Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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A History of Amersham Works, L. Rees  & Co., and Eisenmann & Co.                                   by Rebecca Green

(Thanks to Marion Osborne and Wendy Gater for comments on the draft)

Leon Reis: from Bavaria to England, ca 1900

Leon Rees was born in about 1879 in Fürth, Bavaria, a town close to Nuremberg in which toy manufacturing was a major occupation. The first evidence I have found of him in England is on the 1901 Census, where he appears as Leon Reis, a commercial traveller aged 22, boarding at 5 Henry Rd, Stoke Newington. He was then still a German subject. Also boarding at the same address is Ludwig Reis, aged 21, also a commercial traveller, and presumably Leon’s brother.

 

Among his neighbours in Stoke Newington were several other natives of Germany, now naturalised British subjects, including Joseph Suskind, an importer of pipes (for smoking), and Theodor Furst, a leather merchant.

 

According to Grace’s Guide to British Engineering, Leon Rees moved to England in 1900 and became a partner of Joseph Eisenmann, of Eisenmann and Co, a German fancy goods and toy exporters. This had been founded by brothers Josef and Gabriel Eisenmann in 1881; Joseph dealt with the British side, and Gabriel with the German side.

Joseph Eisenmann, Leon Rees’ father-in-law: from Bavaria to England, ca 1880

The Eisenmanns were also from Leon Rees’ home town, Fürth, in Bavaria. (Eisenmann & Co, toys, is listed in the Fürth telephone directory for 1907; in the same directory a Gustav Reis, merchant, appears.) Joseph Eisenmann was born about 1853, and by 1881 he was in England – the census shows him living in a boarding house in Islington, London, with his occupation given as ‘Toy Manufacturer’. (Later censuses show him as ‘Fancy Goods Merchant’ and ‘Toy Dealer’.) In 1884, he married Esther Lazarus, daughter of a Bloomsbury merchant, and the following year their first and only son, Percy Morris Eisenmann, was born. A daughter, Maud Elsa, was born 3 years later, and a second daughter. Sybil Doris, in 1891. Sadly, as the 1891 and 1901 censuses show, Percy Eisenmann was deaf and dumb.

 

By about 1900, when Leon Rees came to England, Joseph Eisenmann must have thought that he would have no further sons, and that his daughters would be his main heirs. It seems that he sought a son-in-law to carry on his business in his old home town. Whether through family or synagogue connections, Leon Reis was identified as a potential candidate and taken on to train in the business, hence his appearance on the 1901 census as commercial traveller: no doubt he was travelling and selling the goods imported (or manufactured?) by Eisenmann & Co, to retailers.

 

Leon Rees’ performace was clearly satisfactory, and in 1908, he married Joseph Eisenmann’s daughter Maud Elsa in London. (By this time too, Leon Reis had anglicised his surname to Rees, and, probably, become a naturalized British subject; he certainly was by 1911.) After their marriage, Leon and Maud Rees lived at 3 Belsize Park, Hampstead. They had 3 sons, Frank Eisenmann Rees (1909-1992), Jack Leon Rees (1911-1962), and Derek Leon Rees (1919-1998).

 

(Leon’s brother Ludwig became a woollen goods merchant, and was still in England in 1911, boarding in South Hampstead – and still retained the spelling Reis). Another Rees, Ferdinand Rees aged 64, merchant, single, was staying with Leon Rees at the time of the 1911 census – perhaps this was an uncle?)

 

Joseph Eisenmann, Leon Rees’ father-in-law, lived at 39 Belsize Park, Hampstead, and conducted his toy and fancy goods business Eisenmann & Co from 46 Basinghall St, London Wall, EC2, from at least 1905 to 1921. By 1920, he had additional premises at 98-100 Tabernacle St, Clerkenwell, EC2, right next door to the Britannia Toy Company at No. 96, and up the street from Levy Isaac & Co, toy makers, at 22-24.

The Chiltern Toy Works

Again according to Grace’s Guide, Joseph Eisenmann established his own toy factory in England in 1908, the Chiltern Toy Works. This was based at Bellingdon Rd, Chesham, in Buckinghamshire, and took its name from the surrounding Chiltern Hills.  Joseph Eisenmann had been in England for nearly 30 years by this date, and in 1881 stated his occupation as toy manufacturer, so I wonder whether this was in fact the first factory he had operated. Marion Osborne has also wondered, why Chesham? It is a long way from the head office in London – perhaps he was able to acquire the premises at a very low rate.

