Sunday, February 27, 2011

1931 Fisher Price Woodsy Wee Zoo

The oldest Fisher Price toy in my collection comes from the company's first year of production in 1931, and is part of the firm's original line of 16 toys. The Woodsy Wee Zoo was one of several sets designed by Margaret Evans Price, wife of company co-founder Irving Price. Margaret Price was an esteemed and accomplished children's writer and illustrator of the time, with a talent for creating charming and colorful characters.

The set is still in its original stone-lithographed cardboard box. I love the caption at the bottom:

Inside, the set nestles in an insert, its name beautifully printed in a cool 1930s font:

The Woodsy Wee Zoo  is comprised of five different wooden animals on wheels, with metal hooks that enable them to join up and form a train. The colorfully lithographed critters include a giraffe, camel, elephant, lion, and bear, with the tallest critter, the giraffe, measuring 5 1/2 inches tall.

A slightly larger set released the same year, the Woosy Wee Circus, included these same animals plus a baby elephant, horse, clown, dog, and monkey.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Attic Find: Vintage Barclay Cowboy & Indian Figures

Every collector dreams about making a great "attic find": discovering a wonderful antique preserved in an attic, packed away and forgotten for decades. Finding such an item can feel like finding buried treasure, and not just because of the piece's monetary value. Particularly with old toys, it can be a warmly rewarding experience to "rescue" a forgotten item from a dim and dusty attic existence. (If you've seen the final Toy Story film, you'll know what a terrible fate attic banishment is for a toy.)

Every so often a news story will feature such a find, like a rare Steiff teddy bear or a valuable painting by a famous artist, discovered by a young couple in the eaves of their newly-purchased fixer-upper. As enthralling as these stories are, such finds are rarer than one might suppose.

I've only had two attic finds so far in my two decades of collecting. Both were low in monetary value, but rich with history and play wear. My favorite is shown below: two late 1940s/early 1950s lead western figures, just 2 3/4 inches tall, made by the Barclay Company.

This dime store duo have endured much play, and were clearly loved by their original owner. Somehow, though, they got left behind when he grew up...the two were discovered under a cracked floorboard in the attic of an abandoned farmhouse. As I hold them now, I wonder: where did they come from? how did they end up under the attic floorboards? who first played with these? what happened to him? does he wonder today where his little cowboy and Indian are? Just a week after we rescued them, the abandoned house was torn down. It was a narrow escape for these two classic American toys.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Changeable Charlie

One of my favorite vintage toys is Changeable Charlie, a classic American toy made from the 1940s through the 1960s. Charlie is a man of many personalities: colorful printed features applied to the sides of multiple wooden blocks can be flipped and repositioned, creating lots of characters.

The package claims an astounding 4,194,304 different combinations are possible:  

"It's a mathematical fact that you can play with 'Changeable Charlie' eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, making one change a minute, and not repeat yourself in over thirty-three years! If you want to know how mathematicians figured this out, send us a postal card with your name and address. We'll be delighted to show you how it's done."

Alas, I have to go to work each day, and so have been unable to test this claim. 

This 1948 set features fantastic caricatures.

Changeable Charlie was so popular, it spawned a sequel called Changeable Charlie's Aunt. This set dates from 1960.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Antique Photo Post Card: Boy with Dog Cart

I'm always on the lookout for old photos of children with toys, to complement my toy collections. My most recent find was this, a real photo postcard from 1910, of a little boy posed in a dog cart.

The poor doggy looks very unhappy, but the boy is adorable, as is the message from him on the back of the postcard. Sent to a Mr. John Rurth of Jefferson, Wisconsin on April 28 1910, it reads:  

"What do you think of me now. I grow bigger every day. I have a pony now clear white with brown eyes. I take dinner to Papa with him when Papa is very busy and won't come home for dinner. Harold (last name illegible)."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

1890s German Dollhouse Pastry Shop: A Restoration Project

If you've followed the blog for awhile, you'll  know that I have a thing for antique dollhouse shops. One of the variations I've most longed for was a large-scale, ornate style German model, but when seen, these rare toys were usually priced far out of my price range. 

But then I found this, a big 1890s-early 1900s German dollhouse pastry shop or confectioner's, measuring 23 inches wide and 13 inches tall. As is the case with many old German miniature shops, it had suffered poorly done but well intentioned updates and repairs over the course of its long life.

 In her wonderful book, Doll Kitchens, German author Eva Stille explains that toy kitchens (and by extension their companion pieces, these shops) would be brought down from the attic each Christmastime by parents who would freshen them up with more grocery supplies, a new pie plate or two, and a bright new coat of paint. All winter, the shops and kitchens would entertain the family's children, until, with the warming spring weather, the toys, now depleted of provisions, temporarily lost their interest. They would be packed back up and returned to the attic, as the children moved their play outdoors, only to be brought back down once more, refreshened, and placed under the tree again the next Christmas.

