Friday, April 29, 2016

Spam Roundup, April, 2016

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world. 

Le bonehead mot

- I know this website presents quality depending articles or reviews and additional stuff, is there any other web page which gives these kinds of stuff in quality? [We only do quality-dependent work here, pal.]

- Great goods from you, man. I've have in mind your stuff prior to and you are simply extremely fantastic. [And a simply extremely fantastic thank you to you!]

- It's actually a pleasant for me to visit this web page, it includes helpful information. [Nothing like a pleasant to make the day better.]

Lumbering Along with Emotion

The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along continues to be a high-traffic post. The subject is a small, inexpensive vintage Japanese toy truck. Who knew it could elicit such strong emotions?

The original "Lumbering Along" post only showed one
Nomura lumber truck. Perhaps this photo of a pair will
boost traffic even more!
- I do accept as true with all the concepts you've presented in your post. They're really convincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are very quick for novices. Could you please prolong them a little next time? [Long, drawn-out posts. Great idea.]

- But have you ever thought how much stress are you providing your own loved ones. [Geez, Louise, it's just a dime story toy! Lighten up!]

Fastidiously yours

For a long time, the word "fastidious" cropped up frequently in these comments -- always used incorrectly, of course. Recently, the word appears less frequently. Although I did receive the following comments on my 2013 post, Fastidious Spam.

- Spot on with this write-up, I really believe this site needs far more attention. [We can all benefit from a more fastidious attention to detail.]

- Incredible story there. What happened after? [They all lived fastidiously ever after.]

-I am regular reader, how are you everybody? This paragraph posted at this web page is in fact fastidious. [!]

That's all for this month. Just accept this as true and don't worry about the stress to your loved ones.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Isidora Žebeljan: Chamber Music

This was a difficult release to review. It was easy to form an option (I really enjoyed it). But trying to describe Serbian composer Isadora Zebeljan's music to someone who's not familiar with it is something of a challenge.

The liner notes gave it a try: "Isidora Žebeljan grew up listening to Serbian, Romanian, Hungarian and Gypsy music. This music, with its melancholic and passionate melodies, rich with ornaments, and its complex and elusive rhythms... defined the basic outlines of her musical thinking." True, but that's only part of the story.

Žebeljan's music also incorporates elements of jazz, pop and older classical traditions in her music -- and fuses all those disparate parts into an organic whole. While the external characteristics change, there's something underpinning each of these works that are consistent. I think it's the emotional honesty of the music. Kudos to the Brodsky Quartet and their associates for recording this program of truly inventive chamber music.

The disc opens with the Polomka Quartet, short 2009 serial work with outbursts of lyricism. The Dance of the Wooden Sticks for horn and string quartet has a more tonal and Slavic feel to it. This is a technical showpiece for the horn, beginning with a slow introduction then moving to a rhythmic "dance." New Songs of Lada for soprano and string quartet (2006) is a cycle of poems by anonymous 18th and 19th-century Serbian poets. I found soprano Anete Illié's voice particularly warm and full, giving these old poems a rich patina.

Žebeljan's Sarabande for piano had neither the serialism of the Polomka Quartet nor the folk elements of the New Songs. Rather, it was music that just seemed suspended in air, quiet and ethereal. By contrast, A Yawl on the Danube for soprano, piano, string quartet and percussion had an earthy quality to it. I loved the way the honkytonk-sounding piano and the string quartet would go off in different directions at times.

The Song of a Traveller in the Night for clarinet and string quartet showed yet another side of Zebeljan's character. This angular, loose-limbed composition sounded straight-up post-tonal. (I told you hŽebeljan's music is hard to describe.) The Pep It Up Fantasy for soprano, piano, string quintet, and percussion ends the program. It's a wonderfully complex work full of intricate rhythms. The soprano seems to float serenely above all the bustle, which nevertheless sounds connected rather than detached from the voice (at least to me).

If you're familiar with Isadora Žebeljan's music, then there's nothing I need to say, save that the performances are all top-notch. If you're not familiar with her work, then I encourage you to listen to some sound samples before downloading (or purchasing the CD). This is music that I just don't have the words to describe adequately.

