Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Loot 2009

Well, the Christmas bacchanalia is over. Here's a glimpse of some of this year's loot: vintage Barbies, antique doll furniture and dishes, a tin toy grocery store, teddy bears, books, and a new camera (thanks to my brother Jody, the quality of pictures here will be much improved). Details in the following posts!

Hope everyone had a very happy holiday!

Vintage Barbies

I never liked Barbie as a child, but I decided to take another look at her this year, during her 50th birthday hoopla marketing blitz. After all, I reasoned, what toy collection can hope to call itself reasonably comprehensive without a Barbie or two?

First I came across a big pile of vintage 1959-1963 Barbie clothes at a local antique mall, being sold for only a few dollars each, and I was surprised to see how beautifully they were made. The coats have full linings, there are tiny little zippers and toggle buttons, and every piece features more careful and precise stitching than is seen in most grown-up clothes today.

After I got the clothes, it didn't take long to find a few dolls to go with them. I started as close to the beginning as I could, with a blonde Barbie #3 from 1960 (pictured above and below). She has a solid body, vinyl that has faded to an ivory tone, and a very brightly made-up 1950s couture face.

I also got a blonde ponytail Barbie #5 from 1961, to see how Mattel continued to change the design (this is actually a rather interesting thing to observe) and a red-headed version of the first Bubblecut Barbie, from the same year. The Bubblecut came with a trunk and some more clothes and shoes, which she is graciously sharing with her sisters.

Another happy surprise was finding that Barbie is in perfect scale with my 1950s Marx and Ideal robots, who are enjoying having someone to menace...

New Teddy Bears

I got two great new teddy bears by one of my favorite artists, Peng Peng, this Christmas!

The blue one with the big round head and googly eyes is based on an unusual 1915 British bear called Master Ted, and measures about 5 1/4 inches tall.

The itty bitty black bear, done in an antiqued style and only
4 1/2 inches tall, is named Bigelow.
He's a quiet fellow...

Vintage Tin Grocery Store

I got a much longed-for toy this Christmas: a General Grocery tin shop made by Wolverine Toys in the 1930s. The side panels fold out to reveal beautifully lithographed scenes, and the awning can be raised. The separate counter is missing, as often found, but the set still has its shop phone and scale and some of its original miniature packages. Just a beautiful toy!

Handmade Doll Dresser

Here are two of this year's Christmas presents: a handmade doll dresser, circa 1900 (the mirror has been replaced), and an antique dolly's chamber set. The dresser measures about 14 inches tall, and is signed on the back with the original owner's name, "Ludwina Stachler." Doll dressers are frequently found with their young owner's names pencilled on the back, often along with the date they were made or purchased. Must have been the thing to do back then.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

German Dollhouse Man

Here's a little Christmas stocking stuffer: a 3 1/2 inch tall German bisque dollhouse man, made in the 1920s.He still has his original felt tuxedo and molded top hat, although it does look as if he's had a rough night out on the town...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vintage Fisher Price Toys Christmas Ad

Here's one of my favorite vintage toy ads, from Fisher Price for Christmas 1967.
The Goldilocks and the Three Bears Playhouse (in center of ad) was one of my favorites when I was little.
And how cool is that funky aluminum tree in the corner?!

Have a happy holiday everyone!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New & Old Toys

I collect mostly antique and vintage toys, but sometimes I do find new items that appeal to me. In the latter category are the wonderfully creative, very modern miniature teddy bears made by Peng Peng of Chicago. Here are some of the bears doing their holiday housekeeping and grocery shopping for Christmas dinner. The kitchen playset and grocery stores are from the 1940s-1950s, but the bears seem to fit right in!

Christmas in the Dollhouse

The denizens of my 1890s dollhouse have decorated for Christmas and wrapped their gifts. Dad looks as if it wore him right out...

Vintage Christmas Pine Cone Pixie

My friend Ron gave me this wonderful little pine cone pixie for Christmas last year.
Made in Japan in the 1950s, he's 3 inches of vintage holiday awesomeness!

Miniature German Doll

This little 7 inch German bisque and composition doll was included in the Victorian trunk lot, described in an earlier post. Isn't she lovely? Santa did a good job bringing her this year!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Antique Noah's Ark

Photos really don't do this toy justice: it is one of the most beautiful items in my collection, and represents one of the high points of my collecting hobby. This 12 inch long German-made Noah's Ark dates from between 1850 and 1880. The set features Mr. and Mrs. Noah along with 2 sons and their wives and 29 pairs of animals. Included in the menagerie are horses, cows, lions, elephants, cats, pigs, birds, deer, what I think are moles, and many other tiny little animals.

