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 quantified...to 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:


  1. I also really like the painted-on rugs and tiles.

  2. Beautiful, Tracy, a fantastic find. This house found a loving home!

  3. Hi there, I just found your blog while doing a google search for antique teddy bears (I collect Steiff bears and also have a (new) Victorian dollshouse) and I just love your blog and your fantastic collection of vintage toys. I especially love the close up shots of the doll houses you have. Keep up the posts!

  4. Thanks all: glad you're enjoying the posts! Another dollhouse (well, a dollhouse shop) is coming up next week...

  5. What a lovely house and furnishings, and a fantastic story!

    Do you know the website for collectors, http://www.dollshousespastandpresent.com/ ? I edit the online magazine, and I'd love to publish a story like this! I feel so sad when I see dealers buying dolls houses with complete original furnishings from the original family, and then selling the pieces off one by one .... It's wonderful to know of collectors like you who appreciate the value of the whole original - and you make the point so gently, too!

  6. I think I want to live in this house? Does anyone have a magic spell that one can use to shrink down? Anybody?

  7. Hi Michelle, I know exactly what you mean! I feel that way about several of my miniature toys! Hi Rebecca, no, I've never seen your online magazine, but I will check it out, and I'd be thrilled to have this house feature in an article: just let me know what you need from me, or feel free to take from my post. :0)

  8. Hi Tracy, Thanks, that's fantastic! I can copy it from your post, to save you emailing it - all I'd need then is to know what name you would like to have appear on it as author? There's an issue of the magazine coming out at the end of this month, and I'd love to include this. Please feel free to join Dolls Houses Past and Present, too - we'd love to have you as a member, and you'd find lots of kindred spirits, I'm sure :-) My email is greenreb41(a)hotmaildotcom (as you know, replace (a) with @ and dot with . )
    Thanks again! :-D

  9. I feel like Norma Desmond might be lurking in there someplace, while Max stokes the fire...