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Antique and Vintage Dollhouses

 

 

Here are some pictures of the antique dollhouses I am selling at the Rhoads auction in May 2016. The English houses are featured in articles published in Antique Doll Collector, but I have never shared anything about the Mystery House, which I began to restore  but did not quite finish. The floors are buried under dark varnish but they are there, as I found when I removed the varnish from the parlor. Yummy. Anyway, I bought the house at the auction of the Mildred Mahoney Museum in Ontario a few years back and I replaced some damaged papers in the parlor and dining room and added curtains. I furnished this house with slightly over-scaled furniture when I played with it but never took photos of the house furnished.

The Mystery House

When I got the house, the previous owner had stripped off quite a bit of the exterior trim paint, which I replaced with acrylic paint so it can easily removed by someone else, The exterior walls were painted over with thick white house paint - I scraped it off some areas and painted over it in other areas. Mahoney also painted over the woodwork inside the house and I did not get around to fixing that either.

I re-papered this room with an antique paper I purchased from Hannah's Treasures some years ago, and used a border paper I found on ebay. The house does not have its original front panels. The auctioneer looked for them in the museum basement and attic but they never turned up. In the museum, it was displayed with acrylic plastic screwed into the front - ugh!

I really enjoyed discovering the original patterned floors in this house. It was time-consuming and required paint touch-ups here and there, but worth the trouble for the next owner to do the other rooms.

The wallpaper in his room was terribly faded from the strong lighting that was wired into the house. I should mention that NONE of the papers in the house were original. Mahoney added all the papers and the horizontal stripe she put in the parlor was just ghastly. For the dining room, I used another paper from Hannah's Treasures and the light background is a vast improvement over what was here before. I bought an entire roll of this so you may recognize it in another house...

I actually like the paper in the bathroom but had planned to replace the paper in the kitchen. Mahoney glued braid into the corners and tops of the walls she papered because she covered the walls with wall-papered cardboard and then stapled them in the corners. The braid covered the staples. When I re-papered the parlor, I removed the cardboard and staples and found only tiny remnants of original papers. This house has a sort of sad history in some ways. It's a big house and I figured that I would not have time to completely restore it as my house is for sale and I plan to move to something smaller. I hope its next owner is up for a challenge. I see a lot of potential here!

The English Suburban Villa

The last English house I restored was this early 20th century suburban villa. I think it may have been made from plans published in Hobbies or some other magazine as it bears a resemblance to some other houses I have seen. What makes it quite unusual is that most of the structure is made of solid English oak. Some areas had been painted over a dull brown and when I removed the paint, a lustrous golden oak was revealed. This was another house that had suffered abuse in the past. Someone had used it to store paint and there were areas where a paint pot had leaked red paint onto the walls and it pooled in some corners. I was surprised how easily I was able to get it off the floors and scrape most of it off the wallpapers, but I did have to touch up some areas on the papers afterwards. The papers were all original, but one wall in the bedroom was too damaged to save, so I re-papered that room with some vintage Laura Ashley paper I purchased in England back in 2000. I also had to repair and replace some smashed windows. The house is going to be sold empty, but I am sharing photos of how it looked when I furnished it.

And the "BEFORE" picture:

I'm quite sure this paint damage is what turned off the other bidders at the auction where I bought this house for only $75. Besides the red paint that looks suspiciously like the scene of a murder, note that the edges of the walls and floors are painted brown, covering the pretty oak beneath.

Now this is more like it. What a satisfying experience I had restoring this house into a comfortable family home. I was able to keep some of the brittle floral wallpaper that had been glued to the floors for rugs, but the others were too damaged to save. Some of the furniture is English, some German and some American, but I really tried to make it look English between the wars. The house will be sold with all the curtains I made for it.

The parlor retains its original wallpaper and I was able to accessorize the furnishings with a Westacre lamp with hand-painted shade, Westacre book rack on the early Lynnfield radio and a tiny magazine rack made by Cole of New Barnet, a suburb of London. The framed pictures feature scenes of English cottages.

The entrance hall has its original floor paper carpet, but to remove the paint that was all over the stairs, I had to remove the paper carpeting there. But the exposed wooden stacked steps look fine to me. I replaced the missing stair rail in the front.

The kitchen retained both the wall papers and the floral paper carpet. The sink is German but the large English dresser was made by Thomas Tucker from a tree that fell in the New Forest when there was The Great Storm that took down many trees in the south of England. I love the little door bell over the kitchen sink and the coffee grinder below it.

The dining room features some English oak furniture, a Westacre folding screen, a Triang fire screen, and a small oak dresser I bought in Gloucestershire. Framed watercolors by English artist David Williams hang on either side of the fireplace, including one of Hanmer Hall located just outside the Worcestershire town I lived in back in 2000. The draperies are made from a fine cotton lawn I purchased at Liberty's.

The upper hall has a Westacre Queen Anne chair with woven seat and hand-painted Chinoiserie decoration. I ended up painting the walls of this room as the paper was so damaged by red paint. The floor paper remained intact. The wall lamp is an interesting period piece.

The bedroom had to be entirely re-papered but I was glad I had English wallpaper on hand for the job. This Laura Ashley print was based on a 1930's pattern so I felt it worked well. This room had lost its window panes and glass and I had to create those from scratch. The little lacquered bookcase is Westacre and filled with original blank books. I made the bed when I was in college and my boyfriend taught me how to solder.

The Edwardian Villa

This is one of the prettiest antique houses I have ever owned and the exterior is probably the most ornate. It has a shallow garden behind a balustraded fence and the bow windows really make the house so evocative of its period and origin. I purchased this house with an absentee bid left at auction. At the time, some of the bow window sashes were damaged or missing, and trim was missing in other areas. But so much great detail remained that I could not resist.

Check out these great, realistic sash windows. All the windows open and close and have real glass. I remade the lace curtains that came with the house and used them in the bow windows. I love the brickwork detail on the exterior of this house.

The "BEFORE" view of the interior:

Pretty bleak, wasn't it? The floors were dirty and a pretty nauseating shade of avacado paint coated the hallways and other areas of the house. But the rooms were spacious and eminently restorable. And I liked the way the fireplaces had boxes attached behind the house with chimneys running up the back of the house as well. Just cleaning the house and curtains was a chore.

It was important to me to lighten up the rooms with softer, warmer colors. The most remarkable discovery was after I finished the house, I took the hinged facade and stripped off the interior paint to discover I had chosen pretty much the same colors as had originally been used before a later owner painted over them. I also stripped off all the olive-colored paint that had covered the exposed ends of the walls and floors and I left the old pine wood exposed with a coat of wax.

The entrance hall retains the old red damask stair runner with carpet rods. After cleaning and lightly stripping the floor, I applied a gray wash and then marked out mortar lines to make the floor look like is it paved with stone. The footman came with my first Tynietoy Mansion but seems at home here. I love the little newel post drop from the ceiling - it's a great detail that can be overlooked. All the ceilings retain their molded anaglypta paper; another one of the details that endeared this house to me. I painted this room a fawn color to lighten it up.

The dining room BEFORE:

You can see a sort of history of the house in the layers of paint colors visible in the dining room. As bad as this green is, the vivid blue beneath it must have been really garish. I opted to go gray as seen in the shadow of an old mirror or picture that was once over the fireplace, which turned out to be the original color after all. I kept all the faux-marble paint finishes on the fireplaces. I couldn't believe how many nails I had to pull out of the walls!

The redecorated dining room features  a highly polished table and chairs I found at an antiques show in Staffordshire. They appear to be ash or yew wood and I think they were made from old Hobbies patterns. I used some old mousy velvet for carpet with a petitpoint rug under the table. The corner cupboard is a sweet little homemade piece made from old cigar box wood. I made the brocade curtains from old fabric I bought in an auction box lot and I placed a mirror over the fireplace that is very similar to the shape that was left behind by another fixture. The chandelier was made by Ellen Krucker Blauer.

The kitchen floor received the same treatment as the entrance hall and features a table and Welsh dresser made in England by Thomas Tucker. The chandelier came from a roombox I bought at an auction in Canada. With space in my car limited, I only took the furnishings and left the roombox behind.

The upstairs hallway has a Schweizer sewing machine I bought on ebay years and years ago - I think it was one of my first ebay purchases. I had to strip the floor up here as it had been splashed with paint and then I just placed a tapestry rug over it.

The parlor looks like it has been painted blue in this photograph but is actually a shade of green. I wanted this room to have a cozy feeling and I used my favorite English bookcase in here. The settee and chairs were purchased in poor condition and in pieces in an auction box lot but were easily repaired and re-upholstered as needed with green silk I previously purchased in London. The chintz draperies came from a Tynietoy house I acquired in Canada. I re-hung the chandelier that had been in the dining room previously, and the green velvet carpet was fashioned from a full-sized upholstered chair I bought at an auction just for the fabric! This room has a sort of peacefulness I relish.

