Antique Milton Bradley Dollhouse Ad

This antique Milton Bradley ad was posted in the LiveJournal Vintage Ads Community with simply the date of December 1891; no publication was cited.  I’m fascinated by the concept of another cardboard dollhouse — this one to be played with pictures of furnishings and people cut from catalog pages, not with miniatures and dolls.

Vintage Paper Dollhouses

My parents will correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t have a doll house when I was little.

At my grandma’s house, there was my aunt’s old metal dollhouse… And I had Barbie houses and the like. But I never had a real dollhouse, a real miniature world of my own… Until now.

At an recent auction, there were a number of vintage and antique toys, including two vintage paper dollhouses. I was fascinated because, frankly, I’d never seen a paper doll house.

But I figured both old dollhouses would go for more than I had to spend in total that day, and so the auction viewing was as close as I would get.

However, when the first vintage dollhouse (the one made of pressed paper board, shown on the left in the photo) went cheap, I was hopeful — and managed to win the other!

While I don’t have any dolls or furnishings for my new-to-me old toy, I now had the opportunity to learn more about the history of paper dollhouses.

As you can see, my vintage dollhouse is made of paper — a thick paper, thicker than the usual business card, but thinner than the standard cardboard; as opposed to the thicker pressed paper or fiberboard of the larger house at the auction.

Neither dollhouse had any obvious marking for maker, etc., and as I’m reluctant to handle such fragile things (especially when I can’t imagine I’ll be able to bid on them), I didn’t dare hoist them in the air for a closer inspection.  (And so I know nothing about the larger house.)  But when I got mine home…

Well, closer inspection brought no further help in terms of maker; so it was research time.

Grasping at straws, I searched for paper dollhouses, Tudor paper dollhouses, etc., and eventually got lucky, finding this 1947 advertisement from the December issue of Children’s Activities for a fiberboard house by Built-Rite of Indiana.

Now that I knew the name of the manufacturer of the vintage chromolithographed cardboard dollhouse, I could really find out more.

The Built-Rite name belongs to Warren Paper Products Company, a company founded in 1921 by Donald M. Warren as a manufacturer of paper boxes for makers of candy, apparel, jewelry, and other items.

By the 1930s, The Great Depression meant the need for cheap toys in the United States and Canada. Not only did paper mean a less expensive toy, but toys made by North American companies would be cheaper than toys shipped from Germany. This created a demand for toys that Warren Paper Products and other companies were happy to fill.

The advances made in color printing in the late 19th century, meant that elaborate architectural details could be depicted on flat surfaces. According to Gunn Historical Musem, “This offered an ideal medium for toy villages. Individual buildings were printed on heavy paper or cardboard that could then be compactly folded for shipping, then assembled by a child.”

As you can see from my vintage paper dollhouse, and the following photos of another vintage Built-Rite dollhouse (sold as a “toy house play set”), assembly was a simply a matter of unfolding the structure, popping out pieces along their perforated edges (mine even has several types of bushes, a cat and a dog!), placing the tabs into the slots, and setting the house up on the bottom of the box it came in.

Warren Paper Products was the leader in this market, presumably, at least in part, due to its patented in 1932. But there were competitors, such as Andrews, Durrel Co., Gables House & Carton Co., Grimm & Leeds Co., Jayline Toys Inc., Marx Toys, McLoughlin Brothers, Sutherland Paper Company, Transogram, and Wayne Paper Products.

By the time World War II began, disrupting the flow of toys from Germany, plastics was becoming the word — but toys made of paper, and toys made of wood, cloth, etc., jazzed-up with colorful printed papers, were still very popular too.

Not only did the demand for paper dollhouses increase, but during the 1940s and 1950s Warren Paper Products began manufacturing paper towns, forts, farms, airports, bridges, trees for toy trains as well as forts, railroads stations, farms and airports

Many of these paper dollhouses by Warren Paper were built as replicas of actual homes and they were marketed though Life Magazine and Time/Life, Inc. as a selling tool for the magazine’s house plans after the war (to house the baby boom). Which rather inspires a whole other bit of investigation.

And here I thought I’d just have to invest in some vintage dolls and dollhouse furniture, etc.; turns out, I’m right back to my vintage magazines again!