 

Whether it was his first factory or not, the Chiltern name has become iconic in the history of British toy making. Several online histories of Chiltern bears state that, initially, the Chiltern Toy Works made only dolls, and started making teddy bears in 1915.  However, it is likely that the company was making stuffed animals before then.

Leon Rees, designer of soft and other toys; World War I

The evidence for production of other stuffed animals also shows that Leon Rees was involved in designing toys as well as selling them. He made several short visits to New York, both before and after WWI, and one purpose of his visits was apparently to register his designs with the US Patent Office. In November 1911 he patented a design for a soft toy cat, and in September 1912 he patented two designs for soft toy dogs.

 

In September 1913, shipping records show that he visited the US, but I have not found a patent record. In April 1916, at the height of WWI, he sailed to the US and patented a constructional toy, consisting of metal plates with curled spring edges which could easily be connected and disconnected. Some years after the war, he sailed again, patenting a stuffed bear with Henry G.S. Stone in April 1922, and making further trips in October 1922, June 1924, September 1924, and December 1938.

Eisenmann & Co, English representatives of German toymakers

No doubt Eisenmann & Co sold the products of many German toy manufacturers in the years before 1920 – one which we know of is the well-known German company Bing, which made soft toys, model trains and metal dolls house furniture among other toys. In 1911 (according to luckybears.com), Bing established a company in England, Bing Ltd, as part of Eisenmann & Co Ltd, to be sole agents for Gebrüder Bing of Nuremberg. (Leon Rees was agent for Bing in the 1920s, and in 1931, according to the book The British Toy Business- A history since 1700 (K. D. Brown, 2003), a British syndicate headed by Leon Rees bought a controlling stake in Bing Brothers, with the intention of restoring profitability by terminating its loss-making activities.)

 

In the 1920s (according to the toy trade journal Games and Toys in Marion Osborne’s A to Z 1914-1941 Dollshouses), Eisenmann & Co, Ltd, was again representing the German company Eisenmann & Co. in Fürth, which produced toys of all kinds, as well as products of the firms Mittelland-Gummiwerke, A.G., Hanover-Linden (rubber toys), and Pappe Moritz, Schlesien (dolls and cloth toys). The Eisenmann & Co trademark, Einco, was used on plush animals and dolls dating from the 1920s, if not earlier, apparently on both items they made and items they marketed. An internet search of Einco and Eisenmann & Co shows that the German Eisenmann and Co had links to other German companies – bisque googly eye dolls’ are known on which the head is marked “8723 EINCO HEUBACH” in a square, GERMANY.  Auctioneers differ as to whether they explain this as Gebrüder Heubach for Eisenmann & Co, or Eisenmann & Co for Heubach. (The former seems more likely to me.)

 

Joseph Eisenmann died in 1920 (Grace’s Guide wrongly states 1919). The executors of his will were his two sons-in-law, Leon Rees and Harold Barnett Cross, and an executrix, Esther Ellison. I have not obtained a copy of the will, but I imagine that the Eisenmann estate was split between his two daughters and, possibly, part held in trust to provide support for his son. According to Grace’s Guide, Leon Rees inherited the Chiltern Toy Works. Grace’s Guide states: “The company relocated to larger premises at Waterside in Chesham. That year, Rees went into partnership with Harry Stone, formerly of J. K. Farnell and Co [another teddy bear and plush animal manufacturer] and a new company, H. G. Stone and Co Ltd, was formed. Rees was in charge of marketing and sales - Stone of design and manufacture.”

L. Rees & Co and Amersham Toy Works established

Also in this year, 1920, L. Rees & Co., Manufacturers, appears in the London telephone directory, at 14 New Union St, E.C.2, ph Bank 5354 (in 1921, the phone number became London Wall 4910). The following year, additional premises are listed, at 262 Bishopsgate E.C.2, ph London Wall 6989.

 

In 1922, L. Rees & Co., Merchants and Manufacturers, have moved (or re-numbered) to 12 New Union St, London Wall 7004, and are also still at 262 Bishopsgate E.C.2 (phone number now Bishopsgate 2475).

