Dolls' Houses Past & Present

A website and ezine about dolls' houses: antique, vintage and modern. Plus furniture and accessories.

Keystone of Boston: the history of the firm by Rebecca Green

 According to Zillner and Cooper’s Antique and Collectible Dollhouses and Their Furnishings, the Keystone Manufacturing Company was  founded in Boston, Massachusetts, USA in the 1920s by Chester Rimmer and Arthur Jackson. First called Jacrim, it produced junior grade movie projectors.

 

However, the List of Toy Companies at antiquetoys.com and Seaworthy Boats, Jacrim Manufacturing both show that Jacrim actually produced boats – Chester Rimmer (b. 1899) and Arthur Jackson were both MIT graduates, in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

 

The Boston City Directory for 1925 lists Jacrim Manufacturing at 3 Cross St, Malden. David W. Rimmer was president, John W Rimmer was secretary, and Chester A Rimmer was treasurer. According to Seaworthy Boats, Chester Rimmer’s older brothers were coopers and cabinet makers by trade. Arthur Jackson was not an office-holder in the company, and apparently left Jacrim to join the American Enka Company, which produced rayon, in 1929.

 

The 1926 Boston City Directory entry for Jacrim Manufacturing is very informative, showing that it was incorporated in July 1922 with $10,000 capital. Jacrim has now moved from Malden to 615 Albany Street, Boston. Chester Rimmer is still the treasurer, but his brothers no longer hold positions within the company (whatever David Rimmer’s trade was, he became a freight traffic manager). Instead, the president is Isadore Marks and the secretary is Benjamin Marks

 

.Who were Isadore and Benjamin Marks? I looked them up in the same 1926 Boston directory, and found that Isadore Marks was president of Marks Bros Company (address rear 288 A Street, Boston) and also president of Jacrim Manufacturing. Benjamin Marks was treasurer of the Marks Bros Company, and secretary of Jacrim Manufacturing Company. The entry for Marks Bros Company states that it was incorporated in 1915 with $80,000 capital, and the other office holder, the secretary, is Rebecca Marks. They are toy manufacturers.

 

Furthermore, there are several entries for Keystone as well in this 1926 Boston City Directory. The Keystone Manufacturing Company shares an address with Marks Bros, rear 288 A Street Boston. It was incorporated in 1919 with $93,000. The president is one Edward M Swartz, the secretary is none other than Isadore Marks, and the treasurer is a Mrs Jennie M Weisman.

 

So the picture looks rather more complicated than has been previously described.

 

Clearly, the Marks brothers are key figures. The 1920 US census shows the family living at 21 Esmond Street, Dorchester, Boston. They were born in Russia (or Balbeershek (modern Białobrzegi), Poland, according to Joseph Marks’ naturalisation record) and immigrated in 1895. As well as Isadore, born ca 1887, and Benjamin, born ca 1896, there was an older brother Joseph Marks, born ca 1882. All were toy manufacturers. Rebecca Marks, born ca 1890, was the housekeeper; a Rose Marks, born ca 1894, ladies’ haberdasher, also appears. They had not always been toy manufacturers – the 1910 census shows Joseph Marks as a house painter, Isadore Marks as a gasfitter, and Rebecca Marks as a stitcher of neckwear.

 

As the 1926 Directory stated that Marks Bros was incorporated in 1915, I looked at earlier city directories. In the 1917 Boston City directory, the listing of Toy businesses does not include Marks Bros – instead, it lists Joseph Marks Co, rear 2176 Washington St, Roxbury; Marks & Knoring Co, 40 Winchester St; and Moss and Marks Co., 101 Albany St, 4th floor. The alphabetical listings confirm that Joseph Marks Co, toy manufacturers, comprised Joseph, Benjamin and Isadore Marks. Isadore was also president of Moss & Marks Co Inc. Benjamin was the sales manager at 2176 Washington St (Joseph Marks Co.).

 

The Marks’ partners in these firms were Abraham J. Knoring, born in Russia, a dealer in bottles, who was also secretary and treasurer of Mark V Knoring Co, at the same address, 40 Winchester; and Isidore Moss, born in Austria, a clothing manufacturer. I can imagine that Moss & Marks Co may have made children’s play outfits; Celluloid Dolls (by Pelletier Robinson) says that, according to Coleman’s Encyclopedia of Dolls, Marks and Knoring made dolls with celluloid faces.