Isidora Žebeljan: Chamber Music 
Polomka Quartet; Dance of the Wooden Sticks for horn and string quintet; new Songs of Lada for soprano and string quartet; Sarabande for piano; A Yawl on the Danube, scene for soprano, piano, string quartet and percussion; Song of a Traveller in the Night for clarinet and string quartet; Pep It Up, fantasy for soprano, piano, string quintet and percussion 
Brodsky Quartet; Anete Illié, soprano; Stefan Dohr, horn; Joan Enric Lluna, clarinet; Isadora Žebeljan, piano; Miroslav Karlovič, percussion; Boban Stošič, double bass; Premil Petrocič, conductor 
CPO 777 994

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lessons from York - What We Didn't See: People

A general interest publication from 1979 -- when things
were much different (and collectors were younger).
Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby. 

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them.

Lifecycle of a hobby (according to me)

As I mentioned in the first part of this series, I believe that the changes in what we saw (or didn't see) at the show all stem from the same cause -- the aging of the membership. I've seen many collectible fields go through basically the same lifecycle.

Stage one: An everyday object has common appeal. Like comic books, baseball cards, carnival glass plates, or teddy bears.

Stage two: Driven by nostalgia, a market develops for those vintage everyday items. Many collectors try to either recover objects they or their families had in their youth or objects they wished they had owned at that time.

Stage three: Manufacturers become aware of this secondary collector's market, and begin to create products for it. Limited edition versions, items marked "collector's item," multiple versions of the same item (collect them all!) are all examples of this trend.

Stage four: The object, either because of fashion and/or technology changes, no longer has an everyday function. It becomes exclusively a collector's item, which further spurs more exotic versions from manufacturers. At this point, the hobby has usually entered the public consciousness and attracts people who are interested in buying and selling these collectibles for the fabulous sums they reportedly command.

Stage five: The original market for the object dries up. This could be due to changing tastes (like Beanie Babies), or just the aging of the collectors as a group. People who collected Shirley Temple memorabilia because they remember seeing her movies as a child in the 1930s were probably born in the 1920s. Relatively few are alive today, and consequently, the demand is quite low. This is especially true for derivative collectibles -- objects made after well after the heyday of the original.

Entering Stage Five

And I think we're seeing the toy train hobby entering stage five. For some time, the meet has used six of the halls on the York Fairgrounds. This time, the smallest of those halls was closed. But the remaining halls weren't crowded. Many rows had empty tables. Some were sold, but not occupied, but a good portion was unsold. And the crowd seemed thinner than it had been even in the fall.

Decline or transition?

So there it is. I think it will be a slow decline, but there's hope. While the halls where people sold old and used trains had declining traffic, the two halls with current manufacturers of trains and model railroading accessories (like scenery and buildings) were booming.

Younger generations may not have grown up with Lionel, but they seem to be interested in operating layouts. And for that, new equipment is much more reliable than vintage trains. The demand for old toy trains may continue to weaken, but the interest in larger scale model (not toy) trains seems to be growing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Collecting -- and collecting information 25

Sometimes it's good to pause and take stock. When I started the "Collecting -- and collecting information" series, I knew virtually nothing about the subject of low-end Japanese tin toy cars. Yes, it's an extremely tightly-focused subject, but the subject wasn't really the point.

I wanted to see what I could discover about this under-documented aspect of postwar toy manufacturing from primary sources. Like many trips, the adventure's in the journey. I ran across the item shown above recently. I was surprised at how much I knew about it.

Original packaging is always helpful. I was familiar with the importer, Cragstan, and knew they worked with a variety of Japanese toy firms. In this case, the supplier seems to be Ichimura. I recognize those road signs.

Perhaps because I most recently wrote about the Toy Merchandising Corp. of New York, I was sensitive to proper markings for imported items. No problem -- Cragstan played by the rules. The package is clearly marked "Made in Japan."

Mystery solved. In this photo are two roadway sets made
by Ichimura, and imported by Cragstan. 
And this package also yielded some information. In collecting information 16, I was wondering if the collection of cars and signs I purchased were originally part of a set. Now that I've seen the packaging for this set, I'm pretty sure I actually have two sets. And I wouldn't be surprised to discover they were also offered by Cragstan.

One had the same assortment of signs as the Cragstan Racing Car set: Keep Right, RR Crossing, and Speed Limit 50. It had three cars, one red, one blue, and one green. The second set had the same three cars, but a slightly different sign assortment, with Stop Ahead replacing the Speed Limit 50 sign.