The bedroom is the only room I papered, using a vintage Laura Ashley pattern. The draperies came from the same Tynietoy house I just mentioned above. The bed was in a dollhouse at the Mary Merritt Museum and the little wing chair on the right is by Eric Pearson, and was previously owned by Carolyn Sunstein. The ceiling paper is the same as the one in the parlor and I love the juxtaposition of its pattern with the wallpaper. The faded rose velvet carpet was once part of a set of old draperies I bought at a Birmingham car boot sale. I used the fringe from the pelmets for the window valance in this room.

When I purchased this house, all the fireplaces looked empty and cold, so I made coal-burning inserts for three of them, emulating the style of old Evans & Cartwright fireplaces. I made them of wood blocks with old gilt Dresden paper trim glued on for texture. I painted htem black and added bars made from coat hangers. A molded upholstery tack in each corner is the finishing touch. For some reason, the fireplace inserts are very satisfying to me and just make the rooms look more cozy and "lived-in".

I hope the next owner appreciates all the unique details that make this house so special.

The English Box Back (Jane's House)

Ever since I had seen Carolyn Sunstein's huge nine-room English box-back house, I longed for a big three-story townhouse of my own. This one went unsold TWICE at Christies and after the second unsuccessful auction, I contacted the specialist, Daniel Agnew, and submitted a post-auction offer for only a few hundred pounds and the house was mine. It cost me more than twice that to get it packed up and shipped over here, but I was thrilled when it arrived without any problems. When I saw photos of the house I knew it was perfect for restoration as there were early papers peeking out from behind later wrapping paper on the walls. The window glass was long gone and most of the exterior had been painted over, but over the course of a couple years, I chipped away to expose the original paint on the front and sides. I also replaced missing capitals on the columns and repaired the damaged front stairs. The door was painted yellow and I found this Paris green underneath and added the ormolu lion's head door knocker. While scraping one of the pilasters, I found a small signature pencilled on the brickwork in the top right hand corner: Jane. So I've called this Jane's House.

This was one of my biggest projects. The later wallpapers were removed quite easily but then I found the original papers had some damage and when someone had repainted the ceilings white, they left a trail of white paint along the tops of the walls, so I had touched up the papers and added crown molding with gilt paper trim. The floors were a disaster with only tiny remnants of original floor papers left, so I carpeted the floors of five rooms with vintage upholstery fabrics. The painted floor in the kitchen somehow remained intact, although worn.

The front entrance hall was pretty sad-looking when I got the house. The walls on all three floors were painted over cracked and peeling wallpaper, so I scraped off what I could and recovered them with a subtle vintage paper I had brought home from England. The floors and steps were also painted over and I was amazed I was able to remove the paint from the patterned oilcloth that was original to the house. The newel posts and railings were also lost to time and I replaced those with mahogany posts that had been custom-made by the previous owners of the Dollhouse Factory and I used old gold velvet to carpet the stairs. I also added handmade baseboard moldings throughout the house and framed the doorways with lumberyard trim. The little door under the stairs had been painted over so I painted it once again with a faux grained rosewood. The rest of the doors throughout the house were missing and also had to be replaced.

I was so pleased to find the kitchen still had its original brick-papered "copper" and sink on either side of the fireplace, but the dresser was missing. I made a replacement from old wood and based the design on an example from a similar house in Flora Gill Jacobs' collection. The Evans & Cartwright chair to the right of the table is a favorite.

I really love the original paper in the dining room. It has a William Morris feel to it, but it is a little dark so I selected a lighter patterned carpet to brighten things up a little. The Rock & Graner sideboard really lends elegance to this room.

The landing on the second floor has the same oilcloth floor paper as the entry hall. This view shows the four-panel doors I made to replace the missing flat-panel doors. Throughout the house, when I added cornices and door trims, I did not buy moldings made for dollhouses, but bought slightly bulkier trim from the lumberyard instead. It added the depth and character that I felt was more appropriate for an antique house.

The sitting room is definitely the ladies' domain with a pretty German parlor suite upholstered in rose-colored silk, and a raspberry pink treenware tea set. The Simon & Halbig dolls were purchased undressed at auction, the attired with antique clothes removed from other dolls. All the Ehrhard & Sohne framed pictures in this room feature animals: birds, pugs and kittens. The desk in the background holds an old love letter hinting at a marriage proposal.

The wallpaper in this room needed a fair bit of touching-up and it was quite faded on one side. The gentlemen are enjoying a game of chess after dinner and are seated at a Rock & Graner table. Under the table is a very fine petit point carpet whose colors blend perfectly with the walls and floor carpet. The parlor suite was a very lucky auction buy some years ago.

By the time I got to the top floor, I'd had enough of removing paint from the floors, so I used carpet here.

This lady wears her original dress. While the red ribbon trim is still vibrant, the pale blue cotton print is much faded. The paper in this room also needed some touch-up where the colors were worn away.

The nursery was in the most distressed state when the house came to America. The entire chimney breast was missing and the wallpaper, which matched the paper in the master bedroom, was missing off one wall. So I rebuilt the fireplace and used an antique wallpaper that proved to be perfect for a little girls' nursery. I had just enough old silver Dresden paper trim to finish off this room. The fact that the paper wrinkled a bit as it dried makes it look like it has always been here. The floor was painted blue so old rose velvet fabric was used for carpet.

What a sense of accomplishment I felt when this house was finally restored and decorated. I hope it finds a happy home wherever it ends up next. (3.24.2016)

 

My very first dollhouse was given to me on Christmas morning 1964 when I was nine. It was the Rich Williamsburg Mansion and it came with several bubble-packs of plastic furniture that I didn't mind too much for the kitchen and bathroom, but the purple Hepplewhite dining room set  bothered me. For the living room, I had a Strombecker TV but what I really liked in that room was a faded red wooden Strombecker roll-arm sofa that had been my mother's. At least it was wood and not plastic!

A few treasured pieces of Petite Princess were added the following year and I remember how much I loved the little velvet-covered footstool. It inspired me to make seat covers for the plastic dining room chairs by cutting up small rectangles of flocked Con-Tac paper and sticking them on the seats. What an engrossing yet frustrating house that was for me, but perhaps that challenge helped propel me into collecting better things as I grew older.

Within a few years I began to find vintage dollhouse furniture at the flea markets and antique shops my mother liked to take me to visit, and when I was in high school, I made my first pilgrimmage to the Museum of the City of New York, taking the New Haven Railroad into the city and then riding up to Spanish Harlem on the Lexington Avenue subway. It was a scary subway stop and several long avenue blocks were navigated before I finally arrived at my destination on Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street. But when I saw all those antique dollhouses for the first time, I felt the journey had been worthwhile.

Of course, the Brett dollhouse was my favorite from the very beginning and still is (I'm compelled to add here that a few years ago I learned that the story about it being constructed by the Rev. Philip M. Brett in the Brett family sail-making loft on South Street was a total fabrication invented by the descendant who donated it to the Museum, and his daughter wishes she could have it back!). I loved the cohesive and artistic qualities of the Stettheimer house, and the minute delicacy of Mr. Briggs' house - all three houses had a completeness, a sense of everything belonging together that I felt was lacking in other houses displayed in the Toy Gallery. The other houses had an awkward mix of things that didn't seem as appealing to me. But my three favorites were perfect time capsules completely in sync with their eras and I still enjoy them with the same sense of satisfaction I felt that first visit.

When I saw fully furnished antique dollhouses for the first time, I thought that ALL antique dollhouses must be in museums and it didn't occur to me that a private collector could still acquire an antique house and find furnishings for it. I thought antique houses and their furnishings must be very rare and valuable and thus great prizes that only museums could have. My thinking changed after I finished college and I worked for Molly Brody. The first time I worked at her Yankee Miniatures show in Darien, I was delighted to find several dealers there selling antique miniatures. My first purchases were a small Gottschalk kitchen chair from Bob Milne for $6, and three Schneegass sabre-leg chairs for $20 from Anne Timpson. The following year I purchased a vintage dollhouse from a second-hand shop in NY for a whopping $35 and my boyfriend (and future husband) and I carried it four long avenue blocks to our apartment in the East Village amid plenty of stares and some laughter from strangers. I later learned from Dee Snyder that this house had been built from plans in a 1940's issue of Popular Mechanics. All I knew at the time was that it was old and in need of restoration. In those days, I had yet to learn the difference between restoration and renovation.

That was in the late 1970's and I still own some of those first pieces, but others have come and gone over the years, so as I share the stories of these houses on this site, I will be scanning old photos of houses I no longer own as well as sharing digital photos of the things that are still in my posession. You'll need to excuse the poor quality of the photos of these early efforts and be assured that both the photos and the houses get better as time goes by!

