A number of American dollhouse or dollhouse furnishings manufacturers, which began in the 1920s, continued strongly in the '30s such as Tootsietoy (discussed in part 1: 1920s), Arcade, Hubley, Kilgore (the latter 3 are discussed in this section), Converse (Realy Truly furniture), Tynietoy and Schoenhut (see 1930s). Others such as Strombecker (see 1930s) took off in the '30s and grew steadily in the 1940s. One of the interesting aspects of all their products is that they are not made from plastic, which belongs to a later period.
An American metal set of furniture from the 1920s popular with today's collector -- and a decidedly visual contrast with Tootsietoy -- is Marx's Newlyweds furnished, lithographed, sheet steel rooms. The product is tiny in scale -- each metal room is 5 inches long by 3 inches high by 2½ inches deep. The bathtub is 2 inches long and the bed just under 2 inches (representing 6 feet). A child could buy six different individual furnished rooms in cardboards boxes or buy a furnished, colourful cardboard house, made especially for the purpose, but only holding four rooms (parlour, dining room, kitchen, bedroom) -- costing 44 cents, furnished and postpaid! In addition, a bathroom and library were made as individual boxed rooms. The furniture was relatively crudely constructed with tabs holding the metal together. The appeal is the ensemble of brilliantly coloured and decorated walls, floors, and furniture. Collectors should be aware that a German firm, Reil, Blechschmidt & Müller of Brandenburg, also made a similar sized set of 6 lithographed metal rooms with metal furniture at this time.
The illustration below of a Marx dollhouse is from the Sears Roebuck catalogue of 1930.
Manufactured in Freeport, Ill., USA, Arcade Toys emphasized realism, although the use of painted cast iron for tables, benches and chairs (especially over stuffed chairs and sofas!) tested the limits of their slogan, "They look real." On the other hand, metal was appropriate for kitchen appliances. Made from 1925 to 1936, Arcade furnishings are well designed in a larger than usual scale and marked on the bottom or back with the manufacturer's name cast in the iron and/or printed on paper. Adding to the realism, brand names often appeared on various appliance such as Crane or Hotpoint. Given the rarity of the original Arcade room settings and their dollhouses, most collectors have to make do with reconstructed room settings. One of the kitchen settings was published in Good Housekeeping on 2 Dec. 1926 (right). It includes a large, free standing cupboard (the predecessor to today's built-in Kitchen cupboards) with working drawers, blind doors, and pull-out work surface; gas stove ("The Roper") with 1 pot and a frying pan; sink on 4 legs; icebox,; table and a pair of side-chairs. Off to one side is an alcove containing the breakfast nook with a table and pair of benches. (The kitchen below includes a Hubley "Alaska" icebox, discussed further below).
The Arcade Roper gas stove has a pair of loose grills over the gas outlets and a warming space under them. Standing on cabriole legs, the overall height is is 6 inches. Although gas cooking stoves were available earlier than 1920, they only became mainstream in the 1920s, around the same time that electrical stoves were gaining ground. For those living in the country or villages, woodstoves were still important for daily use or as a back-up, as there might be no access to gas while electricity might be erratic and expensive. By 1930, gas stoves out numbered wood or coal ones by almost 2 to 1. In the 1928 Home Builders Catalogue, published in Chicago, gas for appliances was described as recent. It went on to say that a gas range allowed the housewife "more time for recreation and for the 'larger things' in life." Certainly, elevating the new ranges on tall legs saved the cook's back (left: a real life kitchen range in 1928) in comparison to the lower ovens of traditional wood stoves.
Arcade kitchen chair from an 1926 advertisement. The kitchen sink is 4.75 inches high with a place for hand soap on top of the taps.
This 'real life' kitchen from 1927 (Universal Design Book No. 25 on Builder's Woodwork, Iowa) shows a sink with a splashboard and central basin flanked by draining area, as in the Arcade miniature. An ice box (called a refrigerator) is to the left. Significantly, hanging over it is is a cupboard -- this is a transition to the incoming idea of kitchens with "built-ins." In the future, sinks are let into counters with doors below in the manner we use today.
The breakfast nook is another "dated" idea but very popular in the 1920s. It may have been cozy and reinforced the idea of family but likely was irritating in its inflexible arrangement of a pair of not easily moved benches drawn up to a table -- making hard for people to leave the table (no doubt Mom sat in one of outside positions so that she could hop up and down to serve!) and hard to clean. Building in an alcove added expense and might seem claustrophobic to some. The illustrations below from 1927 for real breakfast nooks (Universal Design Book No. 25 on Builder's Woodwork, Iowa), bear a striking resemblance to two of the Arcade sets -- one featuring curved bench ends (pictured below) and one with rectilinear lines (illustrated further below in kitchen setting). On the right, the nook area is simply distinguished from the rest of the kitchen by positioning a free-standing cupboard -- an arrangement a collector of Arcade miniatures might consider. Notice the floor tiles, as well as a wall dado with tiles.