Why the variation? Probably just expediency. These were low-margin toys, and I'm sure the only rule for assembly was three different car colors, and three different signs per package.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Diabelli Project 107 - Solo Marimba

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This week I continue with another part of this solo marimba piece that's been rattling around in my head. I hadn't intended to write it in 10-minute weekly installments, but that seems to be what's happening.

 I think things had just started to get interesting when I ran out of time.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 002 - Table with Two Legs

Table with Two Legs.
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

002. Table with Two Legs

This toy is just a variation of the first toy, the table with a single leg. And since I was just stacking featherweight metal on top of featherweight metal, I had the same problems.

The table top would only stay in place if the supporting pieces had precise right-angle surfaces. So I had to gently bend the pieces to bring the offending edges into line.

I can say that this toy is a little sturdier than the single-legged table, relatively speaking. I'm not convinced it would actually hold up to any kind of play. If anything brushed against it, even a shirt sleeve, then it all slides to the floor.

Table with Two Legs. Less of a balancing act with this one.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Marc Ponthus plays Boulez with authority

Boulez didn't write much for solo piano. But what he lacked in quantity he certainly made up for in quality. This release contains all six of Boulez's published solo piano works, and it makes for a fascinating program.

All three piano sonatas are included, of course. The 1948 Second Sonata's probably the best known, and (I believe) the most difficult. Yet I heard none of that technical difficulty in Marc Ponthus' playing. Ponthus clearly has a deep understanding of this work, and his interpretation helps clarify some of the denser passages.

According to the liner notes, Ponthus has performed a program pairing Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata with Boulez's Second Sonata. And that makes sense. Boulez used the Hammerklavier as a starting point for his own composition. I'm sure knowing both works intimately informed Ponthus' interpretation of the Boulez sonata.

Ponthus performs the published version of the Third Sonata, which includes two of the five formants, or movements, of the work plus an incomplete version of a third. According to Ponthus, in order to get the effect Boulez wanted, he recorded with a second piano whose dampers he could control via a special foot pedal. The piano he played (with the lid off) affected the freely vibrating strings of the second, creating a subtle sound cloud of overtones.

Ponthus worked with Boulez, discussed the performances of his music with the composer, and is fully invested in the realization of Boulez's vision.

Make no mistake, this is foreground listening all the way and often difficult listening at that. But each playing can reveal something new to the careful listener.

Pierre Boulez: Compete Music for Solo Piano
Premiére Sonate, Deuxième Sonate, Troisième Sonata, Douze Notations, Incises, Une page d'éphéride
Marc Ponthus, piano
Bridge 9456A/B
2 CD set

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lessons from York: What We Saw, Part 2: Exotica

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of t he state of the hobby. 

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them.

As I explained in Part 1, shifting demographics seem to be affecting the toy train collecting world. I think it's safe to say that folks in their late 50s and early 60s are the last generations to receive a toy train set as a child. I think that also means they'll be the last generation to be driven by nostalgia to collect toy trains.

Prewar Flyer and More

In addition to seeing an extraordinary amount of American Flyer postwar trains (see Part 1), we also saw an interesting trend in prewar offerings. While Lionel was the dominant force in the toy train market in the 1920s and 1930s, they had plenty of competition. American Flyer was one, as was Ives and Dorfan (to name a few).

American Flyer, 1930. Yes, we saw these at York.

While most prewar collectors are primarily interested in Lionel, some have branched out to include examples of the other manufacturers in their collections. It's important to remember that Lionel still held the majority of the market, so most collectors who are trying to retrieve their childhood trains are seeking Lionel.

Why is that important to remember?

Because when it came to prewar trains, what we saw were an overwhelming amount of non-Lionel products. Ives standard gauge sets were readily available, as were American Flyer standard gauge and O gauge sets and rolling stock. And there was even a good selection of Dorfan rolling stock, too.
(Dorfan was never a very big company. The metal they used for their locomotive body castings had a flaw that caused them to break down and turn to dust after a few years. I'm sure many Dorfan sets were simply discarded after the engine disintegrated. Intact Dorfan locos are extremely rare, their rolling stock a little less so.)

