Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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Dolls House Furniture of Ullrich and Hoffmann (Wichtelmarke), 1951-1970 by diepuppenstubensammlerin with Rebecca Green

The firm of Ullrich and Hoffmann, of Seiffen, in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) in Saxony, was founded ca 1903 - 1905, and began making dolls furniture in 1906. The company was bought in 1922 by Sophie Reichhardt, née Kurz. Her nephews, Karl and Walter Kurz, joined the firm in 1937, and took it over in 1940. During World War II, production of dolls furniture ceased. In the fifties, however, doll furniture production in Seiffen experienced a renewed upswing. Two other well-known dolls house manufacturers were based there: Paul Hübsch and Edmund Müller. Karl and Walter Kurz were still the partners in Ullrich and Hoffmann, employing 50 people (only three of them women, who sewed the miniature furniture into the boxes).

An old photo of the factory, with the name painted on the end: Ullrich & Hoffmann, Holzwarenfabrik. © www.seiffener-hof.de

 Location of Seiffen, in the east of Germany (from Google Maps).

 

In 1951 the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Saxony published a beautifully coloured catalogue to promote the export of toys, in which dolls house furniture made by Ullrich and Hoffmann is shown. The new brand and trademark of the firm, Wichtelmarke (Gnome Mark), appeared in a catalogue of the firm’s range for 1952.

The Wichtelmarke (Gnome Mark) logo

Representatives of all three Seiffen dolls house furniture companies went to the West German trade fairs until 1961, where they "shone in the truest sense of the word, with perfect surfaces, the cleanest workmanship, current fashionable design in fabric upholstery and decoration, which corresponded to the prevailing taste exactly."

Ullrich & Hoffmann attended the 1964 Leipzig toy fair, in East Germany.

 

Later in the 60s, however, independent firms were being nationalised. The two large firms, Ullrich and Hoffmann and Paul Hübsch, resisted for longer, but by 1972 they, and all other remaining independent dolls house manufacturers, underwent full nationalisation as part of VEB VERO.

Nearly 20 years later, with the reunification of Germany, state-owned production ceased, and re-privatisation became possible. Walter Kurz’s daughter was able to buy back the property, and with her husband, son and daughter-in-law, developed the main premises (from which the machinery had been removed to Russia) into a hotel. They also started a small woodturning craft business, which Walter Kurz’s grandson took over in 1998.

Sources:

Bulletin Nr.1 des Spielzeugmuseums Seiffen von 2008
Geschichte des Firmengebäudes

Wichtelmarke Furniture of the 1950s

My survey of the dolls house furniture of Ullrich and Hoffmann covers the years 1951-1970. My first source is the 1951 catalogue published by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Saxony. The photo below is from that catalogue and shows a livingroom made by Ullrich and Hoffmann.

 

1951, Chamber of Commerce and Industry Export Catalogue, Saxony

 

Early Ullrich und Hoffmann living room in the collection of Jörg Bohn

 

The cabinets on the right in this photo are the same ones as seen in the catalogue image above, even the clock. The clock face is similar to the ones of Paul Hübsch - so it does not necessarily help to identify an Ullrich and Hoffmann set.

The cabinet on the left contains a bar, a record player and a radio.

Above and below, another version of early Ullrich & Hoffmann living room furniture, from the collection of Anna Setz

 

A variant with light wood veneer in the Gronau collection, Sauerland.

 

There were many versions of Wichtelmarke cabinets of the fifties, as well as of their armchairs. These two (above and below) are from Katharina’s collection. This cabinet has beautifully inserted brass strips, and the flower stand and the glass table are small works of art.

Some of Wichtelmarke's drinks cabinets of the fifties. There is always the same revolving element which hides the wooden glasses and bottles.
You could find it in serving trolleys, music cabinets or in a large cabinet.

 

 

At that time children could imitate even their parents drinking habits in the nursery.

 

The 1951 Saxony Chamber of Commerce and Industry export catalogue also showed a kitchen by Ullrich and Hoffmann:

The knobs on the doors and drawers are typical of Wichtelmarke.

 

An early Wichtelmarke kitchen in the collection of Jörg Bohn.