Image credits:

All images are my own (and may be used if properly credited), except for the vintage ad, which was via Jennifer McKendry’s antique dollhouse site, and the Vintage Built-Rite Toy House Play Set No 34 photos are via Nine Caroline Antiques.

Let Sleeping Cats Lie

Fake cat, sleeping.It’s a fluffy cat that sits asleep in a basket and for some reason it freaks out my 14 year old nephew just as one like it used to freak me out at my Grandmother’s house. Why, I don’t know. It is not a real cat. It is even asleep, or seems to be. It is too small to be a real cat. It never moves, not one eye ever slits open as cats will usually do (when real).

My Grandmother had a cat like this. It was also curled up in a basket, had real fur but her cat was awake. I was always spooked out by that. Yet now I wish I knew where it was. I could have the two cats together. One awake the other asleep. Guardians of the house. No mice or teenagers would dare to mess with us then!

Does anyone know if this is a type of toy or knickknack? Do they go by some kind of name which I could search for and find others of their kind? Or maybe, as my nephew says, they are in fact aliens from another planet just disguised as toy cats to keep us all from getting suspicious.

The Charming Face & Feet Of An Antique Horsman Doll

This charming antique composition baby doll has a sawdust stuffed cloth body beneath the original stripped cloth outfit.

This 12 inch tall antique doll is identified by the EIH © 1911 mark on the  back of the neck.

One of the Horsman Can’t Break ‘Em character dolls, the head and face of this sweet antique baby doll was sculpted by Helen Fox Trowbridge in 1911 using her own one-year-old son, Mason Jr., as the model.

The first doll in the Horsman Gold Medal Baby series, this doll marks the first time that this mold was used.

Considering that this is a 100 year old doll, there are few condition issues.  The jointed legs are still flexible and move nicely, there’s some wear to the head.  On the right hand, a few of the fingertips are damaged. All signs that this baby was played with, but gently.  And that’s part of the charm.

What charms me the most this doll is that the sawdust-stuffed fabric covered feet show discoloration and some fraying — probably where a young child sucked the toes to comfort him or herself to sleep.  Literal sweet feet!

Rocking Horse

The rocking horse I remember from when we were kids was not the typical vintage, wooden horse. Ours was plastic, set on a frame with four big springs holding it to the frame and giving it all the bounce it needed. I can remember the sound the springs made as it bounced and rocked back and forth and side to side, once you really got going.

I didn’t find anyone collecting that plastic rocking horse. Maybe there is a line between what is vintage and what is antique and some things (like rocking horses) don’t become valued until they are old enough to be antiques. Kind of a shame. Now that I’ve got thinking about the rocking horse I miss the sound of those squeaking springs as they stretched back and forth. Then the hollow sound the plastic horse made when the littler kids were on it, their legs flopping around while we kept them from flying off.

Flickr: Rock a Bye Baby – Rocking Horses

Rockimals: History of the Rocking Horse

Rocking Horse and Art Design Holland – Includes pages with vintage and antique rocking and carousel horses. (Note: Spams with pop up windows).

Rocking Horse Maker (UK): Makes and restores rocking horses.

Jane Hooker Rocking Horses: Restores vintage rocking horses, based in the UK.

Lexi’s Rocking Horses: Personal blog from a restorer and collector. No recent updates.

The Guild of Rocking Horse Makers

A very modern rocking horse from the Boing Boing site.


Remembering Barbie’s Evening Splendor

While trolling eBay, I found this vintage Barbie ensemble and let out a, “Hey! I had that!”

Hubby probably would have ignored me (I exclaim a lot of things while sitting at the computer, and if he paid attention to every one, he’d never get to enjoy his parts of the interwebs), but then I followed it up with a, “Whoa, $474.99…” to which he responded, “Still have it?”

Every collector has a price, and if I did have this particular vintage doll outfit for Babs, I might be tempted…

But my outfit was played with — well loved — first by my aunt, then by me.

I love-loveloved this outfit. The metallic gold threads gleamed, making Barbie appear to wiggle in that wiggle dress, even when she wasn’t even moving. The coat had those elegant cuffs of fur set against that gold and then -BAM!- you opened up that coat, and there was that unexpected (or at least thrilling) gleaming aqua lining. And, believe it or not, that aqua corduroy handbag was paired with nearly as many other outfits as the pearl necklace and basic black shoes.

