on to the next page.
OK! Here it is! Collecting Comic Characters doesn’t get much better than this. The package is extraordinary, with different images on every surface. I’ll try to show them all, in a Photoshop montage. I guess I got a little carried away! Don’t get too excited; I really just have just one of these, the only one I’ve ever seen!