 

In 1953 the Berliner Zeitung reported (on Sunday 6th  December) that during the year, Ullrich and Hoffmann had mainly produced for export to Holland, Belgium, Denmark and France. "Before Christmas, however, we will work only for the needs of our republic. In the show room the dolls furniture manufactured in the factory is displayed, which are approximately in the price range between 4.80 and DM 20.-. There are, among other things, a modern living room with a radiogram, which also contains a television screen, a Dining Room with a mobile bar, slides for dolls and doll swings."

 

The 1954 Saxony Export Catalogue shows another Wichtelmarke kitchen (photo above). Jörg Bohn has an example of this kitchen, too:

Later in the 1950s, plastics arrived - the drawers and the corner window plates came first. We also see the beginning of kitchen cabinets that can be combined.

Late 1950s Wichtelmarke wooden kitchen cabinets with some plastic elements.

 

 

 

In 1955, the toy trade journal Das Spielzeug noted that Wichtelmarke once again exhibited their beautiful, renowned dolls furniture collection at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in West Germany.

 

How helpful for my research: dolls furniture in its original sale box, and the kind firm marked it with a sticker of its brand. A great help because on the box, there are only drawings and no name.

 

A very simple bedroom. It is a less expensive set of the middle/end of the 50s. The doors of the dressing table are made of plastic and the doors in both dressing table and wardrobe have no knobs.

The bed is decorated with a piece of (wall?) paper and a piece of cardboard serves as a mattress  - the same printed cardboard they used for the box.

 

Another bedroom from that period. I think it is probably a predecessor of the one above, because there is no plastic and the design is more curved. The doors and the drawer have knobs.

And to leave no doubt that the two rooms are of one firm there is the same mattress in the bed. Thank you.

 The two Wichtelmarke bedroom sets compared.

 

The box lid is wonderfully illustrated, almost a small firm catalogue, because the drawings are very exact as we will see. I will call this Box 1.

 

On Box 1, I recognize the parts of a classroom that I have also seen in another Wichtelmarke box of the mid to late 1950s (below left).

 

 

Even many years later the same school was still on sale - I found it in a toy catalogue of 1969 (above right). 

 

I cut out all pieces on Box 1 for a living room:

  • first two cabinets with a tall flower in a pot,
  • then two kind of sofas and the lounge table,
  • then three types of armchairs with the same table,
  • and at last a radio, a trolley, a news rack, a lamp and a clock.  

 

 

In this set we find four elements of the drawings on the box united:
the cabinet, the sofa and the chair, the clock. It is certainly designed in the new swinging look of the fifties, the contrast of dark and light wood, the love for black, and the fabric pattern.

Wichtelmarke knobs of the 1950s

 

The furniture is very simply made though, no drawers on the bottom of the tall cabinet, just a fake plinth, rough legs concealed by the plinth and cheap wood. The effect is quite graceful I must say.

 

The same fabric pattern you can see on the chairs around the table but there were even more modern patterns on chairs and all Wichtelmarke armchairs of that period.
The table of the drawings is here, too, but in a highly sophisticated edition, with a golden stripe around the top. Black-gold, the fifties loved this colour contrast.

A Wichtelmarke kitchen in the Gronau collection, probably from the late 1950s. The stool and sink appear on the box lid.

 

The terrace chair is not on the box lid, but it does appear on the bed base:

What a swinging flower stand - and it looks exactly like this one:

 

Flowerstand from the collection of Anna Setz.

 

The chair for the terrace is easy to find too.

 

 

Mid to late 1950s Wichtelmarke terrace sets; above, in the Gronau collection  

 

A real life house illustrated in the catalogue Constanze in 1957.

Dolls love to live here

In this colourful illustration from the mid-fifties, all the furniture is by Ullrich and Hoffmann, Wichtelmarke.

The same room box with a dividing wall. The small living room shows another variety of dolls furniture made by Wichtelmarke. For the first time we see the floor lamp of Box 1 in colour, yellow of course, the favourite colour contrast (dark wood and yellow/gold) of Wichtelmarke of that period.

Well - where do the pictures come from?

They are shown on the cover lid of an old wood construction kit by the firm Burgdorfer Baukastenfabrik W. Fritzsche. Since about 1957 it was sold and up to the year 1963 it was still advertised for.