I have to apologize for this grainy old photograph taken in the early 1980's when I lived in Brooklyn. The house was built in the 1940's from plans published in Popular Mechanics. It was designed to be used as a bookcase when a child was older, so the four primary rooms are very square and about a foot deep. The bedpost in the foreground obscures a covered porch with a balcony over it. I was attracted to this house because I loved the dormer windows and the catslide off the kitchen reminded me of the one at my grandmother's house. The rooms were painted with garish enamel paint when I bought it and the exterior had been painted white with large splotchy blue dots! I covered that unattractive surface with commercial brick paper. There was a small room under the peak of the roof. The hinged front pulled down and I furnished that space as a bathroom .
I eventually covered the painted walls with wallpaper I had been saving from the days when I worked for Molly (I still have some!) and I made floorboards from tongue depressors. I thought this was a charming house but it never had a front so the dust was a problem, and it had no stairs, which also bothered me. I enjoyed this house for about thirty years and then sold it on ebay to a nice fellow who drove all the way up from Virginia to get it. 

I know, such a homely little dollhouse! I found this at a summertime outdoor antiques show across the river in Bucks Co. PA in the 1990's. It was very crude and made from old fruit crates. The door is merely painted onto the facade, so the overscale hinges have no real function. When I sold this house to someone in Maine, she called it the "tooth" house because of the little "smiles" that decorate the painted shutters. I always referred to it as the Crate House. The interior was pretty rough when I acquired it and papered with old shelf liner paper with a shiny finish. I removed it the first chance I had. I never did anything to the outside, but I redecorated the inside using wallpaper remants and commercial wrapping papers.
The interior featured four simple rooms, each with a window cut into the side and flat metal rods forming simple muntins. I used scraps of wallpaper left over from my real house to paper the bedroom on the left and the dining room, while the parlor is papered in a pretty floral wrapping paper and the bedroom on the right is papered with a pretty shopping bag I saved! I added the fireplaces and chimneybreasts and kept the old gold jacquard rayon curtains and portieres in the parlor that came with the house while making other curtains from antique lace. The simple white curtains seen inside the front facade are original and I left them as I found them. The little sofa and chair with blue printed fabric came with the house and were homemade pieces made from cardboard covered with fabric sewn over the frame. I also added all the moldings and flooring.

I was particularly proud of the picture rail molding and the cornice decoration above it that I improvised from old cotton eyelet lace edgings covered with several layers of gesso, painted and then lightly antiqued. The rooms on the lower floor were so tall in comparison to the smaller bedrooms above that I wanted to visually lower the ceilings a little. The clockface hanging over the parlor fireplace also came with the house.

I furnished this little house with a mixture of antique and vintage pieces including an early Strombecker dining room set that I always liked, a Tynietoy grandfather clock, and several china head dolls in their original clothing. I framed most of the pictures and just had some fun with this fairly small project that was done quickly yet gave much satisfaction. I still did not think that owning any fine antique houses was in my future and this cozy little house conveyed a nice sense of age when my collection was still geared primarily to contemprary artists. I still ahve the china head dolls. The lone in the dining rom was purchased outside Oneonta New York from a very nice man who told me it had belonged to his late wife. I was in my early 20's en route to a weaving seminar at the NY State Historical Association in Cooperstown one summer and just happened to stop in his small antiques shop in the hamlet of Colliersville. I must have stayed and chatted with him for over an hour, and on my way back a week later, I filled the back of my hatchback car with antique furniture that I no longer own - but I still have the doll!

I acquired this 1920's house from an antiques shop near where I worked in the 1990's and it was so large I had to have a friend with a Jeep Cherokee go pick it up with me at lunchtime and bring it home. When I got it, the interior was comprised of just two large rooms papered with old Christmas wrapping paper and I think that if I had wanted to keep the house just as a once-a-year Christmas decoration under the tree I would have left it that way. But I was more ambitious and decided I wanted to be able to really play with this unusual homemade house so I cut out a portion of the roof for better access, constructed a second floor and added a staircase, hallway and small bathroom and two bedrooms upstairs. I never did anything to the entryway which provided access to both the kitchen and parlor. I left the house painted outside as I found it, but pretty much totally renovated the interior. I  also added floorboards to the rough plywood floors that I found covered with filthy old fabric.

Sorry about this angle, but it's the only photo I have showing the entire interior in one view. The kitchen is the largest room in the house, and I needed that much space for the old cast iron stove that took up so much room. The stairs are carpeted with a pretty ribbon I bought the first time I visited Liberty's in London and I bought it knowing I'd have a dollhouse staircase needing it one day! The bedrooms were a bit cramped because of the low, slanting ceilings but they look even more so in the photos because they are crowded with furniture.

In addition to constructing walls and floors, I added lighting - the house was over three feet long and the rooms were quite deep, so it really needed lights. When I last owned this house, it was in my bedroom and I loved to turn off the bedroom lights at night and then turn on the lights in the dollhouse - it always looked very warm and cozy!

The wallpaper in the country kitchen is a remnant from the paper I used in my full-size bathroom in the late 1980's. In those days, I usually considered my dollhouses when selecting full-size papers and typically ordered an extra roll for the future... This room mixes scales a bit when it comes to the china. The kitchen table, chairs and icebox are Wanner pieces I accumulated and their larger size worked well in this house. The green cupboard on the back wall is a German piece I bought many years ago at an antiques show for very little money and it has been handy for furnishing a number of successive houses.  The trays hanging on the wall over the icebox are old confectionary molds I found at a flea market. The doll was made from a kit from Joan Benzell I bought back when I worked for Molly Brody and I dressed her in antique lace.

The wallpaper in the parlor is wrapping paper, and the carpet was made from an unfinished needlepoint pillow project I bought at a street fair in Bucks Co. PA for ten dollars. The early German furniture is a set I purchased from Utah on ebay early in my experience with online auctions and I surprised myself when I paid about $200 for it. That seemed a lot of money to me then, but when I went to sell it on ebay a few years later, it sold for over $600 so I guess it wasn't a bad buy after all! The male doll is an antique German gentleman I purchased at Iris Brown's shop on 57th Street in the late 1980's and I am very fond of him, even though he leaves a trail of sawdust everywhere he goes. The old Norwegian flag came from Second Childhood on Bleecker Street when I was in college. The lady doll was made from another kit by Joan Benzell and she has real glass eyes. I made her skirt from the silk lining of one of my mother's old coats.
Another view of the parlor shows the fireplace I built at the end wall, and the framed daguerrotype mounted above it. I loved how the intense crimson color of the furniture's upholstery and the fringed turqoise trim were complemented by the wallpaper in this room, and I still have the delicate lace curtains...somewhere.

The wallpaper in the upper right bedroom is a remnant of the paper I used for my own bedroom in the mid 1980's, the same paper I used for the dining room in the Crate House, and I am now down to a very few last feet of it! It was from a collection called Charleston Gardens and I just love it so. You might also recognize it from the master bedroom of the gambrel house shown under the My Collection tab.

The floral carpet is from an upholstery sample strewn with cabbage roses and most of the pink furniture is a set of matched pieces by the Wisconsin Toy Co. that I found in a group antiques shop in Flemington, NJ - it is referred to as a Goldilocks bedroom suite and I really like that name for it. The broken pitcher with small yellow ducks on it was my mother's when she was little and is now in a Tynietoy house. I made the patchwork quilt on the bed when I was a teenager and the wine-colored patch in the foreground was from a beautiful cotton high-waisted dress my grandmother bought for me at Lord & Taylor when I was ten. I almost cried as I cut up the fabric when I was first teaching myself how to make patchwork quilts a few years later.

Another view of the same bedroom shows the chest of drawers and dressing table that are part of the Goldilocks suite. When I made the interior doors and added moldings to this house, I deliberately made the doors a little thick and crude to blend better with the original construction of the house. Rather than use commercial dollhouse door moldings, I used larger trim from the lumberyard - something I frequently do when restoring or renovating old dollhouses. The baseboard moldings came from England. Binding the carpet with old green satin ribbon gives it nice finish.

The other bedroom was furnished with a Halls' Lifetime Toys armoire, Wanner rocker, and the carpet was another unfinished needlework pillowtop. The bed was a homemade piece constructed from cigarbox mahogany and found in an antiques shop in Red Bank, NJ. The bisque cat lying under the bed is from my childhood and probably my only dollhouse cat without a broken tail! The floral wallpaper is a shelf liner paper from the supermarket - yup!

All the houses featured thus far are from the days when I was collecting in a very private and quiet way and before I knew any other collectors or went to big doll shows or auctions. Sometimes I miss those days because I was still learning everything for myself, the only dollhouse books I owned were Flora's or the English books, and I had the beginner's enthusiasm and awe for the things that I now know are relatively common. I suppose the accessibility provided by ebay and internet sellers has changed all that for a lot of people. It took me years to learn what today's neophyte collectors can absorb in a relatively short time, and much of it right from their own desktops!