Dorfan train sets. You can find the rolling stock, but not the locomotives.
Most of their cast metal bodies have turned to dust.
I believe the abundance of all of these (relatively) esoteric trains are also tied to the ageing of the collector market. If most collectors are interested in the toys of their youth, then those that fondly remember toys from the 1920s and 1930s would be in their 80s or older. Members of that group are most likely downsizing their households, or selling everything in preparation to moving to a nursing home -- or their heirs are settling their estate.

Ives was a luxury brand. It did not survive the Great Depression. Its name
and assets were purchased jointly by Lionel and American Flyer, who
kept the brand alive until inventory was used up.
Of course, for the latter two scenarios, everything must go. But if you're just downsizing, you'll probably want to keep the core of your collection -- even if it's just a piece or two. But it does mean the more unusual items -- especially those that lie outside your main interest -- can return to the market. So if you're primarily a Lionel collector, then you'll most likely keep your prized Lionel set (or locomotive) and let the American Flyer, Ives, Dorfan, et al, go.

That's my theory, anyway. Next time I'll share what we didn't see -- which also relates to the decline of the hobby.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lessons from York - What We Saw, Part 1: American Flyer

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby. 

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them.

Age of the aged

Both this post and the follow up (What We Didn't See) are two sides of the same coin. There's been a slow but steady decline in TCA membership, and in toy train collecting in general. In many ways, it parallels trends in other forms of collecting: stamps, coins, dolls, baseball cards, etc. A large part of it, I think, is generational. The generation now in their late middle ages may be the last to have a desire to accumulate physical objects from their childhood. That's not to say that younger individuals aren't interested in collecting things, but it's not the widespread activity it once was.

American Flyer - a bit of background

What does that mean for our little sub-category of collecting? A shift in the market. When it comes to toy trains, Lionel pretty much dominated the market from the 1920s through the 1960s, when interest in toy trains as toys was displaced by other childhood amusements.

Running a close second was American Flyer. Before the Second World War, American Flyer trains competed directly with Lionel -- they both used the same gauges (track width), the same general designs, and marketed to the same demographic.

After the war, there was a major change in both companies. Both began using plastic rather than sheet metal for most of their products. Both moved towards greater realism with their trains. The end of the war brought about a boom in H0 gauge trains. H0 enthusiasts were interested in realistic rolling stock and scenery, considering themselves modelers rather than operators of toy trains.

Lionel stuck with O gauge (twice the size of H0 while AC Gilbert's American Flyer trains moved to S gauge; smaller than O, but bigger than H0. Lionel's trains ran on alternating current and required a middle rail to supply power to the locomotives. Gilbert's S gauge, on the other hand, like H0 used direct current to power its trains. That meant it only needed two rails, which gave it greater realism.

The Rise of American Flyer

There has always been a market for American Flyer trains, and it's always been smaller than the market for Lionel. If you consider that most collectors are trying to replace the toys of their youth, then it makes sense. More parents bought Lionel than Flyer.

While there's always been a good representation of American Flyer trains at the York meet, they were always something one had to seek out. There was that guy in the Red Hall who had a good stock of vintage Flyer, or those three tables in the Blue Hall that had a decent selection.

This time, American Flyer trains were everywhere. Virtually every aisle in every hall had at least one table with American Flyer.


I think it goes to the decline of the hobby in general. Lionel collectors are aging out of the market. Lionel collectors in their 70s and younger have an interest in postwar Lionel, whereas mostly collectors in their 50s and 60s fondly remember American Flyer. So as the older Lionel collectors age out of the market -- and are not replaced by younger ones -- the balance between Lionel and American Flyer collectors evens out a little bit  It should be interesting to see if that shift continues in future shows.

We also saw a lot of prewar trains, too -- as I'll explain in Part 2.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction: 001 Table with Single Leg

Table with Single Leg.
It seemed simple enough.
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

001. Table with Single Leg

The very first toy pictured on the instruction sheet looked to be simple enough. It just used three of the metal pieces.

I should have known better. This Line Mar construction set was an inexpensive toy, and it shows. The metal pieces are far lighter than equivalent Gilbert Erector pieces (thinner metal = lower costs). And the stamping wasn't as exact, either. You can count on the sides of an Erector metal box to be exactly perpendicular. With Line Mar, it's simply... close.

Table with a Single Leg.
And that turned out to be a problem. The pieces that make up the table aren't secured in any way. They just sit on each other. And because they're so light, it doesn't take much to topple them.

