Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Black Friday" Finds

As much as I love hunting for treasures, I don't really go in for the day-after-Thanksgiving "Black Friday" shopfest. TVs, video games, appliances, and all the other electronic gadgets that seem to be the focus for shoppers that day don't really appeal to me much, and you couldn't pay me enough to be in those crowds. Instead I sleep in, then eat breakfast while watching the news stories of riots at the local Walmart. Fueled by Captain Crunch cereal and self-righteousness, I then go the opposite direction, visiting my favorite little independently owned shops in small towns.  My goals are chiefly: 1) supporting them, in an effort to avoid nothing but Walmarts in our future; and 2) seeing how they've decorated for the holidays.

So yesterday found me in a little "County Store" in a remote area, as far from the malls and big box places as I could get. This particular store, housed in several old farm buildings, specializes in holiday decorations along with some local crafts and baked goods. Occasionally, an antique toy can be found in its densely packed display cases, too.

And this trip didn't disappoint: I spotted this little doll's legs sticking out from under a pile of tinsel. Just a tiny 3 1/2 inches tall, this dollhouse doll was made in Germany between the 1890s-1900s, and is still wearing her original clothes.

Other finds included these old Christmas ornaments. The 3 inch snowman is made of cotton batting, and dates from around the 1930s-40s, while the chenille Santa is likely a bit older.

Who needs Best Buy's "door buster" deals when there are things like this out there, just waiting to be discovered?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Antique Tin Toy Kitchen

Here's another antique doll kitchen, just in time for Thanksgiving. This one is from the late 1800s. This style of tin kitchen was made in America to compete with the larger, fancier, and more expensive wooden German imports. Although these were mass produced, they are hard to find today, as they were fragile, heavily played with, and filled with items that were typically lost over time. This one is still stocked with most of its original items.

The kitchen is made of pressed tin and measures 10 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches tall.

The central feature is the wood burning stove with exhaust hood. This is a non-working version, but some toy kitchens came with wood, coal, or alcohol burning stoves that actually worked. That's another reason they're so hard to find today: a lot of them went up in flames from cooking gone wrong.

The more deluxe versions of these tin toy kitchens did have one working feature, however: a water tank that really held water, and could be pumped with a little handle to fill a sink.
The tank rests in a basin on the right side of the kitchen. Pumping the handle on the top makes the water flow into this conical sink:
The kitchen is chock full of tiny utensils and implements. Here are a miniature grater and a mold:
The plate racks at the top of the kitchen are full of tin plates:
One of the few non-tin items in the kitchen is this miniature rolling pin, seen here with a mixing bowl and a butter knife:
The knife, bowl, and rolling pin are all completely out of scale with each other, yet all are original to this kitchen. Scale wasn't important to the makers of these toys. For implements to have been in scale, they would have been so tiny as to be unusable, and the whole goal was to give little girls an affordable (hence small) toy kitchen they could actually use to practice cooking and cleaning. The oversize spoons at the top of the kitchen are another example; such spoons are nearly always included in these kitchens and mounted in this fashion, and they are always this big.
Some of the items in these kitchens were cleverly made from scrap metals. These little frying pans were made from a cosmetics tin and a piece of embossed ceiling tile:
Advertising items sometimes found their way into these kitchens as well, and some kitchens were occasionally given away as promotional items for various home goods companies or as sales incentives. Children could sometimes win such a toy kitchen for selling magazine subscriptions, for example. This one has a tiny dust pan advertising the "Steel Edge Dust Pan" Company.
My peg wooden doll is getting ready to start her Thanksgiving cooking. Hope yours goes well, and that you have a very happy holiday!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Antique Doll Kitchen

Found recently in a far back corner of an antique mall was this small doll kitchen, American made circa the early 1900s. The peg wooden dolls, while rather out of scale, seem very at home inside. 

The kitchen is one of the smallest I've ever seen, just 6 3/4 inches tall by 9 inches wide. (My largest doll kitchen can be seen by clicking here.) The open, wooden room features an impressed printed design on the sides and base, including windows, shutters, and a "stone" foundation.

The contents include a wee little cast iron stove, just 3 1/2 inches wide, and an assortment of kitchen apparatus: an earthenware pitcher and bowl; tin plates, pails, and molds (note the lobster shaped mold mounted on the wall); and a cast iron frying pan.

The peg wooden dolls are German, and the larger of the two is probably late 1800s. They, and the kitchen itself, show a lot of play wear, but I think that only adds to their charm. Some little girl over 100 years ago really loved this toy. I wonder what she pretended to cook on its tiny stove?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remco's Elly and Andy Baby Mouse Tree House

Jerry Griswold, Director of the National Center for the Study of Children's Literature, once wrote a wonderful book length essay about some of the pervasive qualities of childhood that recur as themes in children's stories. One of these qualities he deemed "snugness," the desire of children for a small, snug, safe place of their own, like a treehouse, a fort carved out of the shrubbery, or a hideout made under a folding table draped with a sheet. 

He noted the prevalence of places like these in children's literature, particularly the cozy homes of Mole and Badger in The Wind in the Willows, and the dollhouse in Beatrix Potter's classic The Tale of Two Bad Mice. Of such small playhouses he said, "What lies behind this miniaturization and the vision of enclosed space is a wish to make life more manageable, a wish for control."

I think his thesis on the importance of small, snug playspaces can be extended to children's toys too, as there are countless examples which reflect this longing for a space of one's own, and enable children to have control over a tiny world and its inhabitants. One of my favorite examples is the Elly and Andy Baby Mouse Tree House, made by Remco in 1967 as part of their T.V. Jones line.

The 15 inch tall tree trunk house is made of lithographed tin with plastic details including a branch swing, front steps, windows, a balcony, and even a working elevator. Inside, the little house is divided into two rooms, a bedroom and dining area. Cheerful colors make the interior cozy and appealing.

The tree trunk is home to 3 inch tall rodent siblings, Elly and Andy Mouse:

The furnishings include a hutch and dresser with a pull out drawer, an adorable mushroom table with tree stump chairs, and even a piece of cheese. The chairs have little notches cut out in the back to accomodate the mouse tails, a thoughtful touch.

Upstairs are two cozy loft beds, leading the way to an inviting balcony.


If recent sale prices for this toy are any indication (I've seen a MIB example sell for $350) the now grown-up children who played with this 40+ years ago are still longing for the sense of snugness, safety, and control over life which it provided. There's no stress in the tree house, just cheese snacks, swing sets, and cozy naps. It's a good life for these little mice. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Homemade Robots

Whimsical robots made from old cans, tins, and leftover bits and bobs have become somewhat of a cottage industry lately, and can be found everywhere from Etsy to your local craft show. Here are a few I found recently at a small town art gallery.

The largest robot is 12 1/2 inches tall.
 Mr. Half and Half has a themostat head and arms made from socket wrenches.
The Clock Bot has a vintage alarm clock head and arms made from can openers.
 The tiny T&T robot has a spice box body, a film canister head,
and a clever hat made from a sink strainer.
They are adorable, and ready to take over the world.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I Know Halloween Is Over, But....

I found these two fabulous jack o' lanterns at an antique show yesterday, and I just couldn't wait all the way until next October to post them.

The one on the left is German, made in the 1920s from a pressed and folded cardboard similar to thin papier mache. His yellow face (meant to represent glowing candlelight?) is unusual, and adds a creepy quality. His jollier friend on the right was made in the United States in the 1950s of a pulp material. They both have their original paper faces and wire handles, and the taller lantern is just under 6 inches tall.