Advertisement 1929 Butlers Brothers.
Arcade kitchen setting with breakfast nook alcove (compare the benches and table with the illustration of real ones from 1927 illustrated above) with original walls. The appliances are electric, a source of energy that became widespread in the 1930s.
Kitchen cupboards, here in a 1923 ad by Eaton's Canada, featured pull-out work-shelves, bins, drawers, counter space and storage areas; often in a natural wood such as oak. The metal Arcade cupboard (8" high), has a bin below the drawers and a pull-out shelf; the vertical device with slots under the upper cupboards likely is meant for plates; the painted decoration has a lingering Art Nouveau quality. The austere design of the kitchen chair sold by Eaton's echoes the plain appearance of the Arcade kitchen chairs.
Thor is a company, founded in 1907, which still makes appliances. It was part of the Hurly Machine Company of Chicago, which invented the electric washing machine in 1908 and patented it two years later. Arcade often used actual company brand names on its toys. Eaton's of Canada (immediately above right) wanted $85 for its real-life "Imperial Gyrator" in 1928 -- "simple, thorough, speedy, safe". The overall height was 4 feet -- making the toy version a large scale at 5½" high. Eaton's still offered a hand-operated washer made of cypress wood but, as we know from our vantage point, electric machines with metal bodies were the winners. Arcade's Thor (seen in an ad of 1928 above) came with a pivoting wringer, lid and detachable gyrator -- all appropriately made of metal (the winger has, as well, a pair of rubber rollers) covered in an attractive yellow ochre enamel paint. The Eaton's machine, covered on the exterior in gray enamel, had a copper tub, nickle-plated inside; the frame was angle iron; the base stamped steel; there was a heavy iron column enclosing the gears and working parts; the gyrator was aluminum; and the winger made of metal with soft rubber rollers.
Arcade toilet, sink, tub and chair c1930. The type of bathroom they suited is shown in real life in this drawing from Nov. 1917 American Builder. Tubs raised on feet were now considered old fashioned with "built-in" tubs now in vogue but pedestal sinks continued in the 1920s.
Ice boxes were on their way out once electricity was available. This meant the obsolesce of an industry built around cutting, storing and delivering ice blocks. The Arcade and Hubley ice boxes of the late 1920s made an appearance just at the stage when they were about to disappear from real life. Located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the Hubley cast-iron miniature kitchen appliances are often confused with Arcade The Hubley gas ranges of various sizes were marked "Eagle" (below right) and the ice boxes, suitably named "Alaska," (below left) came with a glass ice block (this example is 6 inches high). At a height of just over 9 inches because of an extra upper oven, the Eagle in this ad of 1926 (Sears Roebuck) is too large for dollhouses, whereas the one below (advertised in the Butler Brothers catalogue of 1930) at 4 inches in height could fit into a 1:12 scale house. Hubley discontinued making such toys in 1942. (For images on kitchens c1880s to c1920s, please see Section 4 of the Gallery of Images -- link at the bottom of this page)
above: Three small cast-iron, traditional, wood-burning cookstoves, made in the USA and definitely small enough for dollhouses. left to right: Tot by Dent (be wary of Tot reproductions), Dot by Shimer pre 1913, and Baby by Hubley. The latter is 2 inches high. The main door swings open in all three. Stove pipes and rings into a dollhouse chimney can be made with painted doweling and washers.
left: Made in Geneva, Ohio, by the Champion Company (pre the mid 1930s when they ceased to make toys), this small gas stove (left) is handsomely painted in red with gold accents. Standing 3.5 inches high, it is suitable for dollhouses. The doors do not open but there are openings for the four burners.
Located in Westerville, Ohio, the Kilgore Manufacturing Company made thousands of painted cast-iron miniatures before stopping the production of toys during World War Two. Dollhouse furnishings, known as "Sally Ann," were made in a variety of scales and a great number of purposes from step ladders to carpet sweepers to nursery sets to the usual household furniture.
above & left: The Kilgore nursery set, advertised in Butler Brothers in 1930. The "nursery chair" with a tray is a potty chair.
Below is a household set from the same year. The laundry tub with its wringer is particularly sought after and difficult to find intact with the 2 rubber rollers and lid. The kitchen set includes a gas stove, ice box, table, chairs, and sink. The doors do not open. Outdoor items such as a lawn swing (see below) are interesting, as well as children's equipment such as strollers and trikes.
Kilgore playground set, painted iron, Butler Brothers catalogue of 1930
N.B. - to continue this history of dollhouse, please click on part 1: 1930s