These toys were usually passed down through several generations: Stille gives an example of an 1885 doll kitchen ordered by a wealthy family in Bregenz. The toy was passed down among girls in the family all the way to 1979, when it was bequeathed to the most recent descendant, who was still playing with it at the time of the book's publication in 1988. I've purchased three different antique German dollhouse shops, and each has had evidence of continuous play through at least two generations, with products dating from as early as the 1900s to as late as the 1950s.

This shop last went through a renovation sometime in the 1930s or early '40s. The original dark red stain, particular to many German dollhouse toys of the early 1900s, had been heavily painted over (sloppily) in green and cream kitchen paint, and the remains of the original paper "wood parquet" floor had been covered with linoleum. Bits of trim had broken off, and been reglued or lost. One decorative front pillar was gone, along with the counter. The lovely, handpainted wallpaper was brittle, stained, and torn, and a modern mirror had been installed along the back wall. An electrified Bakelite doorbell had been screwed in, and to finish off the list of indignities suffered by this once grand toy, an infestation of woodworm had occurred.

But large swathes of the original red stain were visible underneath the shelves, and much of the trim remained, as did the drawers with most of their porcelain nameplates, tiny handles, and the matching jars. I loved the idea that it appeared to be a pastry shop or something similar, as one of my most fanatical collecting categories is antique dollhouse cakes.

The price was (relatively) low, due to the condition, and my mother, even though she had never done a dollhouse restoration before, was sure she could handle it. And she did. 

First, everything had to be pulled off and out. (My mother recommended I not watch this part, and I agreed. This step was pretty scary.)

Then, the paint had to be stripped, and all the old repairs disassembled.

At this point, we discovered a stamp and some writing on the underside of the shop, but have been unable to decipher them:

I wish I knew what this said...

 I found a replacement counter, and my mom fabricated the missing front pillar and bits of trim. Then she matched the original, heavily varnished red stain finish almost exactly and reassembled the shop shelves.

 Gluing in process.

Finally, we deliberated over the replacement papers. We weren't able to find the same patterns, but when we saw this combination, it just seemed perfect. The papers are reproductions of antique originals, the closest we could get to the real thing.

 Paper installation underway.

And here's the finished shop:

Loaded up with cakes, pies, baking accessories, and a shopkeeper, too:

 Here's a closeup of the lovely shopkeeper. She carries a big spoon, all ready for customers who would like a sample of the many pudding cakes on display:

 All but one of the drawers still have their original porcelain labels. Some are identifiable (cocoa, bonbons, chocolate) while others aren't, at least to me (geh Aepfel? Bucker?) 

 Here are closeups of some of the antique German made cakes, and the very old compote full of wax fruit:

 This tiny cake has "Germany" stamped into one side.

Some of the little accessories include grocery boxes, a tin plate, a copper bowl, and a cake mold:

Here, one of my favorite miniature dollies tries to decide which treat to buy:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Peng Peng Bears in Pink and Bloo

Just got a couple of new tiny teds in bright springtime colors by one of my favorite artists, Peng Peng. They feature lusciously colored mohair, quirky faces, and adorable little outfits. The blue bear is just 4 inches tall!

"We're feeling rosy and blue today, respectively..."

Here they are with their new friends, some of Mattel's vintage Upsy Downsy characters:

Puzzle Book Valentine

This big, 8 1/4 inch tall, 1930s card was one of my most unique Valentine finds. It includes an attached 3 inch dot-to-dot game booklet, still intact. The aim was to complete the mystery pictures by drawing lines between the numbered dots. The clever caption reads, 'I've got a LINE on you to be my Valentine.'

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Working Class Valentines

These two large, 5 1/2 inch tall movable valentines have some of the most unusual themes I've ever seen. Circa the 1950s, the American made cards feature busy factory workers. In the first, a girl spray paints a shiny, chromed automobile, while in the second, a boy prints kisses on a gigantic printing press.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Kitty for Valentine's Day

Well, I guess the title gives it away, but in this movable 1930s valentine, a mailman delivers a little kitty to the lucky recipient:

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Doggie for Valentine's Day

I found this unusual 1930s valentine at a toy show recently. It's actually a booklet, with a story inside about a dog who moves to a town appropriately called Dogville. The outer cover features real glass eyes on the dog, very like those used on antique teddy bears at the time. The booklet is 6 1/2 inches tall.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cupid Uses the Telegraph Lines

Dated 1908, this beautiful embossed postcard shows Cupid delivering his valentines along the telegraph lines:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Antique Airplane Valentine

This unusual valentine dates from the 1920s. Measuring a large 8 inches long, the beautifully lithographed airplane includes a pilot, whose love interest passenger appears when the tab at the bottom is moved.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

1925 Tootsie Toy Dollhouse

It adds a lot to an antique toy to purchase it directly from the original owner. The trail of provenance is then intact, which adds monetary value, but that isn't really what I mean. It's more of a sentimental quality that can't be know that you're only the second person to ever own the toy; to have (hopefully) given the owner, usually elderly, comfort in knowing that their beloved toy will be cared for...these are wonderful things.