In quiet moments, I like to hold the ark and imagine its long history: from the German village where it was turned and carved out of wood from the great forests; to its perilous journey across the Atlantic in a steamship, packed in crates full of other wonderful toys; to its time as a plaything for some happy children, now long gone...this is a toy that has seen a lot of history.

Antique Christmas Doll

It's always a happy event finding any great antique toy, but finding one in unplayed with condition and with provenance is especially thrilling. This doll has all these features, and was one of my happiest discoveries ever.

The 14 inch German made Armand Marseille bisque head doll is their common 390 model, but she's made uncommon by her condition, which is factory mint. She wears her original dress and undergarments (still tacked to her papier-mache and composition body), shoes, and bonnet with never-untied ribbons. And she comes in her original box, which even has its waxed paper lining.

As if this wasn't enough wonderfulness, she also comes with her provenance. The original owner's name, Nona Douglass, is pencilled on the box lid, and inside the box is a Christmas postcard to Nona dated 1915, bearing this message:
"December 18 1915: Dear Nona: How are you getting along. I suppose you are a nice big girl. I hope Santa brings you a nice doll. Tell mama I will send her a card later and a letter. I have been very sick. I haven't been out since 8 of Oct. I am lots better but can't go down street yet. I can't buy any presents this year. With love to all and a Merry Xmas, Mrs. Barry."
I'm guessing Mrs. Barry did indeed manage to do her Christmas shopping, sent this doll for Nona, and it was secreted away until Christmas.

As much as I love this doll and the condition it's in, I do wonder why it was never played with. Was it only brought out during the holidays, with its play carefully supervised? Was Nona an early version of today's MIB Barbie fanatics? Or was she an Edwardian-era tomboy, fiercely resistant to all toys domestic?
Sadly, the usual reason antique toys are found in mint condition is because their young owners met with untimely ends, not an uncommon occurrence in days gone by...but I prefer to think of Nona tucking this doll in the attic, before heading off to the sandlot to play baseball with the boys.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Antique American Teddy Bear

I just bought...oops, I mean, Santa just delivered early...this adorable antique teddy bear! He's got a lot of wear, and will need to go to the teddy bear restorer, but I just couldn't resist his cute face. His big nose and low-set ears give him great charm, and he has such a gentle expression. He's American-made, by Ideal, from around 1907 - 1908. I've named him Burgess, after Burgess Meredith, who also had quite a prominent schnoz.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Victorian Doll Trunk Full of Toys

A few months ago I mentioned a wonderful Victorian doll trunk filled with its original owner's toys that I was going to buy for Christmas. Well, it's here now, and it's awesome!

The trunk dates from the 1880s, and the toys are from the same time period, up through the early 1900s. The trunk measures 16 inches wide by 9 inches tall, and is made of lithographed paper over wood with metal trim. There's a tray inside, under which is the main compartment.

Inside the trunk are: 2 small dolls, including a 7 inch German bisque head with tiny blue glass sleep eyes, a beautiful mohair wig, and a composition body, and a 6 inch French Unis doll of similar make; a wooden doll table with a handmade linen tablecloth featuring a "pulled work" design and a miniature tea set; a handstitched needle case (probably the child owner's project); handmade dolly stockings; a gorgeous green silk doll bonnet covered in delicate lace; an 18 inch tall Armand Marseille Mabel doll with lots of play damage, but in her factory original outfit, with beautiful brown glass eyes; and a lovely German made children's tea set.

Each toy individually is a wonderful item, but this is definitely a case where the sum of the total is greater than its parts. For all these toys to have stayed together for over 100 years, safely tucked away in their trunk by their original owner, is amazing. As I look at these toys, I feel I've been given a glimpse into the world of the little girl who owned them so long ago.

1900s Children's Tea Set with Original Box

Santa came early to my house this month, and brought this!

Children's and dolly tea sets were made in such profusion from the mid 1800s all the way through the 1960s that the variety is seemingly endless, and boxed sets are still findable. This is my third such set so far, and the biggest yet. Made in Germany in the early 1900s, it has settings for a party of six, along with a squat little 3 1/4 inch teapot and a lovely creamer. Sadly, the set lost its sugar bowl along the way, but that's okay, because it has retained its wonderful box, 13 inches wide, covered with fantastic illustrations of children at play.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Long-Lost Toys of Christmases Past

Christmas is a time when I reminisce about my childhood holidays and the gifts that I received way back then. While I still have many of my original toys, even more are now long-gone, passed on to younger relatives or sold by my little brothers in yard sales for candy money when I was away at college. (With therapy, we've finally managed to move beyond this issue.)