Look for more postings in this category as I scan more photos from my earlier days of collecting. (12.24.10)

I spent all of $7 for this fiberboard dollhouse at a consignment shop. I originally purchased it for my young daughter to play with and when her interest waned, I took it as a temporary setting for my collection of Petite Princess furniture. It is probably from the 1960's or '70's so it was a good match for the furniture. I took these photos before I had acquired the kitchen and bathroom furniture. 
I purchased almost all this furniture on ebay in the 1990's and overpaid for some of the less common pieces. Now there is so much of it on ebay that it sells for almost nothing unless still in the original boxes. The dolls are the ones I owned in 1965 and kept all these years, although the mother was MIA when I took the photos. These dolls now reside in the first wooden dollhouse I built while in high school. When I made plans to move to England ten years ago, I sold the house and all the furniture, but kept the dolls and the few pieces I had owned as a girl. I still wound up shipping eight dollhouses to England and back!

Another angle shows how crammed with furniture this house was. I suppose I was trying to fulfill a childhood fantasy when I sought out all this furniture and like much in collecting, the hunt was more rewarding than the actual ownership. I did not keep this collection for very long at all.
This small Triang dollhouse cost me 20 pounds at a weekend market in Abergavenny, Wales. I was visiting my British fiance' for a few days and when we brought this little house back to his home in Worcestershire, he carefully packed it so I could bring it back to the US - it actually fit in the overhead luggage compartment! When I got back to the States, US Customs asked me about it and I thought they might X-ray the package but this was before 9/11 and they just waved me through.

The exterior of the house was repainted and the interior was rusted and overpainted, so I chose some smaller scale wallpaper and covered the walls, put some old velvet on the parlor and bedroom floors and furnished the house with 3/4 scale Strombecker and Nancy Forbes furniture. The house was so small I kept it very simply furnished. It never made it back to England with my other dollhouses, and when I moved back to the States, my husband found another, larger Triang house for me in Warwickshire that he hand-carried over on the plane. Customs made him unpack it.

I took eight dollhouses to England with me in January of 2000. During the time I lived there, I bought one old dollhouse. I actually bought it on ebay while still Stateside and my husband drove down to Sussex to collect it for me so it was waiting when I arrived. In the short time I was living in his little house outside Worcester, it sat on a table in the kitchen and I repapered it and decorated it with an assortment of furnishings I collected just before the move and some things I found once I was over there. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to locate my photos to share, but I am looking for them.

Once I was back in the States again, I was busy setting up a new household and so there was a pause before I went house-hunting again for miniatures. With my new husband's encouragement, I became a little more ambitious and sought better quality houses. He was the one who suggested I purchase my large Gottshalk house at the same time I was purchasing my first Tynietoy New England Townhouse and he continues to encourage me to collect at a higher level.

The restoration of the Gottschalk house led to my first article for Miniature Collector magazine and a short time later I began to write for Antique Doll Collector Magazine, where I found a very comfortable home. The editorial policies at ADC allow me to write longer and more in-depth articles for a very focused readership while being published in Miniature Collector connects me to a broader range of collectors and I've enjoyed meeting my readers at shows and auctions.

That first article for Miniature Collector (December 2002) tells the story of discovering and purchasing the Gottschalk house and the challenges of restoring it. Typically, articles for MC are limited to 300 words so I probably started out at 600 words and had to edit, edit, edit! The photos I submitted were taken with a traditional 35mm camera and the editor selected a sampling from those I submitted. I confess I was a little disappointed that the "before" picture of the house's exterior in ruins was printed taking up over half the first page, while the "after" photo was reduced to about a sixth of the followng page so my restoration work is hard to see or appreciate. I am happy to be able to provide more, larger photos of the results of all that work on my website.

 

Mystery Houses

I have owned three of these distinctive American dollhouses identified by Flora Gill Jacobs as "Mystery" houses. They appeared in advertisements for FAO Schwarz as early as 1880 and were pictured into the first decade of the 1900's. Their origin has been a topic of speculation for decades with theories ranging from Massachusetts prisons to Schwarz's own workshops in New York. Ann Meehan has seen them advertised from another retailer, so they may not have been as exclusive as once thought. A few years ago, another collector told me about a stable or barn he bought with the same distinctive style of trim and learned that the lady he purchased it from claimed to be a relative of a man in very far upstate NY who made the houses for Schwarz - this may be so, as the decorative details somewhat resemble Canadian folk art. A good topic for further research...

The Petite Mystery House

My first Mystery house was this "petite" model, the smallest version available. I know of only two others, whereas I have seen many more of the larger four-room houses. The day I first saw it, natural sunlight was pouring through the parlor and kitchen windows and imparted such an appealing sense of warm coziness that I could not resist it. I couldn't afford it at the time, but I persuaded my ex-husband to lend me the money for it. I owned and enjoyed it for about five years before I sold it for almost hree times what I paid for it (and repaid my ex, who had forgotten about lending me the money!)

When I first saw the exterior of the house, I liked the robin's egg blue color. The dealer who sold it to me told me she had scraped down later paint to reveal this color, but I now believe that was not the case. There were areas under the roofline that were clearly scraped down, but this background color looks like new acrylic paint, and that nagging doubt about its authenticity figured into my decision to sell it when the time came.

At least the wallpapers inside the house are original and the floors feature the geometric painted finishes for which Mystery houses are so well known.  I loved how delicately tinted the colors of the papers were. When I knew the house was going to be displayed in a museum in 2005, my husband took a pair of unpainted craft shop finials, drilled 1" holes in the bottom and filled them with metal weights to make them heavy enough to hold the doors open. I painted them and now use them for another dollhouse. I added the antique lace to the windows and furnished the house with smaller scale antique furniture. The dolls are just under 5" tall.

The front door opens into the dining room where I used a small piece of tapestry for a rug, leaving much of the floor exposed. The Boulle sideboard came from a German auction house and I remember it took a while to find the dining room table with ebonized turned legs. I redressed the lady doll in antique calico. The chandelier is not antique but is a vintage piece by Ellen Krucker Blauer that once hung in Maynard Manor.

The table was one of the very first antique pieces of dollhouse furniture I bought right out of college, for $10. The doll was also an early purchase from a roadside antique shop in upstate New York. The dresser on the back wall is actually a vintage Barton oak dresser from England that just fit better than anything else. I found it while I was living in England and it's 1/16" scale.

The early Kestner desk on the left is only about 4" tall. The small gilt frame on top belonged to my mother for many years. The vase of flowers came from the large set of treenware set I bought at a yard sale for only $20. I loved the intimacy of this little parlor with its small scale parlor suite upholstered in sprigged wool challis.

Two views of  the bedroom show a nice assortment of ebony Boulle furniture and a Schweizer sewing machine I have had a long time. The bedside lamp was by Ellen Krucker Blauer. This room is decorated with two interesting pictures that are old lithographed cards with frames made of gold thread wound around dressmaker pins. I love unusual homemade things like these!

When I sold this house at auction in 2008 (before the economy nose-dived), it was hammered down for $10,000. Since then, it has been offered again at auction twice with no takers. When the Zillner books came out with inflated values for these houses, their retail prices were unreasonably high for a few years as dealers and auctioneers pointed to the books when setting their estimates. I think the buyer overpaid back then and in the past few years, I've noticed the prices for all Mystery houses seem to have taken quite a dip. I think they are wonderful houses with their high ceilings and truly unusual architectural features, and the bigger houses offer so much opportunity to furnish with lots of things. This small house did not take up a lot of space, but furnishing it was a little bit of a challenge. My other two Mystery houses seem huge by comparison! (3.31.11)

Flora Gill Jacobs's Mystery House

The largest Mystery houses include a staircase and hallway and extend almost six feet across. I have long admired these spacious houses with their high ceilings, steep staircases and tall windows . Flora's iconic house commanded prime real estate when it was displayed in the Washington Dolls' House and Toy Museum and it was richly furnished with some fabulous pieces of 1/12 scale furniture.

When the museum closed in 2004, the house was emptied of its furnishings and sold to a consortium of investors who planned to revive the antique toy department at FAO Schwarz in New York. They bought the house for about $10,000 and when it was first offered in the store, they were asking $17,000. It sat there for two years before it sold at a steep discount to a New York art dealer. Once she had it in her living room, she decided it was too big and she sent it to another auction house where it did not meet her reserve. Through the auctioneer, I contacted the owner and arranged to purchase it for a combination of cash and a trade-in. She took one of my comparatively smaller Christian Hacker houses, an assortment of furniture and my check. I delivered her house to the upper East Side and then drove down to Vineland NJ to pick up this behemoth. I was pleased to own such a famous house from THE preeminent American pioneer collector and was rather amazed when it was finally sitting on my kitchen table.