I played with them all, but tenderly. Even still, I’m sure they wouldn’t approach the conditions of this one. And I don’t recall the fur and pearl headband.

However, I don’t think a few hundred dollars would be worth parting with the set if I still had it — no matter the condition. A few grand? Mmmaybe. It’s hard to put a price on memories. Harder still to put a price on the hypothetical ownership retained — because right now, all I want to do it have it back and dress-up Barbie.

For collectors who are interested, the seller of this vintage Barbie ensemble (modwoman of Retro-stop) offers information on Evening Splendor, one of the few original outfits manufactured in 1959:

Although the outfit itself remained in production through 1964, only the outfits marked TM were manufactured the first year. These outfits came with the #1 shoes with the hole in the bottom to accommodate the stand!

The TM version appears to be “more gold” than the more common R version. The gold glistens and sparkles and provides a stunning contrast to the aqua satin lining!

PS I obviously can’t recall if my outfit had the original, old, TM tag; but since Babs #1 was among the items given to my by my aunt, I’m pretty certain it was.

Matryoshka, the Russian Dolls

She never claimed to be Mother's favourite again.
She never claimed to be Mother's favourite again.

The Russian dolls (also called Russian Nesting Dolls) are called Matroschka, Matryoshka and матрёшка. As a kid I would see these Russian dolls when we went to the Canadian National Exhibition in downtown Toronto at the end of each Summer. I always wanted one. They were exotic, something from a country I heard so many different stories about. They were also so pretty, some were cute and some were so intricately painted they were things of real beauty.

I asked my Mother to buy me one. She told me to wait and see if I still wanted one next year and then I could buy one myself. This is still excellent advice for anything you want, it sure does cut down on my impulse spending when I am out shopping around. (Not that I always follow that rule, of course).

It took me a few years before I had the money to spend on a Russian doll. I couldn’t get one of those really big ones with endless dolls nested inside. But, I did get one that made me happy. She has five dolls, including the tiny baby in the middle. She is a traditional looking Russian doll cause when I took the time to look and remember the very first Russian dolls I had wanted this one seemed to be the most like the very one I had wished for all that time ago. I think she’s pretty. Of course, I have seen cuter dolls since then. But, I am happy to have the doll that I have.

Flickr groups:


Buy a pattern for (very cute) crocheted Matryoshka dolls from Handmade Kitty’s Etsy shop.

Soleil Girl has pretty Russian nesting dolls made out of felt, with embroidered features.

The Russian Crafts site has a page up with lots of information about the history and creation of the traditional Russian Nesting Doll.

Teaching Old Stuffed Dogs Tricks

sweet-vintage-stuffed-dog-faceI suppose technically, this vintage sawdust stuffed dog belongs to my stuffed animal collection, but like Tigger, I resist calling him a collectible.

In truth, I often resist calling things “collectibles,” because that tends to make people think of them as part of some set of things, as opposed to the more individual sentimental reasons for owning them… But in this case, I snatched up this old stuffed dog because it reminds me of my dog.

Well, at least a simplistic or childlike rendering of him.

Ween (named after the band; not short for Weiner), is a mutt with ancestorial Aborigonal roots. He does not like to have his photo taken, and we presume to imagine he fears photographs take his soul or pieces of it. As a result, I have very few photos of this dog. Here’s one, taken with a cell phone — before he figured out that it was a camera too.


So now I must content myself with posing the vintage stuffed dog, rather than my always-eager-to-be-prone dog.



But don’t worry, my sweet old stuffed doygie likes to lay prone too. Quite lifelike. Or as lifelike as an old dog can be.


If you think I’m somewhat crazy for taking photos of my toy dog, check out The Secret Lives Of Toys at Flickr and you’ll see that I’m not alone. *wink*

A Happy Camper At Christmas & Beyond

Christmas time always brings up toys. Now that I’m a parent, I try to remind myself that finding the perfect toy ought not to be the pressure point I make it out to be…

1971-sears-wish-bookSome of my favorite and most memorable toys were not ones I asked for. Even if my grandma would sit us down with the Sears Christmas Wish Book and have us play “pick,” by going through it page by page and picking one item we wanted from each page, she didn’t really shop off our list of picks. Instead my cousin Lisa, my sister, and myself each got the same thing — and for many years, this was the latest big ticket item in Barbie’s world. (It wasn’t until I was 16 or so that grandma deviated from this plan, or gave me any one of my picks — a manicure kit signaled the end of childhood.)

