Small Talk Tag: R. Bliss Manufacturing Company

Pint-Sized “Painted Ladies”

Bliss Dollhouse Close Up

Queen Anne Style is one of the most recognizable styles of Victorian architecture in America. With castle-like turrets, colorful “painted lady” details, and grand porches, they’re hard to miss. These stately homes often required teams of skilled builders, carpenters and craftsmen to construct, which of course came at a high cost. Often the style of choice for the lumber barons and railroad tycoons of the day, these romantic mansions captured the hearts of Americans coast to coast— and still do today!

Not surprisingly, the popular, late 19th century style also appeared in dollhouses. But how did toy manufacturers shrink the intricate Queen Anne Victorian details for mass dollhouse production? Toy makers at the R. Bliss Manufacturing Company had the perfect solution. Instead of hand carving and applying all of the spindles, lattice work, and shingles (just think of the choking hazards!), the dollhouse’s ornate details were printed on chromolithographed paper facades. These colorful details applied to the sturdy dollhouse structure made for a perfectly playable and mass-producible Queen Anne dollhouse. After all, what little girl wouldn’t want a dollhouse fit for a queen?

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.