And I had a problem with the table top, which kept sliding off the pedestal. In the end, I had to bend the sides of the pedestal to ensure it rested flat on the base, and that the table top rested flatly on it.

Sure, it's a toy -- but not one that would hold up to any playtime.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Aleck Karis - Poulenc with humor and wit

Aleck Karis delivers some fine performances of Francis Poulenc's piano music with this release. Karis plays with a lightness of tone and just the right amount of emotional restraint to make these works sound absolutely charming.

And Karis pays just as much attention to the program. The works aren't arranged chronologically, but rather in a way that has each work setting up the next in sequence.

The album begins with Poulenc's 1952 Intermède. This sarcastic yet lyrical work sets the tone for the  program. It's followed by the Thème Varié, whose elegant, measured theme still seems good-humored rather than completely serious. It's neatly contrasted by the 1918 Trois Mouvements Perpétuels that immediately follow.

Another high point of the album is the Fifteen Improvisations. Composed over a 24-year span, these epigrammatic little pieces I found surprisingly consistent in their style.

Karis' piano is warmly recorded, with a good spacious sound field. And Karis captures Poulenc's good humor and wit throughout the program.

Francis Poulenc: Music for Piano (1918-1959)
Intermède, Thème Varié, Trois Mouvements Perpétuels, Valse-improvisation sur le nom de BACH, Fifteen Improvisations, Badinage, Mélancolie, Trois Pièces
Aleck Karis, piano
Bridge 9459

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Eggert: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4

If Joseph Martin Kraus (1758-1792) is known as the "Swedish Mozart," it might seem logical to consider his successor, Joachim Nikolas Eggert (1779-1813), the "Swedish Schubert." While there's a strong stylistic resemblance between Schubert and Eggert, to my ears Eggert's music more closely resembles Beethoven's.

That's not surprising. Eggert was a forward-looking composer and music director. He introduced several of Beethoven's important works to the Swedish court, sometimes shortly after their Viennese premiere. Like Schubert, Eggert used Beethoven as a starting point, rather than a model.

Symphony No. 2 was premiered in 1806 and reminds me somewhat of Schubert's earliest symphonies (written in 1813-14). While there's a certain Haydnesque elegance to the work and a healthy dose of Beethovenian drama, it's a symphony that still looks ahead, rather than behind.

The same is true of Eggert's last completed symphony, No. 4 "War and Peace." It was written in 1810 after Sweden had lost her conflict with Napoleon. Eggert's symphony has stormy sections (especially at the beginning), yet ultimately resolves peaceably. While Eggert didn't quite have Schubert's melodic gift, the themes easily flow one to another in a Schubertian fashion.

For those who love Beethoven and Schubert, I highly recommend Eggert. You'll find stylistically he fits neatly between those two giants.

Joachim Nikolas Eggert: Symphony No. 4 in C minor; Alternative Second Movement to Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 2 in G minor
Gärard Symphony Orchestra; Gérard Korsten, conductor
Naxos 8.573378

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Lio and the literal end

Long-time readers of this blog know how much I admire Mark Tatulli's take on comic strip conventions. In his strip Lio, he's continually exploring new implications of having characters who know they're in a comic strip.

The sequence from November 24, 2015 is a great example:

Everything you need to know is laid out in this one panel. And note how carefully it's laid out. The danger is stated in the newspaper headline in the lower left corner -- the first place the eyes see as they scan the panel. So context has been established. The word balloon for the Wite-Out is centered in the middle of the panel. It's removed from the headline to give the drama a beat, but not too far removed.

Tatulli could have positioned the balloon to come straight out of the bottle, but he didn't. By having it touch the top of the panel, he forces the reader's eyes to travel up so they don't immediately see who's speaking. Only the last word of the sentence is in line with the bottle. So only after we "hear" what's said do we discover who says it.

And note that the villians of the piece are cast in shadow. That shadow performs a couple of functions. First, it outlines the white bottle and eraser, making them pop. Second, it gives the alley some depth. And it makes this a proverbial dark alley where bad things happen -- like cartoon characters meeting their nemesis.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Diabelli Project 106 - Wind Trio

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This isn't the first wind trio that's popped out of my subconscious during this flash composition exercise. My first version (see: Diabelli Project 76) was for a slightly different group -- oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. This one's for flute, clarinet and bassoon. There are some differences. In this line-up, every instrument produces sound in a different way -- the flute by wind blowing across an opening; the clarinet by the vibration of a single reed; the bassoon by the vibration of two reeds.