If you've read Flora's books, you know how the house descended through the family of it original owner to Flora. Few houses have such a well-documented provenance, but the facts regarding the redecorating of this house remain murky. By the time it came to Flora, the house had lost some of its original exterior trim, it had been repainted and the interior wallpapers were in such poor condition that Flora replaced them. Also, the original patterned floors had been covered with a thick coat of glaze that Flora disguised with carpeting. So this house lacked some of the features that most appeal to collectors. My attraction to the house was a combination of its provenance and the fact that the spacious rooms could accomodate furniture larger that 1/12 scale. With doors ten inches high, I actually preferred bigger furniture in this house and feel that 1/12 scale furniture can look a little odd in that setting. Also, I was still smarting from being outbid on a six room Mystery house at another auction and owning this house soothed that wound considerably - and for a smaller cash outlay than I had bid on the other house, which had been in very poor condition.

I had to rearrange the furniture in my bedroom to accomodate this massive dollhouse. Most of my houses are upstairs but this one was too big to navigate up there and thus became one of three houses displayed downstairs out of necessity. I believe this coat of paint dates to the 1920's - 1940's when the house was probably refurbished for a second generation. Up close, one can detect "ghosts" of missing decorative trim. In this state, the exterior is somewhat austere.

The interior is far more engaging. Flora had a stock of antique and vintage wallpapers that she used to restore her houses and every room in this house was repapered by someone in her employ. They were slightly damaged by the time I got the house, but I left them intact. I did, however, remove the intrusive electric light fixtures where I could. Flora also made carpets to cover the floors of the bigger rooms and hallways and she added modern vinyl tile floors in the bath and kitchen - all these were removable. She offered some of her old wallpapers for sale to a few other collectors, but I don't think she publicized this. Flora believed the elaborate window curtains were original to the house but I think they are later than that because the pink fabric feels like a modern synthetic. Most of the furniture I placed in this house is 1.25" scale and the dolls are all 7"-9" tall.

I found evidence that the window in the rear wall was an afterthought. The back of the entire house is fabricated from roughly finished boards with simple trim. The trims around this window and the one in the master bedroom above it are different from the other windows and inside, beneath the curtains, the windows were trimmed with baseboard trim removed from the kitchen abd bathroom. This renovation may have occurred soon after the house was originally purchased in 1905, or perhaps a few decades later when the exterior was repainted. The chairs in this room are English ones I purchased at the auction of the Mary Merritt Museum and the banjo clock is a vintage piece by W.F. Victoreen.

Because the hallway is so narrow, I placed 1/12 scale Boulle furniture beneath the stairs. The runner is original while the floor is carpeted with a remnant from an old paisley scarf or shawl. The chandelier is by Ellen Krucker Blauer and came from the Blauers' Maynard Manor.

Mystery Houses are the earliest documented commercial houses made in America, so I tried to furnish this house with as many American pieces as I could, which was a challenge. The spinning wheel is Canadian (which IS closer than Germany, at least) and the pine cupboard in the back is a homemade American piece I purchased from Marge Darrah as the Mary Merritt Museum was closing. The lowboy on the right is by Mell Prescott, much of whose work is a little bigger than true 1/12 scale. I made the dining room table from old oak spindles and cigar box wood and the three chairs are rare over-scaled Tynietoy chairs copied from an original in the Sophia Smith house in Northampton, MA. Still looking for a fourth! I placed a piece of antique needlepoint over the patterned velour carpet.

I loved the paper Flora used in the kitchen and the removable vinyl floor paper is not offensive. I ended up furnishing this room with German things, including the Gottschalk wall shelf hanging so crookedly on the rear wall. I found the painted table and chairs in an antique shop many years ago and had nowhere to use them until I had this house.

I've always been enchanted by the way this little room is tucked under a sloping roof and love that small step beneath the door. An American oak cupboard from an over-scaled commerical dining set works well for storing linens and sundries. The towel rack in front of the windows came from one of the auction lots when Flora's museum was sold (I bought it afterwards from Joan Majeune), so it HAD to go in this house.

Sorry for the poor focus in this room. The washstand and chest of drawers are German but the other pieces are one-of-a-kind American pieces including the Shaker rocker and nightstand that belonged to my grandmother. The oak bed has hand-carved finials. The papier-mache doll is from the Mary Merritt Museum.

I know it looks odd to have this doll facing away from the viewer but it is a small homage to Flora, who posed another doll similarly looking out the window when the house was in her museum. The wallpaper in this room is trimmed with one of my favorite borders. This paper is identical to one of the wallpapers in my most recently purchased Mystery house (currently undergoing restoration) and I presume that the previous owner purchased the paper directly from Flora. It was startling the first time I recognized it.

I wasn't too keen on the wallpaper in this room which showed some stains. The bed is probably German and is 8" long. Ann Meehan has another like it and that's how I learned it should have a contoured wooden canopy - I may attempt that at some time. I purchased mine very reasonably from Marge Darrah. The rest of the furniture is American including the unusual painted wing chair that is very similar to Tynietoy wing chairs.

The curtains throughout the house are very pretty and Flora was justifiably proud of them. These pink ones appear to be made from rayon while others are made of silk, and some of those have rotted. That's not surprising since they were subjected to harsh lighting in the museum. The window trim is original and appears throughout the house except for those windows that were added later.

I ended up selling this enormous house successfully at auction about two years after I acquired it. I too found the size too overwhelming for my limited space and I was never comfortable with the location it occupied in my bedroom. Also, it lacked some of the special features that I like so much about Mystery houses. I used to fret that I would never be able to own a Mystery house at all. They once had a reputation for being elusive and very expensive when available - I know larger ones used to command $25,000 - 30,000. But now they seem to have lost some of their allure among collectors and often fail to meet estimates at auction, which is why the last two I purchased were through post-auction negotiations. I still think they are wonderful houses and I like them better than commercial German examples - as long as one has room for them. The petite house fit easily in a guest bedroom. My current house occupies one end of my dining room! It will be featured here as soon as I finish working on it. (4.1.11)

English Dolls' Houses

Way back when I was in college, I purchased a tiny booklet filled with black and white photos of doll's houses from the Victoria and Albert Museum. I think I found it in the gift shop at the Museum of the City of New York. Around the same time, I bought Flora Gill Jacobs' History of Dolls' Houses at Scribner's and I discovered that antique English dolls' houses held a special fascination for me. For a long time I thought owning an English dolls' house would be an impossibility; that they must all be in museums or National Trust properties. It wasn't until I met my British husband twelve years ago that I began to realize they were attainable for the average collector.

My first English houses were 20th century commercial Triang houses and crude homemade houses with some character but none of the innate elegance I admired in earlier examples I'd seen in books, or in the stunning houses I saw in person in Vivien Green'e Rotunda museum outside Oxford. With my new husband's encouragement, I looked for English houses at auctions and finally acquired my first 19th century box-back house, commonly referred to as a Silber & Fleming-type house.

 

Small Box-Back House

 

The local auction house that offered this wonderfully early house described it as a Bliss-type lithographed house. I love buying there because they so seldom have a clue. I was excited when I spotted it at the preview. It showed honest wear, was missing the front steps and someone had sliced the cornice off the hinged front and screwed it to the top of the box-like house. It could have been re-attached but I left it as I found it. All I did was add the delicate antique lace curtains. I wanted to pay $500 at the most for this house, but I had a competitor in the salesroom and I ended up paying $900 for it. Since I eventually sold it for almost twice that, it wasn't too much to pay after all. 

What sealed the deal for me was the fact that the house retained all its original early wallpapers and floor treatments. The age-related wear and fading didn't phase me in the least. The fireplaces may have been subjected to some overpainting at one point, but I was able to scrape off some of it and otherwise left it as it was. Each room was only about seven inches tall, so I had to use smaller scale furnishings and I tried to use early pieces when I could find them. In this photo, the parlor is furnished with some very early German items suitable to what was the oldest house I had ever owned at that time.

The kitchen featured a wallpaper with a grey, black and white spattered effect which is quite common in this type of house. A red tile floor paper was mostly intact. Glue marks on the left wall indicated that a Welsh dresser had once been affixed to the wall. I made wall shelves from some old cigarbox wood and tucked a work table underneath. The Simon & Halbig lady has lived in each of the three houses of this type that I have owned.

I loved the old green ivy patterned wallpaper in this room, and the traces of marbling on the fireplace surround. The small German settee with red velvet upholstery on the left was purchased in London during my first trip there, while the chaise on the opposite wall was a purchase I made in the 1970's. The secretary and chest of drawers in the back are matching and are earlier than the Boulle styles more frequently found.

The rose-colored wallpaper in the bedroom was much faded but still quite warm and inviting. Early German furniture in both unvarnished cherry and elegantly grained finishes fill this small room. The small papier mache lady is probably from the 1850's -'60's.

I loved the classic symmetry of this house and the intimately scaled spaces. I would rather have a house that shows honest wear like this one, than a house that might be more cosmetically pleasing because it has been repainted or heavily redecorated. I wish more people felt this way as I feel a sense of grief whenever I see an old house that has been subjected to too much "improvement". I parted with this house somewhat reluctantly, but by the time I let it go, I had two more English box-back houses to play with! (4.1.11)

 

The Briner House

My next English box-back house was purchased at Eileen Rhoads' auction of the dolls' house collection of William Briner. It had an attractive exterior with painted cardboard window canopies and a pair of interesting balconies, but the inside was very sad. Briner seemed to have intended to restore the house at one point and he may have been the person who removed the chimney breasts and never returned them to their positions. Original papers remained in the kitchen and dining room, but only shreds remained in the rooms above, and one interior wall had been replaced.

The floors were also in sad shape. I worked to restore what was left of the floor paper in the dining room and painted over the sloppy white paint smears left from someone's attempt to paint the ceiling, but the upper rooms' floors were so bad I ended up covering them with old velvet taken from draperies I had bought when I lived in England. I ordered vintage wallpaper from Missouri for those rooms.

This was a very satisfying transformation to me, especially the replaced chimneybreasts and wallpapers. I experimented with different furnishings and changed them around while I owned this house, but once I had purchased an even bigger and better house, this house lost some of its appeal for me and I sold it on ebay just about a year after I finished working on it.

The replacement wallpapers came from Hannah's Treasures and I was delighted with them. They are usually sold by the roll, but she will sometimes cut off a yard from a roll for dollhouse people and that's what happened in this case. I replaced the missing chimney breast and built the grates after I measured the ones in Carolyn Sunstein's box-back house when I was cataloguing her collection for auction. The brass grills were cut from a wire coat hanger. I milled the baseboard moldings from pine strips with just a simple groove cut into the upper portion and sanding the top edge. I had some nice gilt Dresden paper that I used to trim along the top of the mouldings and along the tops of the walls. I had just enough to finish this job!

I loved how the colors of this pretty antique wallpaper picked up the green color of the upholstered settee. The framed engraving over the fireplace was a lucky find at a Staffordshire car boot sale for only 50 pence. On the right wall hangs a small framed oil painting of Magdalen College at Oxford that I found at the Lambertville flea market for $25. And a sweet little antique Babette Schweizer Christmas tree stands on a table in a corner. I bought it at an auction where I had to compete for it against the auction house's "expert" and it was very satisfying to take it home.

The dining room was challenging in a number of ways. Since so much of the original wallpaper remained, I did not want to cover it over just because the chimneybreast was missing, so after constructing the replacement section, I handpainted that to match the paper as best I could. And I made sure to hang a large clock over the fireplace to help obscure the difference. I also did quite a bit of handpainting on the floor where sizeable sections of the original paper were missing, with pretty good results. The sideboard is a Rock & Graner piece that I saw on ebay. It sold to a dealer whose user name I recognized and I contacted her shortly afterwards to purchase it from her.

Perhaps the most labor intensive project in the entire house was the kitchen where only the painted floor and the wallpapers were original. I had to create the missing chimney breast and its stove insert with boiler, the sink and its wall-mounted reservoir, and the Welsh dresser, which I copied from one that appeared in a photograph in Flora Gill Jacobs' last book. I used wood from my supply of old cigar box wood and matched its outline to old glue marks that remained on the wall. And after this photo was taken, I made a wash copper for the left side of the fireplace. I used my larger scale kitchen furniture for this room for a while before moving it into Flora's Mystery house.

The decision to sell this house came after I acquired an even larger English box-back house with six rooms and a center staircase hallway. I bought it from Christie's in London after it failed to sell twice and I had it shipped to the US - it cost more to ship than what I actually paid for it, but I was happy to do so. I have almost finished working on that house and hope to be able to post photos soon. (4.1.11)

 

The Gottschalk House

 

I bought this huge Gottschalk red-roof house in pieces from the Dollhouse Factory in Lebanon, NJ in October of 2001. The original owners of the shop were divorcing and the business was for sale. In the last days that the Dankenics owned it, the existing stock was deeply discounted and over forty vintage and antique dollhouses were brought down from the attic where they had been stored in hopes of one day having their own little museum. Since I ended up buying almost all of them, I can attest to the poor condition they were in after years of languishing in extremes of temperature and being visited regularly by mice. I don't know what shape the house was in when Bob Dankenics first bought it, but it was pretty poor when I got it. The base had crumbled, original papers were present but some were badly water-stained and the facade was in pieces.Yet so much of the original house was still there that I didn't feel too overwhelmed to tackle the repairs that were needed.

What WAS I thinking? Actually, I was thinking that restoring this house would be a good challenge. I felt very lucky this house had never been subjected to somebody's aggressive redecorating. I have found so many nice old dollhouses that have been painted over and thoughtlessly redecorated that I now have a pretty good sense of what is worth saving and what I should pass by.

Some might have found the structural condition of the house daunting. The projecting section at the back of the house seen here had been crushed in at some point and needed to be gently pushed back outward. Its roof section was loose and had to be re-attached as well. As you can see, all the wonderful original working casement windows were still intact and worth saving. The back of the house had been painted a buff color and I never had the ambition to strip it all off because I knew I wouldn't be seeing it. It wasn't too far off from the original ochre color which remained on the front and sides. Had it been vastly different in color I would have invested the time in removing the later paint.

The base had been damaged from moisture. One section of it had rotted to the point that it pretty much disintegrated when handled so that whole piece was replaced. Moisture had also taken its toll on the floorpapers and crept up the walls of the ground floor, staining the doors and papers halfway up the walls. The wallpapers were still firmly attached so I carefully sealed and painted over the waterstains on the walls and doors. Most of the floorpapers were okay in the kitchen and entry but there was a lot of damage to the floor of the dining room. Strangely, a large section of that room's floorpaper had been perfectly preserved under a large Tynietoy woven rug so I decided to remove that good section from the wooden floor (it was barely attached anymore) and have that piece photocopied while I discarded the damaged areas around the periphery. I then pieced together sections of photocopied floorpaper and glued them back down in the dining room, sealed it with varnish and then dulled it a little with some burnt umber oil paint. The result was quite satisfactory.

This photo also shows the Christmas tree lights I found screwed into the original electric light fixtures. They were replaced with 3-volt flashlight bulbs and reconnected with a transformer under the reconstructed base.

Sorry for the glare - I was still learning to use the flash on my camera in those days. The decorative cardboard trim on the porches just needed to be glued back together and I wove some contemporary flowering vines through the trellised sections as I had seen in old catalogue photos. Some original flowers were still intact in the flower box attached to the second-story railing, so I chose similar white blossoms for the vines and also to fill the flower boxes on the other side of the front - some pieces of one box were present and provided clues to reconstructing and replicating it. The lower left window was missing entirely and my husband used old wood to make a replica of the one just above it, which was loose from the facade when I got the house. I just asked him to mill the wood for me to do it myself, but he surprised me when he came upstairs from the basement several hours later with a complete window! All the curtains you see in the windows are original. One section of the bay window's roof was missing but easily replaced and since one of the other sections was loose, it was easy to get the color computer-matched at Home Depot. The front steps were missing but I  was able to make the replica steps based on an excellent photograph of another example of this house in Evelyn Ackerman's beautiful Gottschalk book. Under the steps I wrote my name and the date I finished restoring the house.

Perhaps you can appreciate how large this house is from this photo. I chose to furnish the interior primarily with Schneegass yellow cherrywood furniture because the center rooms were rather cavernous and I wanted to lighten up the interior as much as I could. The front facade opened in two hinged sections and I had to lift them slightly when opening so they wouldn't scrape the top of the base. All the interior curtains are original except in the upstairs hallway. Since the kitchen window was missing along with its curtains, I removed the curtains in the hallway and used them in the kitchen so the front would look uniform when closed.

The entryway features the original staircase with cardboard railings and the classic toilet under the stairs - don't even ask me how dirty that bathroom was when I purchased this house - yuck! The stained wallpapers in this room were fairly easily touched up with paint and the floorpaper was not too bad; it featured a parquet pattern with green accents. I particularly liked the border paper in this room. Because the wallpaper provided a lightly colored background, I furnished this small room with Gottschalk wooden furniture painted a deep wine color with gilt painted accents. The formally dressed German gentleman was an ebay purchase and his top hat is molded to his head.

This room required serious attention. The original wallpaper had been covered with the same paper used for the roofs of Hacker blue-roof houses, and both layers of paper were damaged. I removed all of it and chose to use a modern paper that had faded significantly under the display case lights at the Dollhouse Factory. The original paper in this room had been applied to cover only a portion of the walls and I tried to replicate that effect. This room was also missing the light fixture and a plastic one was substituted. There was never a staircase banister in this room and I always worried the little girl might topple down the stairs!

I loved the combination of blue and green colors in this room and took pleasure in placing a girl in a sailor dress playing with a toy boat, deliberately echoing the theme of the antique picture on the back wall that features a boy in a sailor suit holding a toy boat. Small Erzgebrige animals and a tiny turned wooden spinning top are among the playthings displayed.