 

It was probably around this date too that Leon Rees set up his Amersham Works factory in Amersham Road, Chesham, Buckinghamshire. (Amersham is a neighbouring market town in the Chiltern district of Buckinghamshire; Rees and his father-in-law chose quintessentially English names for their companies.) Marion Osborne has evidence of the Amersham name being used for woodware such as cricket bats, yachts, etc, in 1922 and 1923, and Amersham making wooden toys in 1928.  She also notes that Leon Rees was advertising dollshouses and forts in 1927 and 1928 issues of Games and Toys.

 

Perhaps Amersham Works was manufacturing dollshouses at this date, or perhaps Leon Rees was selling dolls houses made by others; as Marion Osborne notes, a 1929 Games and Toys advert names Leon Rees as agent for Th. Hyman of Grossolbersdorf, manufacturers of dollshouses and forts.

L. Rees & Co sells toys made by other German and English manufacturers

In the 1920s (according to Games and Toys Trade Directory listings for 1923 and 1928 published in Marion Osborne’s A to Z 1914-1941 Dollshouses), L. Rees &  Co. was also acting as Sole Concessionaire in the UK for a number of German firms: Richard Bauer of Nürnberg (Nuremberg), general Nuremberg toys; Bing games and Bing mechanical toys produced by Bing Spiele & Verlag and Bing Werke, also of Nuremberg; Max Daunhorn of Nuremberg, tops; Georg Herz of Chemnitz in Saxony, wooden toys and Georg Herz of Nuremberg, general Nuremberg toys; Th. Heymann of Grossolbersdorf in Saxony, for wooden toys, forts, and dolls’ houses; the Kammer & Reinhardt (in Waltershausen) series of “My Darling” jointed dolls and babies; cubes, dissecting puzzles and pyramids produced by the Nuremberg firm J. A. Kithil; dressed dolls made by Loeffler & Dill, Sonneberg; “Primrose” dressed and undressed dolls made by the Waltershausen Puppenfabrik, G.m.b.H in Sonneberg, and dolls and Sonneberg toys produced by Welsch & Co. of Sonneberg.

Marion Osborne also notes that Leon Rees sold the products of some English firms, such as Patterson Edwards Ltd, manufactures of prams and wooden toys.

It seems then that it will be quite a challenge to distinguish between the dolls’ houses, plush animals, etc, produced by the Rees- and Eisenmann-owned factories in England, those manufactured by other English firms whose goods L. Rees & Co sold, those produced by Eisenmann & Co in Germany, and those produced by other German firms in Germany and imported into England by L. Rees & Co. and Eisenmann & Co.

Other British manufacturers were not happy about the volume of German toy imports. Wendy Gater notes that The British Toy Business- A history since 1700 reports inequities in payment: German workers were paid on the same scale as in 1914, while British workers were paid twice the pre-war rate because of rulings by the Toy Trade Board.

A.C. Janisch of Farnell alleged that there was a combination of German makers pledged to break the British manufacturers. Hone Pierce went further, claiming that this ring, organised by Bing Brothers, had institutional links with British wholesalers and importers.

 

He named a company called Concentra which, he insisted, was headed by Leon Rees of Eisenmann and represented in the House of Commons by J.D.Kiley. He further charged that Rees and Kiley had each invested in the other's business.

 

Such anti-German feeling is not surprising straight after WWI; some stores refused to stock German-made toys. (Remember too, that one of Farnell’s designers had jumped ship to Rees’ Chiltern Toys.) It is interesting, however, that Leon Rees was perceived primarily as a wholesaler and importer, rather than a manufacturer, despite the fact that Leon Rees’ English companies were making wooden toys, soft toys and dolls in England. The British Toy Business also notes that The toy export group consisted of three manufacturers, Walter Lines, Fred Britain and A.W.J.Wells, while J.D Kiley and Leon Rees represented the merchants.”

Amersham Works in London

L. Rees & Co was registered as a new private company in December 1931, with a nominal capital of £100,000, to carry on the business of manufacturers of and dealers in toys, etc. The company was listed in the telephone directory from 1927-1938 at two addresses, 12 New Union Street, EC2, and 71 Paul Street, EC2.

 

The name Amersham Works Ltd, toy manufacturers, is first listed in the London telephone directory in 1933, at the same address and with the same phone number as the first address given for L. Rees & Co.

