Small Talk Tag: Dollhouse

Josephine’s Story

josephine bird dollhouse

The Josephine Bird Dollhouse is one of the most intact, antique dollhouses in the T/m collection. In previous blog posts, we’ve explored the bookcase-style dollhouse and some of its contents, which were originally owned and played with by young Josephine Bird in 1890s Kansas City. One of the many reasons why we love dollhouses is because they are time capsules that have a lot to tell about their original owners. So, what did this time capsule (with a little research to fill in the blanks) tell us about Josephine?

Born in 1889, Josephine was the daughter of one of the founders of the Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store (E.B.T.) in Kansas City. As a child, she repurposed several pieces of E.B.T. merchandise in her dollhouse. As a young lady, she went to finishing school in Florence, Italy. Some of the treasures in the dollhouse’s attic are almost certainly souvenirs she collected on her travels. As a finishing touch, several feathered friends perch atop this stately dollhouse, reflecting Josephine’s last name!

Design for the Masses

moritz 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.

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.

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.

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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