I began buying various lines of older dollhouse furniture, ranging from the 30’s through the 80’s, while working night shift at a hotel in 2006. It was addictive and I ended up with boxes and drawers full! I wasn’t sure what they were actually worth or the history behind specific companies but in the end, I did get quite a few deals. Upon seeing the glow in my mother’s eyes and a few other women in that generation as they gazed on my little treasures, I realized I had something special. My mom would say “Oh I had one just like that” or “I always wanted one of those”. In a way it was heartbreaking that I had found by chance what she as a child had dearly dreamed of but never been given.
My intention originally was to artistically alter these into gothic and fantasy works. I was tired of the same old 1:12 scale kits China has been pumping out and was not yet ready at the time to buy a saw and make furniture from scratch either. Reusing vintage pieces seemed like the best idea. However, after researching the history of many of these unexpected gems, I just couldn‘t chop them up. Yes, I liken my approach to a ’chop shop’, get a basic old frame and build a wonderful new marvel! I decided to put the best pieces up on eBay for collectors and donate the rest to a children’s bookstore..
This was the right thing to do. One collector wrote in her Dollhouse Blog,
“Missing the umbrella from the Plasco Little Homemaker garden set from the late 1940s? Wait and one will turn up on eBay. When placed with its pole into the patio table's hole, the resulting set looks as if it had never suffered the indignity of parts having been misplaced. While Tomy items are still plentiful and inexpensive, the pioneers of plastic – Renwal, Ideal and Reliable from the late 1940s and early 1950s are becoming more costly and, if a more unusual pieces such as a sewing machine or carousel, more difficult to locate. That, of course, only serves to whet one’s appetite.”
I didn’t make a mint on my auctions, but felt good because these little finds are worth something emotionally to many collectors. I also don’t plan to purchase any more of these lines but consider the experience a lesson in a very important point of dollhouse history: how radically new styles and materials can swoop onto the scene! One question in my mind remains: These widely distributed plastic brands brought modernism into miniatures in a big way. However, today it is only a small number of artisans and collectors who focus on what is perceived as ’modern’, either in the retro or current fashions. Why didn’t a larger interest in modernism continue in the dollhouse community?
The Dawn of Plastic:
I found that the brightly colored plastic pieces of furniture I have came into popularity in the 1940’s. This decade proved to be a watershed for dollhouses and actual real life furnishings because of the introduction of new easily produced materials such as plastic. In the 1950’s the post war economic boom in North America only increased the popularity of dollhouse products. Brightly colored sturdy steel homes became common and their hard plastic accessories could be intricately detailed. However, the very ease with which molded plastic could be made in factories also spelt the end of individual variations as manufacturing throughout the first half of the 20th century often fell into repetitive forms. Even so, many 1900 to 1950 miniatures had aspects of hand finishing and variations in color. Now pigment could be controlled at the time of molding and medium blue, strong blue, pink, red, cream, brown, and even marbling and faux wood grain were popular. Rarer colors like robin’s egg blue, orange, and bright red can also be found.
Above are examples of the spectacular metal candelabras by Ideal that were the original impetus for my spending spree. I still have a drawer full of these and will eventually put them into my Spooky Mansion.
Plastic was used to represent every texture and material found in the modern home from wood, upholstery, bedding, metal, ceramics, enameled steel, etc. There were older precedents for faux work in the dollhouse world, for example cast-iron standing in for wood, textiles and ceramics as seen in the Arcade line of dollhouse furnishings. Some plastic pieces were only molded on 3 sides while others were fully molded and included moving details, such opening doors, dropping crib sides, potty chair with lifting trays, and agitators spinning in washing machines. The scale could be quite small and this meant a child could place many pieces in an average dollhouse. For today's collector , there is particular interest in "dated" items such as phonographs, floor radios, wringer washers, pedal worked sewing machines and smoking stands. The social mores of that period are also reflected in the furniture. For example, decorum was preserved by giving ‘married’ dolls twin beds. On the other hand, other items and customs are interesting because they have changed so little from that time.
Below are 2 Renewal pieces.
