Small Talk / Toys

Strike a Pose

French Fashion Dolls

While we think all of our dolls are quite fashionable, a special set of Parisian dolls take the cake! Dating from 1900 to 1917, the dolls produced by Mesdames Louise Lafitte and Augusta Désirat represent different fashions and themes from “nurse” to “theatre.” The dolls were sold in the United States at the Gimbels department store as “style mannequins.”

The dolls’ bodies are wire armatures with wax heads and simple painted features to guarantee that the clothes and accessories are the star! And star they do; the two sisters styled their dolls with only the finest materials: ostrich feathers, fur, velvet, mohair, lace, and silk. Each doll strikes a pose on a round wood base that is often marked with a year, signature, and stamp (which really helps us out here at T/m!). Whether standing or sitting on a chair or cushion, these ladies are runway ready.

Skittle Me This

Steiff Skittles

Perched happily on top of wooden platforms, this rooster and his brood of eight colorful hens are waiting for someone to throw the cheese and hit a floorer. If that sounds like jibberish, you might want to brush up on the lingo for the game of skittles! While we think of skittles as a candy that lets you taste the rainbow, skittles is also a game related to bowling. The game has been played for centuries and there are several different regional versions. In Old English skittles, players throw a rounded piece of heavy wood called a cheese to knock over pins at the end of an alley. In other versions, players roll a small ball to knock over the pins.

The owner of these Steiff Company rooster and chicken skittles probably didn’t have the best aim, judging from the undamaged, brightly colored felt. Steiff produced skittles sets featuring felt animals from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. While the game of skittles has waned in popularity in recent decades, it is still played in the United Kingdom and is known as a game that is friendly and accessible, even for newcomers… just don’t call it bowling!

Design for the Masses

Gottschalk Dollhouse

Like a broken (polka) record, we seem to talk a lot about the German toy industry here on Small Talk. Just goes to show how prolific it used to be! One of the industry’s most important producers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Moritz Gottschalk company. Gottschalk is best known for its beautifully designed dollhouses, which mirrored the architectural styles of the day. The company also sold equally beautiful toy kitchens, general stores, horse stables, forts, and more. Like other toy companies in Germany, Gottschalk wanted to reach other European markets as well as America, so they offered their toy line via catalog. The catalogs provided model numbers, dates and specifications which makes identifying these gems over a century later a breeze!

The earliest line of Gottschalk toys were wooden dollhouses with blue painted roofs, chromolithographed paper facades, and Victorian architectural details. Mass production techniques made the manufacturing process faster and more efficient. Around 1910, the company switched to houses with red painted roofs and hand-painted facades. Seems a little counterintuitive, right? While no one really knows why this shift to a slower production method occurred, dollhouse historians believe the changes reflected popular taste.

Sunday Funday

Noah's Ark

How did you spend your Sunday last week? Maybe you went to the park, caught up on some reading, played Wii Sports Resort, or watched Game of Thrones… whatever you did, we hope it was relaxing! For children in Victorian times, Sunday was not a time for play, except of course with Sunday toys. In many households, Sunday was considered a day of rest and worship. Thus, Sunday toys were religious in nature and based off stories in the Bible.

Noah’s Ark was an extremely popular Sunday toy, complete with tiny carved and painted animal pairs. German cottage industries worked tirelessly to meet demand for these popular playthings, so much so that the tiny carved animals became known by the workers who made them as “misery beasts.” As the world grew more industrialized in the 19th and 20th centuries, toy companies like R. Bliss Manufacturing Company and Schoenhut also began making Noah’s Ark sets. Playing with a limited variety of toys on Sunday must have become tedious at some point, but play is all about using your imagination, right? We suppose some Victorian children didn’t exactly stick to the biblical storyline!

Bliss-Ful Toys

Bliss Dollhouse

Founded in the 1830s in Rhode Island, the R. Bliss Manufacturing Company crafted a variety of wooden products in its 100 year history ranging from piano screws to tennis racquets. The most famous (and of course our favorite) Bliss products were wooden toys and elaborate dollhouses. The company’s founder Rufus Bliss was a trained carpenter who introduced new technologies to his craft in the form of manufacturing techniques; one invention was a machine for cutting wood screws that made the process faster and more accurate.

The hallmark of Bliss toys was the colorful chromolithographed paper applied to the wooden pieces. This new printing technology not only added colorful, decorative detail to the toys, but also helped Bliss achieve financial success through mass production. When added to a sturdy and attractive wooden dollhouse, the chromolithographed designs made for one of the most beautiful toy lines on the market. Today, Bliss toys and dollhouses are highly collectible and can often be identified by a trademark or logo placed within the design.

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