Small Talk / Toys

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.

Around the World in 175 Days

Aeroplane Race

Ninety years ago today, eight dapper pilots began the first flight around the world in four airplanes that were later nicknamed the “World Fliers:” the Seattle, Boston, New Orleans, and Chicago. After 74 pit stops, Chicago and New Orleans completed the journey over 175 days with an in-air flight time of 371 hours and 11 minutes. That may seem slow compared to today’s world record of 41 hours and 7 minutes, but in 1924 (still three years before Charles Lindbergh’s famous solo flight across the Atlantic) the sensational success of the World Fliers fueled excitement about airplanes.

Capitalizing on this interest (do you see a common theme appearing here?!), Wolverine Supply & Manufacturing Company began making “Aeroplane Race ‘Round the World,” a tin board game that mapped out the planes’ exact route. Armed with their own miniature World Flier, two to four players spun a dial to fly around the board hoping to avoid forced landings, storms, or any of the other maladies that grounded the real pilots on their journey. Much like the Oregon Trail video game for children of the 1980s and 1990s, children had fun while learning about the actual hardships of aerial circumnavigation. Although, unlike the Oregon Trail and the real World Flier pilots, there was no risk of dysentery from drinking lagoon water!

Dollhouses for You and Me

Bliss Dollhouse and Gottschalk Dollhouse

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, two companies dominated the dollhouse market: the R. Bliss Manufacturing Company of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and the Moritz Gottschalk company of Marienberg, Germany. Both companies were well known for their colorful houses, which sold at a lower price due to the decrease in production costs (thank you mass production!), making the toys available to a wide range of social classes.

This past summer, T/m hosted Antiques Roadshow and appraiser Marshall Martin to examine a Bliss dollhouse and a Gottschalk dollhouse from the museum collection. Catch it on your local PBS Station on Monday April 7 at 7pm CST or stay tuned here for a link to the segment.

There Once Was A Teddy in Africa

Teddy Roosevelt's Adventures in Africa Playset

After being succeeded in office by William Howard Taft, the former president Theodore Roosevelt set out for Africa to hunt big game and collect specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. Known to history as the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition, the party began their journey 105 years ago this month and included Roosevelt’s son Kermit who served as official photographer, three representatives from the Smithsonian (a retired Army surgeon and field naturalist, and two zoologists), two famous big-game hunters, a wildlife photographer and filmmaker, and several hundred porters and guides. They collected 1,100 specimens, 500 of which were big game; Teddy and Kermit personally collected 17 lions, 11 elephants, and 20 rhinoceros.

Roosevelt’s travels were memorialized in several ways from the silent film Roosevelt in Africa to Scribner’s Magazine’s articles that were later gathered together and published as a book, African Game Tails, in 1909. That same year, Schoenhut Company introduced their tribute to the expedition: Teddy Roosevelt’s Adventures in Africa Playset. Produced until 1912, the set included a doctor, naturalist, taxidermist, and native guides. Some of the playset parts were repurposed from the popular Humpty Dumpy Circus Playset, but the rhinos, zebras, hyenas, gazelles, deer, and gorillas were introduced for the first time. Bet you can’t guess which one is Teddy Roosevelt (hint: he’s carrying a rifle instead of a big stick)!

A Dollhouse Mystery

New Rochelle Mystery Dollhouse

Much of T/m’s collection of over 46,000 toys was amassed by co-founder Mary Harris Francis. With an affinity for play, she began collecting dollhouses in the 1970s, starting with the New Rochelle Mystery House. Little did she know that within a few years she would have enough dollhouses and toys to open a museum!

This stately 12 room dollhouse gets its name from its place of origin- New Rochelle, New York. What exactly is so “mysterious” about it? The term mystery house was coined by dollhouse historian Flora Gill Jacobs to describe dollhouses with unknown origins, many of which were handmade. That’s exactly the case with the New Rochelle Mystery House. While similar dollhouses have been spotted in late 19th century F.A.O. Schwarz catalogs, the painted number “1074” above the door suggests that it was custom made for a little girl who lived at that same address number. Stay tuned for more mysterious dollhouse details…

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