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:


  1. Wow... I so enjoyed following along as you made something beautiful into something incredibly beautiful. I just love it! All your information is greatly appreciated.

  2. What an absolutely amazing ressurection! How did your mother learn to conserve all these wonderful miniatures...and why aren't you taking lessons from her? I've only recently discovered your blog, and yesterday I looked at the little pullman car toy she fixed up for you. Thank you so much for all the detail photos.

  3. I've been trying to translate those two labels. I can't come up with anything for 'bucker'. However, geh aepfel translates from German to 'go apples' (aepfels apparently being a variation of apfel...if I understand one site, ae is used to replace 'a with an umlaut'). While it is not literally 'dried apples', it might be an idiom for it. However, chocolade is not German, it is Dutch (German = schokolade), so the labels might be a mix of languages. I've seen German markets stands with french labels on the drawers. Could bucker be some idiomatic translation of buckwheat?

    1. Most of the doll houses and shops, and even many of the dolls we often think of as French were actually German. Because Germany was making these items for the French, British and American markets, they labeled them accordingly.

      As for "bucker" - try reading that B as a Z. Zucker is sugar in Dutch and German. Also "bon bon" is French, so, thinking this shop might be Dutch and not German, I tried translating "bon bon" from French to Dutch and got "goed goed". Translating it into German gets me "gut gut". I then tried cacao and Google translater identified cacao as Spanish. Although it may be a msspelling of cocoa, (English), I suspect it is either a German word for cocoa that is obsolete, or coffee. Cacao is a coffee flavored liquer. Kaffe is German for coffee, but cacao could be another type of coffee ( like chocolate syrup vs cocoa). Love tryong to figure these things out~!

      It seems this labeling was a bit willy nilly! This happened frequently with early toy companies - and still happens today with small manufacturers, and is more common toward the end of the life of the company. When Schoenhut went out of business, they shipped their last orders of circus figures with all sorts of crazy mixed parts.

  4. I literally gasped when I saw the shop stripped. I guess I should have skipped that part too. But it's restoration was stunning, just wow!

  5. Thank you all from me (and my mom!) for your kind comments. We're glad you're enjoying the shop!

    Sharon: Sadly, I've got no talents other than finding things for my mom to fix. I can't even sew a button on. My mom is amazing though...she's pretty much self-taught, and can repair all sorts of things (furniture, coin op rides, gumball machines, tin toys, Hoosier cabinets...) I have clearly not inherited her abilities.

    Anonymous: thanks for your translation efforts! I'll keep working on it!

    Aubrey: I know what you mean, I nearly fainted when I saw this, too!

  6. Wow Tracy! What a lovely shop - and a huge difference between the 'as-found' and the restored state!
    The "Bucker" is actually Zucker, sugar - if you compare the initial letter in this word with the initial letter in Bonbons, you can see that the downstroke and the cross stroke of the B are much darker than in the Z (which is a more elaborate form of the z in Eszet).
    "geh. Äpfel" is chopped apples (presumably dried, sliced apple). Äpfel is the plural form of Apfel, it just means apples. I figured geh. was a contraction, so searched for "geh. Äpfel" on google, and found lots of recipes for "gehackt" almonds, pecans, onions, etc.

  7. Thanks Rebecca! It's good to know what my little shopkeeper is selling. :0)

  8. Your lovely shop is very interesting for me, Tracy. You did a great job restoring it.

    I think that all the labels are German. In former times we wrote different to today.

    It was Cacao - today Kakao, it was Chocolade - today Schokolade, Bonbons are still Bonbons, Zucker is still Zucker.

    And Rebecca is right with the geh. Aepfel. Today the writing is Äpfel.

    The interesting thing for me is, that I never saw the label geh. Aepfel anywhere. Not at a museum, not in a special book. And I don't know what geh. Aepfel should be used for?

    Thank you very much for showing.

    Hugs and greetings from Germany

  9. Thanks Marion! That's cleared up a few things, and the "geh aepfel" remains intriguing!

  10. Beautiful restoration, absolutely stunning. I was going to chime in about the Zucker, but I'm a day or two late. I can't see the stamp on the wood clearly enough to make out anything, but the writing would seem to be just names/signatures and least as far as I can tell.

  11. Wow...Tracy! I'm just flabbergasted at this project that your mom took on! I know she's done some amazing things but this one is so small and so detailed! Great job!
    I love checking in and seeing all the great photos of your collections my dear friend!

    On another note, I'm still waiting...on pins and needles for my parcel!!! I'm so's like Christmas all over again! EEEEEEEEEE!


  12. Hi
    you did a very fine job with this
    regards, Inger, Denmark

  13. Thank you very much! We had a lot of fun doing it, and I'm still tweaking it.

    1. Dear Tracy,

      I really enjoyed this reconstruction. Bravo to your mother! I have inherited some 1890's german dollhouse dolls and furnishings, among them some lovely little pastries, a plate of cheese and crackers, and two sectioned platters with a variety of 5 foods each. I can see why you have become fascinated with the pastries. Where do you find them to purchase? I have been looking on-line, and there are very few old ones out there.

      What is your next project?


  14. Hi Lynn, thanks for your compliments: I will pass them along to my mother. At the moment, our only project is dusting my house, which, as you can imagine, is quite a large project indeed...

    Congratulations on your inheritance: it sounds wonderful! The really old miniature foods are not easy to find. I just keep looking, and looking, and every once in awhile, I'll stumble upon some. Usually online, at Ruby Lane or eBay. I never see them in actual antique stores here. It sounds like your collection is off to a good start!

  15. You did an amazing job. It is so beautiful!

    You saved something, which even though it was old and falling apart, still had beauty and made it into something spectacular.

    Marsha, Enchanticals

    1. Thank you! It was a lot of work, but we had fun doing it. Glad you liked it!