The parlor is distinguished by the raised alcove in the back that is furnished with a Schneegass settee and features a cozy shelf built into the back wall - I just love that intimate little space! The complementary wallpapers are original and united under one border. I have seen this use of paired papers in some other large Gottschalk houses. I was lucky to have an old needlepoint pillow cover that echoed the shades of maroon and tan of the background papers and I used that for the carpet. The German gentleman was purchased from Iris Brown shortly before she closed her tiny shop on Manhattan's 57th Street.

A slighty closer view of the parlor requiring an apology for the accumulation of dust!

The bedroom features the pretty floral wallpaper seen in many other Gottschalk houses and I love the border particularly. There was a large age crack running across the back of the house and one could see daylight when looking into this room. I filled the crack with spackling compound and painted it to match the background color of the wallpaper. Then I took the fractured front of the dollhouse to Staples and made photocopies of the matching wallpaper inside the facade, carefully cut out a few of the floral bouquets and glued them over the areas that had been filled - if you look carefully you might pick them out at each side of the windowsill. The delicate chandelier is an unusual example made of blown glass and I'm amazed it has survived all these years.

I had to patch a few small areas of the floor with photocopied paper and the rug is a Tynietoy rug that I found in the attic when I bought the house. The door and the walls required paint touch-ups to cover the water stains. The doll was purchased on ebay and I dressed her in antique fabric I found at a flea market in England.

This view shows a Gottschalk kitchen cupboard I bought from Joanne and Les Payne, and a matching hanging shelf. The antique painted tin icebox is a favorite of mine that I purchased at an Eileen Rhoads auction; the top opens for a large block of ice.

The dining room has a spacious alcove in the back, so this room can accomodate a large Schneegass table with two leaves inserted. I covered the floor with a piece of antique velvet I purchased in England. The framed print on the right beside the door was in the house when I bought it and another was in the bedroom.

This view shows the lovely treenware dinner set I found at a local yard sale for the amazing price of $20. It remains one of my best bargains ever. The pretty glass goblets have a ribbed pattern and they came in a box lot my husband found at a rural auction early in our marriage. It was an old cigar box filled with antique miniature accessories, including the candlesticks shown here - a real treasure trove!

I was amazed that even with this facade discovered in pieces, the wallpapers remained intact, albeit slightly stained. All the lace curtains are original.

The attic level contains one small room on the left and a larger room spanning the remainder of the floor. A hinged panel permits access at each end. I furnished the smaller room as a bathroom. This level was not papered but finished with a dirty white primer that glared a bit when the lights were on so I papered them with vintage papers I purchased in England.

The attic bedroom was tough to access and nearly impossible to photograph so I took the furniture out just to take photos. The bed, blanket chest and screen are all painted Gottschalk pieces from about 1910. I made the patchwork quilt from antique fabrics.

Here is a peek into the attic bedroom through the open porch door. The little porch was a very cozy spot.

I bought this house in 2001 and not long after I restored it, I lent it to a museum exhibit for what ended up being two years. The article I wrote about the exhibit for Antique Doll Collector led to my first cataloguing assignment for Carolyn Sunstein's first auction, followed quickly by the two auctions of the Mary Merritt Museum - funny how things happen. I decided to aggressively downsize my collection in 2008 and I sold my German houses to free up some space for other houses, so I no longer own this house or any of the Hackers. For me the fun is in finding the houses, repairing them, enjoying them for a while and then letting someone else enjoy them. Some are so special that I've no thought of selling them any time soon, but I am quite content to keep my collection at a reasonable size and let things go from time to time to play with something fresh. I have seen how truly large collections can overwhelm their owners, their households and ultimately, their heirs, so I keep that in mind when I decide to say goodbye to one house to make room for another and that works for me. I keep my photos to remind me of how much enjoyment I derived from owning them. (2.8.11)

 

  A Christian Hacker Cottage

 

The summer after I purchased and restored the Gottschalk house, I found a small Christian Hacker cottage at a Pennsylvania auction. It was not properly catalogued, as is usually the case at this particular venue, and because is was overpainted and papered with modern papers, it flew under the radar and I purchased it and its contents for only $200. The two rooms downstairs were packed with Gottschalk furniture (including the red pieces shown in the entry to the Gottschalk house) and there was an attic room accessed awkwardly from the rear. I knew it was a Hacker when I saw the "propeller" style door handles, but there was little else apparent to identify it properly. The exterior was painted over, the roof paper was long gone, and the interior appeared to be papered with gift wrap. One of the dormer windows was missing, all the window glass was gone, but most fortunately the decorative metal fretwork along the roof ridgelines remained .

The Gottschalk furniture alone was worth at least $200 so I felt the house cost me nothing at all. I was glad to find a scrap of the original tile paper roof intact where the missing dormer had been and I used it as a guide to make a hand-painted sheet of reproduction roof paper that I then had color-photocopied to cover the roofs of the house and porch. Just enough of the mullions survived on the remaining gable to indicate what had to be replicated for the missing one.

The matte white overpaint was easily scraped off with a palette knife, but quite a bit of the gilt trim paint had to be redone. Fortunately, enough remained as a guide, and Bonnie Bruner kindly supplied me with a photo of her similar cottage to help. Thank you, Bonnie! The decorative roof spindles are original as is the top-heavy chimney. I thought the roof paper turned out very well and was perhaps the most satisfying part of this restoration. Replacing the missing gable was pretty straightforward, too.

The interior was challenging as no original materials remained aside from the door. I used a commercial parquet floorpaper in these rooms, applying stain and varnish over the paper and then antiquing it lightly with oil paint. The wallpapers were improvised by taking reproduction quilting fabrics to the copy center and printing enough sheets to paper the rooms for a nice vintage look. The borders were purchased in the scrapbooking section of my local crafts store. I would do it differently today now that I have better resources, but I thought the results were still pretty satisfactory. Antique lace was used for the windows after I made wooden cornices with gilt trim paint for them. I would do those differently now, too.

I never expected to keep this house because the awkward access to the attic room annoyed me and I didn't care for the limitations of only two rooms to decorate, so not long after I finished working on this house I sold it on ebay and looked for a bigger Hacker house to restore. I found one.  (2.9.11)

 

A Larger Christian Hacker House and a Long Restoration

 

I first saw this traditional Christian Hacker townhouse tucked away in a dealer/collector's basement in Massachusetts. I recall that she had purchased it with the intention of restoring it herself but after it languished while other priorities commanded her attention, she agreed to sell it to me. I paid too much for it given its condition, but I rationalized the purchase considering that I had sold my previous Hacker cottage at a very nice profit and was now "investing" those proceeds in a house that had great potential.

The exterior was overpainted and missing some architectural details like its original balcony, some window trim and two of the quoins. The roof had probably been stripped of its traditional blue diagonal tile paper and was painted a dark red color. Inside, the original wallpapers in half of the rooms were covered with other vintage papers, and downstairs, the floor papers had been painted over. The doors were all there, as were the pretty decorative ceiling decals and the upstairs floor papers. The kitchen still had its original cooking fireplace and large dresser, the latter overpainted. I knew there was a lot of paint to be carefully removed and the missing balcony offered a challenge, but I felt that must be something nice underneath all the misguided redecoration that had been inflicted upon this structure.

 

A sad prospect, indeed! The form of this classic mansard roofed house was unmistakeably Hacker, but the damage and over-painting looked pretty daunting once I took a good look at this house in  better light. I knew I had a lot of paint removal to execute both outside and inside the house. Little did I know that it would take me a good two years of patient scraping to reveal the original finishes. The dark green trim paint came off the quoins easily, but was stubborn in the areas of trim around the doors and windows. The field was painted with thick white enamel paint and that was pretty slow to remove. My hands and wrists would get fatigued after about half an hour of scraping, so I would scrape a little and then do something else for a while. I remember I listened to a lot of old reruns on TNT or the cable news networks while I scraped bit by bit. When it came to the roof, I used a gel stripper to take off the red paint and came upon an older layer of gray that was very tough and I left it there because it had an attractive mellow appearance.

What kept me going during the long process of scraping away the overpaint was the pleasure of seeing the original features revealed. I couldn't imagine why anyone wanted to cover the dainty painted details on the front door, or the plum red stencilled designs that crowned the windows. The white paint covered a delicate shade of pistachio. The quoins were painted with a mottled marble effect that tied the green and plum colors together with soft rose - restoring them was very satisfactory.

The original wallpapers were intact although they were a little stained on the ground floor, but had been covered with other papers upstairs. I think all these "improvements" were done in the 1920's. Oddly, the original borders had been left exposed and some were very loose, which allowed me to temporarily remove them and have them color photocopied to use in other areas. The upper floor papers were in very good shape, but downstairs they were painted over with brittle brown paint. I was very pleased to discover that crackly paint could be carefully scraped off in most areas and the original floor papers were a bit worn but still there. Again, I don't know why they had been painted over as I did not find any significant damage once they were exposed. The inside of the hinged front had also been painted over with the same white paint used on the exterior and in that case, I was unable to save the papers underneath.