The small drawings on the bottom of the lid show children in a house with an interior made by Wichtelmarke.

A livingroom radio cabinet and table

 

The radio cabinet in light or dark wood, from Katharina's collection.

 

A late fifties livingroom, with an early cabinet system.

 

 The typical Wichtelmarke knobs and feet on this late 1950s set.

 

A living room trolley and table with flower pot on the Burgdorfer box.

 

 A bedroom on the Burgdorfer box.

 

 A living room on the Burgdorfer box.

Here we have a sophisticated version of the living room. The colour scheme is the same as the slightly earlier one shown above, with strong contrasts of dark and light wood, black with gold, and black with yellow.

 

The door knobs are golden, the sliding doors in the cabinet are made of glass and inside is a mirror. The drawers on the bottom of the cabinet can be opened of course. The armchairs are upholstered - in the earlier, cheaper living room, the fabric was just glued on the wood.

 

A photo from a journal of 1957 found in the archive of the Virtual Dolls House Museum shows this exact set, and also a tea-cart and a lamp - and the first photo of a Wichtelmarke TV!

 

Another living room set, with very modern fabric in the same yellow and black combination, from Katharina's collection.

 

A quick view into a furniture catalogue of that time - even the floor lamp is of the same style.

 

Constanze catalogue,1958

Box 2

Living room set in the collection of Katharina.

A set in its original sale box with a different design on the lid - another small company catalogue, which I will call Box 2.

 

 Living room set in original carton in the collection of Katharina.

This little living room with the striking black and white sliding doors is quite frequent. Simply produced chairs but again in a very modern form and colour pattern. The clock is no help for identifying Wichtelmarke because the same model was used by Paul Hübsch and Hermann Rülke, two other East-German dolls house furniture firms.

 

I have a similar set. On my set, probably a kind father helped his little daughter with an easier opening of the doors because the bulky strip of wood as a knob was not fixed by the firm. 

 

Here are other examples of the chairs and cabinets:

 

Chairs with fluffy fabric ... (from the Borbeck collection)

 

Cabinets with different dark and light patterns

 

A lounge room set in Jörg Bohn's collection

 

Notice the two new (early 1960s?) Wichtelmarke knobs on the cabinet, a smaller curved one and a longer even more curved. They help identifying Wichtelmarke furniture of the sixties. The TV is new, too, and will be displayed on the next colourful lid of their furniture boxes. The next armchairs will have plastic armrests and soon the armchair sets with three different colours will also disappear. The wonderful patterns on Wichtelmarke's lounge sets. (Collection Jörg Bohn)

 

On Box 2, we also see an armchair with curved wooden arm rests and angular wooden sides:

Here is a set in this striking design:

 

Wichtelmarke armchairs, Gronau collection

 

Many years ago, a little girl played with a set like this at Christmas - the angular sides can just be seen here, though the curved arm rests need greater magnification:

 

Above, another set still in its original box, this time a bedroom (from Jörg Bohn's collection). Below, another example of this set. Notice that although the design is very similar to the bedroom sets shown above, the handles are new and streamlined, not the small knobs of the 50s.

 

The sixties saw new forms, new door knobs and the TV became part of every livingroom set - but even here we find the old wooden bottles and glasses. No longer on a revolvable element but permanently on display behind a golden striped plastic window. 

 

 

An ad of 1963 with furniture of Wichtelmarke:

Very funny that they did not succeed in placing the living room set in one room and had to take the other room as well. The cabinet was unusually large. Bulky and massive, it dominates the living room and needs a lot of space. 

 

A similar large cabinet taking up a whole end wall of a living room (Collection WK, Niederrhein).

Box 3

The lid of this box shows three rooms in colour, a kitchen, a bedroom, and a living room.

 

Original Wichtelmarke box in the collection of WK, Niederrhein.

 

We have a kitchen set never removed from its box, with this lid:

 

Kitchen never removed from box, in the collection of Bernd Havenstein

 

The kitchen is different to the one pictured – the chair in particular is an older style.

