Just a bit more than a century ago, on the eve of World War I, Americans were introduced to an adorable kitten called Fluffs and a friendly mutt of uncertain breed going by the name of Rags. The public also met Fluffs' mistress, Pat, and Rags' master, Don - two cuddly and lovable children.
They were the creations of Margaret Evans Price, a young artist who often signed her book illustrations and picture postcards with a simple "M.E.P." Years later Margaret would design some of the first toys of her husband's business, the well-known and soon to be successful Fisher-Price Toy Company, during its earliest years in the 1930s. Stecher Litho Co., Rochester, N.Y., with whom Mrs. Price is most closely associated in many collectors' minds, published "The Angora Twinnies," a children's booklet in 1915. They also marketed a six-postcard set of the foursome for Valentine's Day sales. Since postmarks found on these cards date from 1915, the year the book was published, it is quite probable that both items hit the store racks at about the same time.
Though the story line of "The Angora Twinnies" certainly tends itself to being serialized, whether or not it spawned successors is not known. None have surfaced to date.
In the booklet there is no mentions of Rags or Fluffs. A nameless white Angora, the same breed as Fluffs, is seen on the cover with the kids but nowhere inside the illustrated story do they appear. Only on the postcards of Stecher Co.'s Series No. 217 do the pets show up.
The story in the booklet tells the adventures of Patricia Alice Elizabeth Dunn and her twin brother, Donald. "Pat" and "Don" lived in Newfoundland in a cottage by the sea. The title comes from the nicknames given Don and Pat after their mother knits suits of soft wool for them and they thus became the Angora Twinnies.
The booklet and postcards were sold extensively by the Woolworth chain- and probably by other five-and-tens -nationwide. The valentines, selling for a penny each, and the booklet remained on store racks until the early 1920s.
The postcards are a delight. Fluffs and Pat are portrayed in a number of charming scenarios. Usually Pat and Don are contorting their pets not to be jealous as they hold up a photo of their sweethearts. For all of their lightheartedness and frivolity, the Valentine postcards depict a deep affection and kinship between child and animal. They were inseparable companions throughout the joyous years of childhood.
Children, flowers and animals were the three favorite subjects of Margaret Evans Price. Much of her artwork reflects a strong Art Deco influence. Through her illustrations touches of warmth, grace and beauty were brought into the lives of many people.
Born March 20, 1888 into a wealthy and influential Chicago family, Margaret Evans spent her youth in Nova Scotia (thus the Canadian setting for the Twinnies' adventures) and later in Boston, where she received art training.
Success first came in 1908 when she began selling illustrations to Woman's Home Companion, Pictorial Review, and other magazines.
Six years later she entered into an important association with Stecher, one that lasted until 1917, and on a free-lance basis for a while afterward.
During her three years of full-time work with the publishing firm, she wrote and illustrated a number of children's story booklets, among them "A Visit to Santa Claus" and "Polar Bear at the Zoo," and designed more than 300 holiday greeting postcards, all in sets of six each. Among them were quite a few for Valentine's Day, including the Angora Twinnies kids. Most featured women and adorable children.
In 1909, Margaret married Irving Price and in time became mother to three children - one of them adopted. After living a while in Boston and then Cleveland, the couple settled down in East Aurora, New York, in 1920.
The artist also did a number of paper doll booklets and packets for Stecher and other firms. Die-cut style and other valentines by her were also distributed by Stecher and others from the late teens to the early '20s, as well.
The one aspect of M.E.P.'s postcards which appeals greatly to collectors is that they were original creations. A vast majority of artist postcards came from book illustrations and other ephemera. But every postcard Price did was created especially for that format.
Margaret spent the rest of her life, until she died in 1973, as an illustrator and artist of juvenile literature for several major New York publishers, including Rand McNally and Harper's. To research for background and imagery, she traveled to many foreign counties and exotic locales.
She continued illustrating for many of the important magazines of the day - mostly doing covers - and became involved with portrait painting, among other pursuits. But today, she is primarily remembered only for those 300, or so, postcards and the dozen children's booklets she wrote and drew for Stecher.
Although Pat, Don, Fluffs and Rags were popular in their time, they had only a brief moment of glory. The chain of events unfolding in Europe and later to envelope this nation in war, eventually ended America's innocence and changed our outlook and attitudes about everything.
Along with Ellen Clapsaddle, Frances Brundage, Jessie Wilcox Smith and H. B. Griggs, Margaret Evans Price was one of the most successful female artists of the early 20th century.
Today, many decades later, she remains very collectible.