Dollhouses: Treasures In Miniature

Collectors, just as much as children, enjoy the small replicas of furniture or household goods that go along with the dollhouse hobby.

You can find elaborate French-styled miniature furniture that is expensive but lovely and designed for ages 8 and up. Other sets feature traditional furniture and Oriental rugs. Though these are called miniatures in today’s museum and art catalogs, the tiny furniture is what is also referred to as doll furniture. I’ve always treasured the vintage examples that I’ve collected along the way.

Many of mine are Marx, of course, since we had one of the factories right here in Glen Dale at one time. My column shows a beige Marx set of a midcentury bedroom that was produced in the 1960s. Notice all the careful detailing like ruffles, pleats and molded hardware. A little girl would have outfitted a colorful metal Marx house with furniture like this, designed room by room.

Antique lovers have appreciated doll furniture for a long time, and dollhouses have been around for hundreds of years as a hobby for well-to-do ladies. Dollhouses were introduced commercially in this country late in the 1700s by Dutch craftsmen who settled in the east, according to Schroeder’s Antiques price guide.

“By the mid-1800s, they had become meticulously detailed, divided into separate rooms, and lavishly furnished to reflect the opulence of the day. Originally intended for the amusement of adults of the household, by the late 1800s their status had changed to that of a child’s toy,” Schroeder’s experts say.

Big names in collectible dollhouses include Tynie Toy, Schoenhut and Bliss. These are worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on condition, style and age. A dollhouse from the 1800s in wonderful shape is rare. The original Bliss dollhouses, made around the turn of the century and very popular in Victorian households, were wood covered with lithographed paper, so you can imagine that the paper images would take a beating.

But even metal Marx houses, which are much more recent, are valuable to collectors and toy museums. Marx made about 500 different ones so these you should be able to find at a more reasonable price or at an antique shop or auction. Collectors also seek dollhouses that are only a single room or setting, such as a schoolroom or kitchen.

Dollhouses and dollhouse furniture are described by scale, for example 1 inch to 1 foot. Most of the 20th-century examples were made three-quarter scale (where 1 foot is represented by 3/4 of an inch). It’s important to know your scale, so that all the furniture matches, and the dolls that inhabit the house are appropriately sized to make use of the furniture.

In the antiques world, Renwal is a common plastic manufacturer of dollhouse furniture. It has many details, such as drawers that work and other working features. Another good name is Acme, and there also is the pretty Ideal line, Petite Princess, that dates to the 1960s.

Germany, as you might guess, always was tops with doll furniture, and there are many wonderful, handmade wooden examples of Victorian and even modern doll furniture. German wooden doll furniture can be quite elaborate with French styling and continental elegance.

If you find doll furniture in a box, unopened, this increases the value, as do the advertising pieces that go along with it. If you’d like more information on dollhouses and doll furniture, there are many books and price guides to seek out.

As far as Marx goes, Louis Marx, the king of toys, sold his empire that began in 1919 to Quaker Oats for $52 million in 1972. Once this happened, the toys became desirable in the collectors’ market. Later, Quaker sold the company, and the business that bought it went bankrupt. Today, there is a company called Marx Toy Corp. in Sebring, Ohio, that is not a real successor to Louis Marx but uses the old molds.

In Glen Dale, we have the Marx Toy Museum, which is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (April through Dec. 30). Dedicated to preserving the history, toys and memories of Louis Marx & Co., the museum is located at 915 Second St., Moundsville. Its website is marxtoymuseum.com, and the phone number is 304-845-6022.

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at: zambitomaureen@hotmail .com or by writing in care of this newspaper.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)