So each Christmas Eve, gathered with extended family, we three girls would open our gifts at the same time, simultaneously revealing the Barbie airplane, house, camper, etc. It made for fun with all three of us playing together — after our dads did the some-assembly-required parts. (My poor dad had to put together two of the darn things, while my Uncle Mike only had to do one before he returned to his holiday beer; the year we got Townhouses, the assembly was so intense, that I do believe all boxes remained sealed, were carried home to sit beneath the Christmas tree, and then went directly to reside in attics & basements.)

My favorite bit of Barbie property had to be the Barbie Country Camper.


Not only were the campers most mobile and self-contained, but they had cool features. Features we put to use whenever the neighbor’s cat had a litter of kittens. And as a non-spayed, part-time outdoor cat, she had a litter every spring, giving us plenty of early summers to put tiny kittens into the campers and play with them rather than Babs and friends.

Once those kittens could eat crunchy kitten food, we’d filled the tiny camper sink with kitten chow, stick a lucky kitten or two in the camper, close the door, and extend the table off the back end, achieving a perfect view of kittens chowing down on the chow in the sink.


We watched them eat until they did as kittens do, and fell asleep, nose first in the chow-filled sink. Such sudden and sound sleep made us giggle — and it assured us that we could then drive the kitten-filled camper up and down the block.

When the kitties woke up and had the kitten zoomies, as kittens are want to do, we’d stop the camper and open the kit-tent (yes, we know it’s technically called a pup tent, but we couldn’t find any puppies small enough…) and watch the kittens crawl out of the orange plastic and down the vinyl ramp.

Sometimes momma cat followed the camper full of kittens; sometimes she just watched us return for another one or two of her babies, whereupon we’d start the process all over again.

Whenever I see a small kitten, I still have the urge… But I am without a retro 70’s Country Camper.

Santa, if you’re reading this, if it’s too much to ask… I’d love an old Barbie Country Camper — and a pair of kittens!

Image Credits: 1971 Sears Wish Book via Wishbook at Flickr; Barbie Country Camper photos via eBay seller goldenzelda.

Lessons In Plush Toys (Or Whose Head Is Stuffed With Sawdust?)

my-tigger-the-sawdust-stuffed-toy-tigerI don’t recall how old I was when I received this tiger, whose head at least is stuffed with sawdust. Tigger, as I named him, seems to simply just have always been… When not waiting for me in my bed, he often could be found riding on my shoulder, wrapped about my neck. We’ve had a long life together, the two of us. Every one of his scars tells a story, a story of a lesson I learned.

Tigger is the reason I cared to learn how to sew. I loved him so much, I had to repair him myself and there are the clumsy stitches of childhood sewing down his back — in multiple colors of thread, each indicative of the multiple repairs — to prove it.


If it weren’t for Tigger, who knows if I’d be able to replace a button?

But the most embarrassing story involves the mark on his left or backside.

This dark spot marks a dirty secret… When I was about eight years old, I thought I was super smart, sneaking a big grape gumball into bed with me. Once tucked in, I popped it into my mouth, assured that I’d chew for awhile and properly rid myself of it before falling asleep. I mean what sort of idiot would fall asleep chewing gum and risk choking on it, as my parents feared?

…Morning came, the gum was forgotten about until I grabbed Tigger to bring him down with me for breakfast. When I picked him up to place him on my shoulder, there it was – a giant gob of chewed purple goo.

Poor Tigger!

And poor me if I were to be busted!

Amazingly, the gum had only attached itself to the plush tiger, not my nightgown or my bedding, so I rushed to save Tigger (and my own hide). Not having access to any how-to guides, or knowledge or possibly using ice to help me, I began to scrape the gum off. It mushed, but it didn’t really move. My mind flashed to a gum at school memory, when Liz had to have the teacher cut the signs of Scott’s affection out of her hair — I grabbed the round-tipped scissors from the desk I shared with my big-mouthed baby sister and managed to hack the purple blob off before she discovered — and outed — me.

Tigger still has a purplish bruise. But no one else would notice. Like my bruised ego, he carried it around as a reminder that not all parent’s rules are stupid.