While talking to my friend Ron (born in 1936, pictured at right) about long-lost favorite toys, he told me about his greatest lost-toy regret: an entire shoebox filled to the brim with vintage radio show premiums. These included multiples of the Lone Ranger Six Gun Ring, Sky King toys, Captain Midnight badges, and his greatest treasure, the Green Hornet Glow in the Dark Secret Compartment Ring, for which, he says, "I had to eat this horrible, nasty cereal I had begged for so I could get the ring, and my mother wouldn't let me order it until I finished the whole package. That really sucked, let me tell you."

As he listed the contents of his shoebox, I began mentally adding up the current selling prices of these items. I wondered, "should I tell him? nooo...I don't think's probably better that he doesn't know..." Finally, he finished recounting the various pieces he had owned, and then asked me the question I was dreading: "how much do you think they'd be worth now?" I told him. When he finished shouting and cursing, I asked him what happened to the box full of toys.

Ron grew up in Detroit in the late 1930s and 40s, and lived in a 4-family flat. One day a new family moved in, with a little boy named Gordie. Apparently, Gordie's family lived in even more dire financial circumstances than their neighbors. So Ron, in a remarkably generous moment, gave Gordie his entire shoebox of premiums. Lest you think this story ends with a Christmasy-sweet sentiment, here is Ron's final comment on the matter: "That little bastard Gordie...hmmm....I wonder if I could track him down and get it back..."

On a more pleasant note, Ron recently rediscovered his childhood diary. After some searching, he found this entry, penned in his 10th year: "Hooray - I got my Green Hornet ring today. And yes, it really does glow in the dark, and it really does have a secret compartment, and, it really does look like real gold!"

The ring pictured above is the most affordable (ha!) Green Hornet ring I've been able to find so far, priced at $450. If you, too, are looking for a long-lost Green Hornet Glow in the Dark Secret Compartment Ring, it's currently available online at:

Avon Gingerbread Man Pin Pal

Here's one of my most beloved childhood Christmas treasures: an Avon "Pin Pal" from 1972. His head opens (which I suppose is a bit macabre) to reveal a hidden cache of lip gloss or some other mysterious substance. He's so cute it's almost unbearable, I think...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Scary Santas

I love holiday paraphernalia, and I especially enjoy discovering unusual items. Such as these Santas...our modern Santa is a friendly, jolly guy, but historically, there were a lot of creepy versions.

First up: this old book. Something just Santa's expression. I don't know what look the artist was going for here, but I don't think he intended it to be "crazy eyes." Santa looks rather like he's considering cooking and eating this child, doesn't he? (click the picture to see the horribleness in greater detail...)

Next, from my collection of vintage plastic Santas: this 14 inch example we refer to as "Ecstasy Claus," with his drug-induced, hyper-dilated pupils. Sometimes I have to turn him around, he creeps me out so much.

Lastly, this huge 3 1/2 foot plastic motorized 1950s Santa: he's hinged at the waist, and when operating, we think it's meant to appear as if he is doubling over with laughter as he "ho-ho-hos". But the effect is more one of a severe back cramp, or perhaps stomach pain, possibly even a heart attack, as his hands are clasped to his chest. Click below for video.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Decorating

Here are some photos of my Christmas decorating.

First up is a vintage bottle brush wreath I covered in kitschy ornaments.

Next is my old 1940s TV with a vintage miniature village inside.

I used one of my old gumball machines to create a little scene reminiscent of old department store windows, with some vintage elves and trees.

My Hoosier cabinet hosts a collection of vintage Santas, snowmen, elves, trees, and houses, along with my favorite bottle brush tree, a pink monstrosity.

And my old coin-operated horse sports a wreath for the season.

Victorian Cabinet Full of Antique Toys

I just got one of my Christmas presents early, and couldn't wait to post it: a Victorian secretary with its original finish, in a great petite size. I'm using it to store and display my dollhouses, doll furniture, and doll tea sets, dishes, and play food. The Dunham's Cocoanut Dollhouse fits perfectly into the side cabinet, with room left at the top for some china dolls and their dining room set. The various cupboards, drawers, and pigeonholes house the rest, while my lithographed dollhouse and Noah's Ark found a spot above the desk.