Each has its own sound characteristic. So for me, a trio like this is all about contrasts. As each instrument picks up the melody, it's subtly transformed by the nature of the instrument.

At least, that's what I think. As always, this Diabelli flash composition is offered to any and all who'd like to use it. What happens next? I'll be developing it one way, but probably not the direction you might take. If you do use this sketch, all I ask is that you share the results. I'm always curious with these to find out what happens next. 

Friday, April 08, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction Set -- 100 Toys

There's always something new to discover in the world of antique toys. I recently found this item on eBay. It's a LineMar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s.

The seller had run across some new old stock. The box had never been opened, the construction set never played with, and (most important), none of the extremely tiny and fragile pieces had been damaged or lost.

I recognized the brand, of course. Line Mar was the Japanese subsidiary of Louis Marx and Co, a major American manufacturer of low-cost toys for most of the 20th Century.

To me, this item was intriguing for several reasons. First, I was under the impression that Line Mar was formed after the Second World War. Second, the set was intact, and I was very curious as to just how the pieces went together.

Research yielded little about the Match Box Construction Set, save a citation in a 1955 U.S. Customs Court Federark trademark suit.  J. Kohnstam, Ltd., the original owners of Match Box diecast cars, wanted to register the term "Match Box" Series as a trademark. Representatives from Marx claimed prior art, citing this very toy. Marx had used the term "Match Box" with a distinctive yellow-and-brown matchbox design box for their Vest Pocket construction set, made for them by Line Mar from 1939 to 1942.

The Match Box Construction Set in its original box.
It was probably never opened since its assembly in
the late 1930s.

The set itself is an interesting mix of Erector-inspired and non-Erector parts. There are some metal shapes and girders with holes (similar to Erector), but they're held together in a different way. Instead of nuts and bolts, dowel-and-collar attachments are used. Fiberboard collars fit tightly over the dowels and help hold them in place.

The tray slides out just a like it would in a matchbox.
Storage space is used efficiently.
There are some additional pieces, such as thicker dowels that serve as wheels, and some longer ones to use as axles.

Here are all the pieces of this set.
Fortunately, the instructions also show
how to repack everything (below, right).
I received the original instructions for the set, with illustrations of the 100 toys one can supposedly build (more on that later). Since I had the instructions -- and all the pieces -- I've decided to try building all 100 toys.

I suspect there will be a huge gap between these toys as illustrated and in real life. For starters, the artwork on the box suggests the pieces are much larger than they actually are. And if they exaggerated about that...

But sometimes it's about the voyage, not the destination.

So stay tuned -- we'll discover together just how much of a bargain this set really was. One toy at a time. <i>I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time.

You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Jean Sibelius: Scaramouche, Op. 71

Leif Segerstam's traversal of Sibelius' orchestral scores has been a real treat for me. While I was familiar with the big hits (the symphonies, the Karelia Suite, the violin concerto, et al), I didn't have a complete picture of Sibelius' output, and where those great works fit into it.

This series has helped me gain greater insight into Sibelius' masterpieces -- and introduced me to some terrific music besides.

This installment features Sibelius' score for "Scaramouche," a full-length pantomime completed in 1913. Sometimes large ballet scores can be enjoyed equally as a complete work and as excerpted movements. After all, you don't need to know much about what's gone on before in "The Nutcracker" to enjoy the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies. "Scaramouche" is different, though.

The story is one of supernatural seduction, moving towards its inevitable tragic outcome. The score starts in a light-hearted mood, with charming folk-like melodies. But as the story progresses, the mood changes -- but gradually. To my ears, Sibelius' score (at least in mood) resembled his En Saga. There's an undercurrent of things not being quite right that moves closer to the forefront as the work progresses.

To me, that gradual building of unease is what makes this score so compelling. To hear just the opening scene or even something from the last part loses that context, and blunts the emotional impact of the music.

My recommendation is to listen to this work straight through -- and do so more than once. Only then, I think, can the subtle drama of Sibelius' score become apparent.

