The day before the Cotsen gallery opened to the public on Halloween 1997 (or was it the day before the dedication on the 30th???), F. A. O. Schwartz shipped a great big box from Mr. Cotsen the donor to Firestone Library. What with all the excitement in the countdown to the festivities, I didn’t have a clue what was in it or why Mr. C. had been shopping at one of Manhattan’s premier merchants of dreams.
I really shouldn’t have been gobsmacked. When I was Mr. Cotsen’s private librarian working down in the Neutrogena Corporation offices near L.A. International Airport, there were soft sculptures everywhere. There was a life-sized wolf in an ice cream suit and a homely Holstein wearing a green print dress seated at the reception area. Sometimes visitors looked askance at the wolf when he was putting the move on the unresponsive cow. In the halls there was a small roving flock of woolly sheep arranged according to whim of the firm’s executives (or so it was rumored around the water cooler). Cotsen did inherit Baa-sheba, one of the Neutrogena flock and she hangs out on the second floor of the Wall of Books with Harry the louche bear from the Big Island in Hawaii.
But back to the F. A. O. Schwartz mystery box. It contained a very large, handsome stuffed tiger, who was appointed Cotsen’s official gallery greeter on the spot and without a national search. He was installed with all due dignity in his new post on top of the Wall of Books, where he has been ever since. I am happy to report that he has never dropped from his perch in the entryway on unsuspecting children. That may be because there are enough clever little ones who know to stroke his paw on the way in!
Does the tiger have a name? Yes, he does… He was named after Shere Khan, the great striped enemy of the wolf-child Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.
And here’s to F. A. O. Schwartz. We’re looking forward to its reopening in a new space somewhere in the Times Square neighborhood soon…