 

At the 1936 British Industries Fair at Olympia, Amersham Works exhibited “ “Amersham” Fancy Woodware and Household Utility Articles, Carpet Sweepers, Picnic Cases, Sewing Cabinets, Bathroom Furniture, Folding Tea Trolleys, Trays, Bed Tables.”  Both the London and Chesham addresses and phone numbers are given, as well as the cable address “Elreesonia, London”!

World War II

During the war, the Amersham Works continued in London – in 1940 still at the New Union Street address, and then from 1941-1944 at Imperial House, Dominion Street. According to Teddy Bear History, and also Grace’s Guide, toy making ceased at the Chesham factories during the war. The telephone directory shows two additional street addresses for L. Rees & Co during these years, at 16 Provost Road, N1, for soft dolls, and at 15 Dukes Road, WC1.

 

The end of the war meant that Leon Rees could again travel to America, and the factories could resume normal production. The Amersham Works factory in Chesham was once again in operation (another bear-making factory in Chesham was closed, according to Teddy Bear History, and all toy making in Chesham was concentrated in the Amersham Works factory). A new factory in Pontypool, Monmouthshire, was also built. It is not clear if this made bears, dolls houses, or other toys.

Leon Rees and Amersham Works, 1947-1963

In London, the main premises of L. Rees & Co became 31 Wilson Street, EC2, in 1945; Amersham Works was also listed with this address and phone number until Leon Rees’ death and the sale of his companies in 1963/64. L. Rees & Co had up to 5 telephone numbers at up to 5 addresses listed in the years from 1945-1964, specified variously as Soft Dolls, Toys, Doll Factory, Toy Factory, Export Department and Warehouse. (Other addresses besides those shown above were 52 Brooksby’s Walk, E9; 167 Lower Clapton Road, E5; and 7 South Way, N9.)

 

Amersham Works exhibited at the 1947 British Industries Fair, listing themselves as manufacturers of ‘ "Amersham" Toys and Games in Wood and Metal, Dolls' Houses, Forts, Tool Sets, Wheel Toys, Juvenile Sports Goods, etc., "Amersham" Carpet Sweepers.’ Marion Osborne (pc) believes that Amersham dolls houses were made only until about 1953.  So, out of a combined total of 85 years of Eisenmann/Rees toy making and selling, it seems that dolls houses were only made for about 25 years, less than a third of that time.

 

Leon Rees died in 1963. The following year, The Times reported that “Dunbee-Combex, manufacturers of plastic materials, are to acquire all the issued ordinary and 5 per cent shares in the L. Rees group of companies, comprising L. Rees and Co., H. G. Stone and Co., Amersham Works, and Isovac Ltd., manufacturers of toys, vacuum flasks, &c.”

Eisenmann & Co: Einco, post-World War II

Eisenmann & Co continued to be listed as Toy Merchants in the London telephone directory long after Joseph Eisenmann’s death. In fact, they were exhibitors at the British Industry Fair in 1947, as manufacturers of, among other things, “the "Einco" Series of Toys including Dolls Houses in Modern Style with Electric Lights.” The cable address for Eisenmann & Co in 1947 is “Ellarco, Avenue, London”. This suggests to me that Leon Rees (L.R.Co) was definitely involved in managing Eisenmann & Co, although it was not one of the companies in the L. Rees group in 1963.

 

I have not discovered the fate of the German Eisenmann & Co after WWI, and I wonder whether they were able to get out of Germany before the rise of Nazism and WWII.

 

What happened to Einco? I have found (in online searches) model trains, boats, aeroplanes, robots and plastic building bricks called ‘Happy Days’ in boxes marked ‘Einco’ which date from the 1970s or 1980s, some Made in Hong Kong, others made by/for Lindale Models, of Rochdale, Lancashire. (There is also a file relating to Eisenmann & Co. Ltd., London EC1, in the Gloucestershire Archives at Stroud.)

In conclusion

if you have read this far, congratulations! Marion Osborne said in A to Z 1914-1941 Dollshouses  that Amersham was a most frustrating firm to research. The number of online searchable resources now available has made research easier in some ways, but Amersham Toys was part of a large network of companies owned and managed by Leon Rees and the Eisenmann family, so the story remains complicated. Hopefully this has made the big picture a little clearer!

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