The roof lifted off to reveal two rooms in the attic. I don't think these were finished originally and I found the rough painted surfaces on the walls very unappealing. Since this entire floor also lifted off, it made it fairly easy to paper the floor and walls with something more attractive.

I used some of my favorite full-size papers in the attic, finished with the photocopied borders. The smaller room is covered with a charming vintage small floral paper I purchased at an OxFam charity shop in Oxford while the pink floral stripe is the same paper I had in my bedroom in my old house - I also used this paper in my small gambrel house and the large green house discussed above. The floor paper is the same commerical paper I used in the Hacker cottage and the antique lace in the windows is particularly fragile.

Removing the later paint and restoring the missing balcony effected quite a remarkable transformation. It's not at all uncommon for "rediscovered" Hackers of this style to be missing their balconies since they were constructed to be removed. Libby Goodman generously lent me the one from her own house so I could faithfully replicate it for mine. Thank you, Libby! The turnings were made by a student in my local high school's shop class. The original glass remained in the windows but I had to construct new trim for the center sections. After all the scraping, the woodworking part seemed to go very quickly indeed!

I just realized I never got around to replacing the missing balustrade upstairs! The upper hallway had been repapered and when I removed that, I found the original paper was damaged and missing in very visible areas so I ambitiously hand-painted replica paper for it, carefully measuring the paper that remained downstairs. Obscured by camera glare here, the result was very satisfactory (I also used it on the inside of the hinged front) and it was nice to be able to retain the original border paper at least. Although the original paper in the hall below was stained, I kept it and placed furniture in front of it.

Sorry, I had to tilt a bit to get the most detail in this shot. I was grateful the fireplace and the "masonry" papered stove insert were intact and nothing needed to be done there. The dresser had to be scraped down and a little damage was revealed on the side of the base, but it was still preferable to the sloppy overpainting. Inside the dresser, the original marblized paper needed a little touch-up. The floor's tile paper was slowly revealed through patient scraping and it shows some wear but agreeably so.

I loved the pretty floral wallpaper in the dining room, although it did make the space rather dark. The floor here was also painted over and it shows more wear than the tile papers in the kitchen and hallway. Although this was the largest Hacker I owned, I found the rooms rather cramped and challenging to decorate with the usual 1/12 scale furniture. I think smaller scale Boulle furniture would have made a better fit but I used that in my little Mystery house (to be shared soon). These were the smallest Schneegass chairs I had at the time. The underscaled bone cabinet on the right fit perfectly.

This room was papered over with a somewhat interesting blue and white Dutch landscape paper, but the original border was still visible and there was a hint of earlier, more colorful paper beneath, so I removed the later paper and was delighted to find this pretty original paper. Some small areas of color were faded when the other paper came off so a little touch-up paint was needed. Again, the room seemed cramped to me and there wasn't much room for a formal furniture layout. I was pleased that the original decorative decals remained on the ceiling in this room, the hall, and the parlor. I tried to keep the colors of this room light and bright by covering the floor with a piece of needlepoint with a cream-colored background. The window cornice is covered with a strip of paper that was color photocopied from an authentic fragment sent to me by British dollhouse researcher and author Pam Ruddock.

When I removed the later wallpaper in the parlor, I found that the original paper was very thin and fragile and so much was missing or damaged that I decided to cover the walls with a small floral patterned drawer liner paper - as a result, this house always smelled nice when the front was opened. Much of the original border was preserved and missing sections pieced with color photocopies. I furnished it with some smaller Boulle furniture with ebony background. The chandelier came out of Maynard Manor and was crafted by Ellen Krucker Blauer - all my antique chandeliers were just too large and overwhelming for this room.

The inside of the hinged front was ruined by the same white paint that covered the outside of the house. I decided to use some Italian marbled paper for the part corresponding to the kitchen - not an exact match, but similar in spirit. I had enough drawer liner paper to do the section for the parlor, and my handmade paper was used for the hallways and dining room. The same paper I used in the attic was used to face the bedroom. The border papers are all copies of Hacker originals. The windows are decorated in a more authentic Hacker style than my first attempt on the cottage, and I even found some gilt paper to make the tie-backs as they would have been done originally.

I decided to let this house go when I acquired Flora Gill Jacob's huge Mystery house about four years ago. The woman who had purchased Flora's house from FAO Schwarz had been unable to sell it for her reserve at auction, so she accepted this house and some of its furnishings along with a modest cash sum in exchange. I thought this house was very pretty but the small rooms were frustrating and when I tallied up my costs, the price of the Mystery House seemed far more reasonable than if I had purchased it outright. My effort basically tripled the value of the house, so I felt adequately compensated. (2.9.11)

 

A Small Hacker in Disguise

 

This was the second Christian hacker dollhouse I purchased from the same auction house in Pennsylvania where the dollhouses and miniatures are catalogued by someone who knows antique dolls, but knows almost nothing about dollhouses and miniatures, so her descriptions are frequently incorrect and that was certainly the case with this house. She described it as a Mediterranean villa and never mentioned that it was German or made by Christian Hacker. The house was sold fully furnished and there were several small bisque dolls inside - I sold some of the furniture and all the dolls and recovered my costs and ended up $200 ahead with the dollhouse still in my possession.

The house was missing its shallow hipped roof but still had its original balcony. A previous owner had coated the exterior with a truly ugly textured dark grey paint and had moved one of the interior walls to change the floor layout. At that time, the downstairs wallpapers had been covered with modern papers.

This Hacker is the stacking type where the second floor can be lifted off the ground floor. When I first acquired the house, there were hints of what lay beneath the ugly textured paint. As it turned out, the textured paint chipped off quite easily but it did leave a little staining on the surface underneath. I discovered that the paper lintels over the windows had been subject to some loss before the "redecoration", but it wasn't difficult to touch that up with some restorative  paint. When the original painted surface was exposed, it was a warm cream color with shell pink trim and fine red lining that I found very pretty.

The upstairs room had been divided into two rooms when someone removed one the partitions from the floor below and lightly attached it upstairs. You can see the unattractive papers that covered the lower floor's walls on the right, while the photo on the left shows the papers upstairs still in reasonably good condition. I was pleased to find the original border papers still intact. There were some small stains that had to be sealed and painted over. As you can see, the floor papers were fine.

The insides of the hinged facades were pretty hideous, but I was able to remove the offensive later papers. There were areas of loss but I was able to touch up those areas with paint. To keep the windows intact, I took the misplaced wall section to be photocopied before I re-attached it in its proper position and then used the copies to make small strips of paper to hold the glass in. I re-used some of the trim paper from the previous house to cover the small window cornices, and used more appropriate old lace for the curtains.

My husband was nice enough to make the replacement roof for me. I made my own roofpaper and chose to use a faded orange color similar to the brick paper window lintels instead of the expected blue - I just thought the coordinated color looked more cohesive and only later did I learn that it was close to a color that was originally used on some similar houses. The trim paint was intact under the textured paint. The decorative panel from the original roof was still with the house (I wonder where the roof went) but a small section on the end was missing and I replaced it. The balcony's stamped metal fretwork is original.

When I first restored the house, it had no kitchen dresser or fireplace and I don't believe it ever had them, but I decided to make removable reproductions of those pieces so the room could be a kitchen. I still owned the green Hacker so I was able to make photocopies of its brick paper for the fireplace cooker. The small litho-papered bureau in the hallway was with the house when I acquired it. When I packed up the dollhouse at the auctionioneer's, I found an old hand-written list of the house's original contents tucked under a rug! This piece was one of them.

In this photo the kitchen has that more familiar Hacker look and I chose to trim the reproduced pieces in the same pink paint with red lining originally used for the exterior's decorative panel. When I visited Austria several years ago, I was pleased to see similar panels adorning real houses in the countryside. They looked so charming side by side.

Although the overall size of this house was smaller than my green Hacker, I found the rooms to be more spacious and easier to furnish. The pink upholstered parlor suite was a lucky ebay find for only $80 and was in amazingly good condition - the fabric was in mint condition. I made the doll in the blue dress using a reproduction papier mache head with shoulders that I purchased as a Christmas ornament from the gift shop at the Allentown PA art museum. I removed a small loop from the top of her head, filled it and painted over the dried filler, made a cloth body and dressed her using antique fabric. I discovered the border paper in this room was in amazingly good condition under the later paper.

I ended up selling this little house on ebay and shipped it via UPS to California. They damaged it so I stopped shipping dollhouses after that. Then last winter, I bought another small Hacker at a Noel Barrett auction for my German friend, the researcher and author Swantje Koehler, for only $400. I knew she had been looking for one for a long time and the price was great for a house that was in better condition than any of the others I had ever purchased - the interior papers were pristine! I replaced the missing balcony and shipped it to her in a wooden crate my husband built just for the house. I was so pleased it arrived safely in Germany before Christmas! (2.10.11)