As always, Lief Segerstam delivers a straightforward interpretation of the music. It gives me the impression that Segerstam is trying to keep out of the way and let the music speak for itself. And that music is well-served by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, which plays -- as they have throughout the series -- with commitment and expressiveness.

Jean Sibelius: Scaramouche, Op. 71
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor
Naxos 8.573511

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Stefan Wolpe - Music for Violin and Piano

Volume seven of Bridge Record's on-going Stefan Wolpe series focuses on music for violin and piano. And it also presents a capsule summary of the composer's development.

As a young man, Wolpe was enamoured of Schoenberg and his 12-tone technique. The Duo for Two Violins, Op. 2 (1924) comes from that period, but it's no Schoenberg clone. While Wolpe's language is atonal and dissonant, it's also somewhat lyrical in places. To my ears, some of the passage reminded me of Bartok.

The Sonata for Violin and Piano (1949) represented a stylistic shift, using what Wolpe called "displacement." The work has a certain halting quality to it, as motifs are displaced with inserted rests. Although the two instruments seem to play independently, I heard their lines elliptically relate to each other time and again, giving the work a cohesiveness that slowly revealed itself with repeated listening.

The Piece in Two Parts for Violin Alone (1964) is a fascinating composition, an organic work with its own internal logic. Movses Pognossian's performance seems to effortlessly flow from idea to idea -- even though the piece itself continually stops and starts.

I wouldn't recommend this release as an introduction to Wolpe's oeuvre. But for the listener who's familiar with Wolpe's work and is ready to explore his catalog further, this can be an excellent "next step" purchase.

Stefan Wolpe - Music for Violin and Piano (1924-1966)
Movses Pogossian, Varty Manquelian, violins; Susan Grace, piano
Bridge Records 9452

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Collecting -- and collecting information 24

Putting together information from first-hand sources can be challenging. But it can also be fun. And sometimes it's taken me in umexpected directions.

I have a couple of examples of this Haji-brand truck (see Expressing Change in the 0-Gauge Zen Garden). And I've been searching for other variations on this design that Haji offered -- I'll share the results of that search in a future post.

The problem with these inexpensive Japanese toys is that they were always meant to be disposable. Branding is minimal. I assume that was because the Japanese companies who made these toys back in the postwar era were supplying them to American importers, who placed their own brand on the packaging.

And because these were dime store toys, the packaging was seldom saved. So I was very interested to find this example of new-old stock. The truck -- as all Haji vehicles in this series -- is modestly branded "Haji" on the truck body. But the buyer would have thought this was a product of the  Toy Merchandising Corp., as it clearly states on the card.

I wasn't able to find out a lot about the Toy Merchandising Corp. of New York -- save that they ran afoul of the FCC in 1965. As you can see from the ad that they ran in various papers, one could make a fortune stocking "Toy Shop" displays in five-and-dime stores and drug stores. The Toy Merchandising Corp provided the products, and for a small initial investment of $298, you could be in business.

In the complaint, the representation of the business in the ads was brought into question, as well as the earning potential. According to the complaint, "it is impossible for a distributor to make a profit from the initial purchase of the respondent's products."

What I found most interesting was that there seemed to be a some bait and switch going on. Such as:
"Samples of products shown to prospective distributors were indicative of quality or value of the products which would appear on racks or available for placement." And most telling: "Respondents' products were of domestic manufacture."

As the complaint states, "In most instances respondents failed to clearly and conspicuously disclose to prospective purchasers that a substantial amount of their merchandise was of foreign origin."

Like the Haji truck. There's nothing on the packaging that indicates the toy was made in Japan.

So what happened to the Toy Merchandising Corp.? I'm not sure. An extensive Internet search only turned up their ads in various newspapers of the day -- none of them later than 1965.

Another mystery.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Diabelli Project 105 - Marimba Solo

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

Just to review, the "rules" for my flash composition exercise are pretty simple. Just write for 10 minutes; any style, any instruments (or combinations thereof), any length. And stop after 10 minutes. I try not to prepare for the exercise, just seeing what comes out when the clock starts.

This week, another solo marimba sketch emerged. (See previous installments here.) It's time to start stitching these segments together.

Of course, if you see some possibilities here, don't wait for me to flesh out this sketch. As with all the Diabelli Project posts, you're welcome to use this in your own work. Just be sure to share the results!