The product names associated with the American boom in hard plastic dollhouse furniture are Ideal, Renwal, Plasco and Marx. Items are usually marked and easily identified by the collector. For example, Marx is MAR imposed over an X within a circle. Some unmarked items originate in Canada from the Reliable Company of Toronto. They used many of the same molds as the Ideal Company. All of these companies produced ¾ scale pieces which worked well together. The smaller Allied Plastic Dolly's Furniture was in a relatively tiny scale. The Allied twin beds measure 2.75 inches long (representing 6 feet). These sets were also made in a more limited range of colors: white, red, blue and pink. Living room, dining room and bedroom furniture styles reflect variations on Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Chippendale. Kitchen, bathroom, nursery and utilitarian or entertainment items such as washing machines and radios were more modern in style.
There are numerous online auction sites and shops that carry these Dollhouse lines. Country Joe's Collectible stuff has decently priced and harder to find Renewal pieces. Below is an example of a Renewal nusery's washing maching which came in either pink or blue. http://countryjoescollectiblestuff.com/renwal-01.html
Petite Princess, the pinnacle of plastic dollhouse miniatures:
Ideal’s Petite Princess dollhouse furniture represents the top of the line in the genre of plastic modern furniture. It was made by the Ideal Toy Corporation for a very limited time, from 1964 to 1968. These toys are often simply called Ideal, which is short for the Ideal Toy and Novelty Corporation, reportedly in business since founded in 1907 in Brooklyn, New York.
The Petite Princess pieces took plastic dollhouse furniture to new heights of elegance and detail, incorporating more realistic marbled surfaces, hand painted gilding, velvet like upholstery, and period décor such as brass candelabras and Buddhas, ceramic vases, and other lovelies. The line remains in the ¾ dollhouse scale.
The following information is taken from The Ideal Petite Princess Information website:
In the “Petite Princess” line, the company sold groups of furniture that were often very stylish and indicative of the time in which they were made. All furniture was hand painted and hand tailored. Special attention was given to detail with an “antique look” which was indicative of the 1960’s. Petite Princess vintage miniatures were produced in ¾ inch scale (.75 inches=1 foot).
The manufacturers of this beautiful furniture line describe Petite Princess furniture as “The fulfillment of every girl’s dream.” Ideal explains, “Here, at last are beautifully detailed, hand crafted furniture and accessories to fill many hours of fanciful play. As explained in their 1964 black and white Petite Princess brochure, “Petite Princess Fantasy Furniture is hand crafted of satins, brocades, porcelain, brass, glass mirrors, and other fine materials. You will find soft, plush chairs and sofas, gilt-edged mirrors, dressers and cabinets with drawers and doors that really open and close. Everything you can dream of. Perfectly made, so you can play with it, collect it, and be the perfect Petite Princess."
Ideal’s Petite Princess Fantasy Furniture first appeared in the Sears Christmas Wish Book in 1964. They offered the originally boxed thirty main pieces, as well as the original Fantasy Family (father, mother, sister, and brother) and their Fantasy Rooms (available in pink, blue, and yellow.)
Some of these pieces returned in 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969 Sears Christmas Wish Books. However, neither the name Ideal nor Petite Princess were featured in these later Christmas catalogs with their furniture, possibly because Ideal had produced their less expensive Princess Patti line in 1965. The Princess Patti house featured the same furniture in four of the rooms- a bedroom, living room, music room, and dining room, and furnished two additional rooms- a bathroom and a kitchen.
In 1966 and 1967, twenty of the original thirty pieces of furniture were offered in red roofed vinyl colonial dollhouses that could only be purchased at Sears. These pieces included the dressing table and stool, bed, lyre table and lamp, piano and bench, treasure trove cabinet, guest chairs, occasional chair with ottoman, sofa, tier table and lamp, and occasional table set. A different family than the original Fantasy Family came with this furniture.
Similarly, in 1968 and 1969, Sears sold thirteen pieces of the original collection in orange-roofed colonial mansion dollhouses. Included in these mansions were the dressing table and stool, bed, tier table with lamp, host chairs, sofa, salon wing chair, occasional table set, and a new bathroom set with a bathroom tub, stool, and towel rack. The original fantasy family didn’t return this year either and was replaced by a different family once again.
Pictured below is another shot of Vixie's collection, representing the full range of Petite Princess.
-A wonderful site called Petite Princess Collectibles provides an online store for these vintage pieces, links to collectors' galleries, and the history of the line.