There are many variations of these Wichtelmarke wooden kitchens:

  • the shape of the cabinet changes, while the colourful paint remains
  • The handles were at first small and semicircular, and are now long and rolling
  • the small containers are made of plastic, but can be indicated only by painted wood panels
  • the sink is made of wood, sheet metal and then later from plastic
  • the kitchen chairs are made of wood, later also with colorful plastic backrests
  • to the basic components of a large kitchen cabinet, a sink, a table with bench and / or chairs, there are various extras, such as stools, stove, extending or extra-work table, corner cupboard, separate wall unit …

Here are other examples of kitchens like the one in the box:

 
 Wichtelmarke kitchen like the one in Box 3, in the Gronau collection.
 
Wichtelmarke cabinets like those in Box 3, with a pullout work bench. Collection Anna Setz.
 

Here we see examples of kitchens with another kind of chair in different colours - exactly like the kitchen chair on the furniture box.

Wichtelmarke kitchen, like the set shown on Box 3, in the virtual Puppenhausmuseum.

Wichtelmarke kitchen, like the set shown on Box 3, in the Gronau collection.

 

Wichtelmarke's next type of kitchen is the plastic kitchen, as shown on Box 4 (see below).

 

We also have a never-removed-from box bedroom set in Box 3:

 

Wichtelmarke bedroom in original box, collection of WK, Niederrhein.

 

Once again, a different set in the box from the one pictured. The fabric is the same, but the bedside tables are separate not built on to the bedhead, and the all wooden wardrobe has a plinth base rather than slim legs. I do not have an identical set to show, but a very similar set had already been advertised with a colour photograph the Karstadt catalogue in 1960:

 

Wichtelmarke bedroom of the same design as Box 3 but in dark wood. In the Karstadt catalogue, 1960.

 

 

Box 3 shows living room chairs with metal legs, as well as a sofa with wooden legs. Here we see the metal legged chairs in more detail:

Box 4

This 1960s furniture box by Wichtelmarke shows the interior of a dolls house. I will call this Box 4. On these illustrations are many plastic elements, but the furniture in the box is still entirely made of wood.

Wichtelmarke living room, never removed from its original box.  Collection Jörg Bohn

 

Another example of this living room:

 

 

Notice the handles. The book dummies are missing on the shelves.

 

An example of the set pictured on Box 4:

The cabinet with black and white pictures and a seat in the middle. Note the new square plastic knobs. The cabinet was also made in white.

  

The armchairs with the distinctive black plastic sides.

 

More examples with the new square white plastic handles:  

 

They still feature the black and white sliding doors - a characteristic treat of the fifties.

 

A closeup of the kitchen featured on the lid of Box 4:

Only the handles are still made of wood.

The lid of the boiler can be opened and surely the water would flow through the tap - but I did not try it.

Other versions:

 

Even though they made the kitchen for many years and changed the style according to the current fashion - the little plastic drawers for flour, sugar etc. stayed always the same.

 

As well as a bedroom, living room and kitchen, Box 4 also shows a terrace:

 

The chairs are entirely made of plastic:

 

 

We already saw an early Wichtelmarke serving trolley in the 1951 Saxony Export catalogue. Here it is again, with two examples from this period:

 

Here are three examples of the serving trolley shown on the construction kit box lid (released in 1957). The one wholly in wood is probably earlier, while the ones in wood, glass and brass may be later.

Three Wichtelmarke serving trolleys from Katharina's collection
 
 

 

Wichtelmarke's Box 2 shows another serving trolley:

 
 

Box 4 shows a fourth model:

and here is an example:

Late Wichtelmarke serving trolley, from the Bruchsal collection

The wheels are probably made of plastic, even though they look like metal.

Final phase

In 1969, Wichtelmarke's new range was described in "Spielzeug von heute" (Toys of Today) as a peasant-style kitchen, a peasant-style living room, and a bedroom. They are unfortunately not pictured (or fortunately - although every firm had peasant-style furniture in this period, it is not at all my favourite style!)

In 1970, another notice in 'Toys of Today' showed Wichtelmarke's new school set. The company was commended for their colourful, modern classroom, updating a setting that was usually hidebound by tradition. It was made in a combination of wood and plastic. The school desks were brown, and the seats were red.

This was one of their last productions. In 1972, the nearly 70 year old firm of Ullrich und Hoffmann, Wichtelmarke, was nationalised, and became part of VEB VERO.

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