I've only ever managed it a few times in my toy collecting career, but one of the most exciting happened last month. A man put his mother's 1925 Tootsie Toy dollhouse up for sale, complete with all the furnishings and accessories she filled it with as a child. The online pictures weren't the clearest, but were enough to reveal there was a lot of vintage Tootsie Toy (TT) furniture inside.

When it arrived, however, it took my breath away. In addition to complete sets of the earliest TT furniture, there were French penny toy pieces, a delicate German tin fireplace, tiny TT streetcars and automobiles, and even a miniature German bisque doll. And everything was in incredible condition.

Two things were clear upon examining the house and its contents: the young girl who owned it filled it with items she got back in the 1920s, probably at a local candy/toy shop; and the grown woman cared for it all lovingly for the next 85 years.

And here it is:

 The front of the 21 inch wide cardboard house opens wide, revealing four front rooms (dining room, living room, bedroom, and nursery), with two back rooms visible beyond the arched doorways.

The back of the house opens as well, allowing access to two small back rooms (kitchen and bathroom):

Let's start our tour in the dining room, furnished with Tootsie Toy's classic 1/2 inch scale painted metal furniture, including a round table, buffet, chairs, and sideboard. (For a sense of scale, the chairs are just 2 inches tall.) This room, like the rest of the house, features printed decor on the walls and floors, including rugs, panelling, tile work, curtains, and paintings:

The adjoining living room stretches the full depth of the house, and is filled with TT pieces, including a sofa, matching chairs, floor lamp, drop leaf desk, a French penny toy telephone (out of scale, but original to the house, so it stays), and a beautiful German tin fireplace, complete with its red foil "fire". Just out of sight in the front left corner is a TT Victrola, while visible on the right is a staircase to the second floor. I added the little china doggie on the sofa, because he just seemed to belong there:

The delicate, German tin fireplace was one of the greatest finds in the house. Here, the doggie curls up in front of the roaring (foil) flames:

Upstairs, the bedroom also stretches the full depth of the house. It contains a TT bedroom set of matching twin beds, dresser, vanity, and chairs, plus a French penny toy sewing machine and a tiny German bisque doll with sleeping "googly" type eyes and a mohair wig:

The little 2 3/4 inch doll was original to the house, and is of a type often referred to as a "candy store doll." These were inexpensive small dolls that were sold at candy shops from the late 1800s - 1930s, where they were displayed alongside the sweets. Little girls would have been able to purchase them with their pocket money. This one was clearly dear to her original owner, and has been lovingly cared for. Even though she's quite homely and a bit out of scale with her surroundings, I wouldn't dream of removing her.

Upstairs, the nursery held a wonderful surprise: beautiful, French-made penny toy furniture, including two tiny beds, a vanity, and a round table with matching chair and bench. These ended up being the only things I removed from the house (after much deliberation), because they perfectly suited another antique dollhouse I had that needed furniture (see it here):

Also in the nursery, and also likely purchased by the original owner as a young girl at her local candy shop, were a tiny Tootsie Toy auto and streetcar (just 1 1/2 inches long), along with a fragile celluloid doll and animal, and more French penny toy pieces: a toy stove and a baby carriage. The survival of these tiny, fragile toys attests to their owner's decades of tender care. 

Turning to the back of the house, the kitchen was a delight, housing not only the appropriate TT furnishings of table, chairs, stove, icebox, sink, and Hoosier cabinet, but also a tiny advertising charm shaped like a ham, a giveaway from Swift's Premium Ham Company.  It's amazing to think of the little girl who first owned this house picking up this charm somewhere, maybe on a trip to the butcher's or grocer's with her mother, and realizing it was just the right size (1 1/4 inches)  for her dollhouse kitchen. And there it has remained all these years...

The final back room is the bath, complete with some of the smallest and rarest TT  pieces: a towel rod and medicine cabinet:

Also visible from the back of the house is the closet under the staircase, which opens:

I've tried to resist adding anything to the house, so as not to spoil its original, "as-found" quality (as mentioned earlier, I just had to put the little doggie in, though, and I did "borrow" the French furniture for a different house). But I temporarily posed some of my miniature dolls and bears inside for a few quick pics:

The way the lighting turned out in this one, my 3 1/2 inch dollhouse lady looks like she's waiting for a surprise party to begin:

A dapper dollhouse man warms his hands at the fire after a night out on the town:

And the Tootsie Toy tea cart is just the right size for a tiny Schuco bear: