Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mr. Potato Head Ride-On Toy

One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was a long-sought, hard-to-find vintage Potato Head item. From 1973, the Mr. Potato Head Ride-On toy is one of the strangest, and scarcest, items in this long running line.

Measuring 17 inches long, the mobile potato features yellow wheels, a handle, and a seat that lifts up to reveal a storage space for extra face pieces. It comes with two different sets of eyes, ears, noses and lips, along with a hat and glasses, allowing its owner to customize it before taking it for a spin.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

1908 Steiff Teddy Bear

The 1908 Steiff teddy bear is a classic of its type. By this year, Steiff had fully refined its bear design, resulting in a teddy that was cuddlier and friendlier in appearance than its predecessors. The year before, the company exported and sold nearly a million bears, and 1908 saw the teddy bear craze reach a fever pitch.

From 1908 all the way to his appearance under our Christmas tree in 2013, this 10 inch Steiff has lost none of his original appeal.

His big feet and long arms are classic features of antique Steiff bears. 

Antique toys for Christmas, 2013.

Antique Miniature Doll House

This tiny dollhouse is the smallest antique example I've ever seen.  A mere 7 inches tall by 5 inches wide, it's a challenge to find furnishings and residents small enough for the single room inside.

The house opens from the front on hinges, and the top also lifts off to give access to the interior.

The exterior design is lithographed directly onto the wood, in a style consistent with dollhouses made by the Morton Converse company of Winchendon, Massachusetts, circa 1916. 

Antique toys for Christmas, 2013.

Antique Doll Kitchen

One of this year's most extravagant Christmas gifts, this unusual antique doll kitchen came with interesting provenance.

From the collection of Evelyn Ackerman, an authority on antique dollhouses (particularly those of the German firm, Gottschalk) it is pictured in one of the books she authored, The Genius of Moritz Gottschalk. 

It's lost a few bits since that photo was taken some years ago, but still has enough items for a doll to do her holiday cooking. Measuring 10.5 inches high by 14 inches wide, the wooden kitchen features lithographed paper in patterns of brick and tile, an opening stove door, a towel rack, a tin sink, lattice work trim, and its original pot and wash boiler.

Inscribed on the bottom of the kitchen is its model number and a message: "Janie from Uncle Charlie 1917." The play wear on this kitchen shows how much Janie enjoyed it, but it's also clear she treasured it carefully for many years. Uncle Charlie, wherever you are now, thank you for the doll kitchen: it's a beautiful toy!

Antique toys for Christmas, 2013.

Santa Was Here!

Santa has been and gone, and left behind some great toys. (There they are, all wrapped up in the back of his old pedal car.)

This year's Christmas loot included one of the scarcest (and strangest) of all vintage Mr. Potato Head items, along with a tiny antique dollhouse, a rare old doll kitchen, and a 1908 Steiff bear. Pics coming soon.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Vintage Jack O' Lanterns

Collecting vintage jack o' lanterns can be very addictive. Though they were mass produced, there were many different styles, and they all have individual character due to their own particular aging and wear.

These are American, and date circa the 1940s. Made of a pulp/composition material, they have paper face inserts, and were meant to be used with real candles inside. Some still have traces of melted wax in their interiors, and it's incredible that they all didn't just go up in flames.

These range in size from about 3.5 inches to 10 inches tall.

These two small lanterns were made from the same mold, but have distinctively different appearances due to the paper inserts used and the wear to their exteriors.

This large jack o' lantern is one of my favorites. It's open nose is unusual, and it has a very expressive face.

Eyelash adorned, this jack o' lantern's paper insert is from an antique German variety, but it suits this American pumpkin well. It's common to find these jack o' lanterns missing their paper faces, or with replacements, as the originals did sometimes succumb to the candle flames.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pumpkinmobile Postcard

Halloween is fast approaching, and so is the pumpkin headed driver of the automobile on this antique Halloween postcard. Circa the early 1900s.

Note the jack o' lantern headlights, a clever touch. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Creepy Antique Halloween Squeaker

One of the creepiest antique Halloween items in my collection is this little noisemaker. Circa 1915, it was made in Germany of lithographed cardboard and fragile paper, and is just under 3 inches tall.

The ghoulish face has eyes that move and change when the bellows behind are squeezed. Originally, it would have made a squeaky sound as well, but that part of the noisemaker has long since ruptured.

This squeaker was one from a set of several different faces. Some, like this one, featured moving eyes, while others had tongues that stuck out when the bellows were squeezed.

These white faces represent mangelwurzals, large, beet-like root vegetables used in some parts of the world instead of pumpkins for making jack o' lanterns. There was a similar set printed on orange cardboard representing the more familiar pumpkins.

Some of the other pieces from this set, along with the pumpkin version, can be seen in the books  Halloween in America, by Stuart Schneider (page 27 of the 1995 edition) and More Halloween Collectibles: Anthropomorphic Vegetables and Fruits of Halloween, by Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell (page 95.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Antique Halloween Paper Dolls

From a 1917 issue of Ladies' Home Journal, a child who was very good with scissors cut these wonderful Halloween paper dolls.

The dolls include three children in period clothing. The back side of the dolls reveals their magazine origins, with portions of articles visible.

The costumes are beautifully detailed, and include a witch, a clown, and a jester. There is also an outfit featuring a bushel of apples for one of the dolls to carry.

The jester holds a pumpkin topped with a tiny witch:

The clown carries a parade lantern. These antique tin jack o' lanterns are now some of the rarest, most valuable, and most highly sought Halloween collectibles. You can see some original patent drawings for these lanterns at

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Remco Mini Monster Play Case

Ah, the classic Universal Studios monsters: Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Phantom of the Opera. These movie monsters of the 1920s - 1950s saw a resurgence in popularity in the 1960s, when their films became late night television movie fodder, and again in the 1980s when Universal Studios featured them in their theme park merchandising and stepped up their product licensing. 

One of the best toy lines to result from these efforts came from Remco, which released their Mini Monsters in 1981. The 3 3/4 inch figures were the same scale as the era's popular Star Wars characters, making cross-over playtime dreams come true: Princess Leia captured by the Creature from the Black Lagoon! Darth Vader and Dracula in a battle royale: who would win? The Wolfman and Chewbacca becoming best friends. The Phantom playing with the Cantina band on Tatooine. The possibilities were endless. 

To house the figures, Remco created a play case, made of vinyl covered cardboard like so many playsets from this time period. With an interior of vacuum formed, brittle plastic and cardstock paper, it's fragile by today's standards, but nonetheless it's a gorgeously designed toy with tons of imaginative potential. Let's take a tour. 

The case is about 10 inches tall, and comes with a carrying handle. The front has a photo of the interior and describes the play features, while the back is illustrated to look like a haunted house. 

The action features described on the front are all made of heavy cardstock paper, and required some serious assembly work. Check out the instruction page: I don't think I would have the patience to follow this now, let alone when I was 12.

But once assembled, the monster playset was worth the effort. A little cardboard bridge helped monsters cross over a moat with a bottomless pit; a slab for Frankie came complete with rubberbands to hold him in place, and the table could be turned over to make him "disappear;" the mummy case opened; and the Creature from the Black Lagoon could be put into his cage covered holding tank whenever he needed a refreshing dip. 

All three of these items, the Creature tank, mummy case, and slab, had to be punched out, folded, and assembled, as did the bridge over the "bottomless pit," below.

The set featured great illustrations, as in the lab background above. But the much touted glow in the dark features simply consisted of three stickers to place over various items on the playset: the mask on the mummy case, the skull on the lab shelf, and the instrument panel for Frankie's table. 

The monsters themselves are very detailed, especially for such small figures. The Wolfman in particular is well done, capturing Lon Chaney, Jr.'s anxious expression well. 

He'll never be able to break free of those rubberbands, don't worry....

The set required careful closing and storage due to the fragility of the interior, and the detailed instructions included (unintentionally funny) directions on how to pack up the monsters: "Make sure that none of the monsters interfere with the closing of the playcase." Every time I read this, I picture the little monsters shouting, "Nooooo," shaking their tiny fists, and desperately struggling to prevent the case from closing, maybe by sticking an arm or leg in the way. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Antique Halloween Postcard: Apple Bobbing

Here's a favorite from my collection of antique Halloween postcards. Circa 1906, it features wonderfully expressive apple characters plunging themselves gleefully into a tub, ready to take part in the classic party game of bobbing for apples.

On closer inspection, the apples' expressions become clear: those waiting for their turn to jump in the water look expectantly happy, while those already in the water appear distraught, only now fully comprehending their plight. In the background, a sinister jack o' lantern urges the hapless apples on.

"Wheeee! We get to go swimming!"

"Oh no! What have we done?!"

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Schoenhut Rolly Dollys

Intended to amuse toddlers back in the 1900s, these roly-poly toys are the stuff of nightmares today.

The Rolly Dollys were a line of simple toys made by the Schoenhut Company of Philadelphia. Founded in 1872 by Albert Schoenhut, a German born toymaker, the firm lasted into the 1930s and was a prominent creator of fine playthings and childrens musical instruments. It is famed today for its toy pianos, Humpty Dumpty Circus playsets, and wooden dollhouse furniture.

The Rolly Dollys first appeared in 1902 and were produced through the 1920s in over 70 different styles. Some were based on advertising or cartoon characters like Buster Brown and Foxy Grandpa, while others represented children, clowns, police officers, and more.

Made of a composition or papier mache type material, the Rolly Dollys are weighted at the bottom so that they spring back upright and then bob comically (or terrifyingly, depending on your point of view) when pushed over. Some have chimes inside as well, producing a delicate tinkling sound (all the better to alert you to their approach.)

This assortment includes a couple of creepy clowns, 5 inches tall, along with a 10 inch comic character,  Happy Hooligan, and an unknown terror.

Here's Happy Hooligan, a newspaper cartoon character who first appeared in 1900. In print, he was a cheerful hobo wearing a tin can for a hat, but his Rolly Dolly representation is rather more disquieting. See the original Hooligan and learn his story by clicking here.

This unknown character, also 10 inches tall, sports a pointy hairdo and hypno-eyes, and his hands rest on his distended belly. He has a satisfied smile, as if he's just completed a large meal of small children.

This is really not something you'd want watching you while you sleep. 

The 5 inch clowns are of the Billiken type. Even with their small size, there's still something vaguely menacing about them, isn't there? Perhaps they should team up with Crandall's Acrobats and put on a spooky sideshow act.