 

By 1919, the names Joseph Marks Co, Marks & Knoring and Moss and Marks had given way to Marks Bros Co, and the address given was 40 Winchester St (where Marks & Knoring had been in 1917). There is no entry for Joseph Marks. For a short period in the early 1920s, Isadore and Benjamin Marks also made dolls under the name Andrew Manufacturing Company (address 463 Dorchester av, Boston).

 

So, it seems that the Marks family, after arriving in the United States from Russia, worked as house painters, gas fitters, haberdashers and neckwear stitchers until they had enough capital to set up their own business as toy manufacturers. They also seem to have had an eye out for partnerships which would enable them to expand their range (whatever that was, initially).

 

Toys found under the Marks Bros name include many Mickey Mouse toys made under licence from Walt Disney (bagatelle, Pin the Tail on Mickey Mouse, a Mickey Mouse toy piano with die-cut cardboard dancing figures, a Mickey Mouse target game, Mickey Mouse hoop-la, dexterity games, toy soldier set, etc), as well as dolls with celluloid socket and shoulder-plate heads, toy cardboard telescopes, toy baseball and horse racing games, party horns and miniature rocking toys.

 

 The partnerships with Moss and Knoring were followed by one with Edward Swartz of the Keystone Manufacturing Company.

 

Edward M Swartz was born in Posvel, Russia (modern Pasvalys, Lithuania) in 1886. The 1920 US census shows him as a manufacturer of toy moving pictures, who employed others in the business. Mrs Jennie M Weisman, treasurer of the Keystone Manufacturing Company, was his mother-in-law, and was born in Kiev. One of his brothers-in-law manufactured paper cups.

 

There are 9 companies called Keystone in the 1920 Boston directory – Keystone Coin Controlling Lock Co, Keystone Envelope Co, Keystone Fibre Co, Keystone Lubricating Grease Co, Keystone Printing Co, Keystone Sales Co, Keystone Wire Matting Co, Keystone Woolen Mills – and Keystone Manufacturing Co, makers of children’s furniture. I doubt that all these companies were related; perhaps there is some feature of Boston that makes Keystone a likely name.

 

Keystone Manufacturing Co, children’s furniture, is interesting, though, as it is exactly the name used by Edward M. Swartz for his toy moving camera company, which was not yet listed in the directory. The following year, 1921, the directory shows that the children’s furniture manufacturer had changed its name to Keystone Furniture Manufacturing Co (Abraham Cohen, 90 (later 86) Merrimac St Boston), and the Keystone Manufacturing Co (Edward Swartz, president, 53 Wareham Street, Boston) manufactures toys.

 

As the 1920 directory shows Isadore Marks associated only with Marks Bros Co, it seems likely that Edward Swartz set up Keystone Manufacturing in 1919 without any involvement of the Marks family. However, by 1922 Isadore Marks is listed as the secretary of Keystone Mfg Co, which was then at 53 Wareham St, Boston, and by 1925, Keystone Mfg Co and Marks Bros Co were sharing the same address, 288 A Street. As noted above, by 1926 Isadore and Benjamin Marks were already officeholders in the Jacrim Manufacturing Co. Jacrim still had separate premises at 615 Albany St in 1926 and 1928, but by 1930 Jacrim too was sharing the premises at 288 A Street.

 

Sometime after that, all three (or more?) were amalgamated under the name Keystone, with Edward Swartz and Chester Rimmer retaining management positions in their respective specialties. It’s possible that the name Keystone was chosen over Marks to avoid confusion with Louis Marx and Co, the well-known manufacturers of metal dolls houses and plastic furniture, or the even better known comedians, the Marx Brothers Chico, Harpo and Groucho.

Ad from 1938 Playthings. The Marks Bros had a showroom at 200 5th Avenue in 1935, and the 1938 Keystone Manufacturing catalogue also gives a showroom address here.

In the 1938-39 Keystone catalogue which Florine owns, as well as the 2 pages of dolls houses, there are:

  • 10 junior movie projectors, a page of adult projectors and 8 and 16 mm movie cameras,
  • several pages of heavy steel “ride ‘em” toys for boys and girls (models of full-sized Packard vehicles produced with permission of the Packard Motor Co.),
  • children’s kneehole desks and matching chairs, musical cradles,
  • soldier forts,
  • beautiful 30s style speedboats, plus sailboats, a fireboat, and surprisingly (as it was before WW2) an exploding battle fleet and shooting submarine…. 

With our knowledge of the individual companies which had merged, we can see here Edward M Swartz’ toy movie cameras and ride ‘em toys; Chester Rimmer’s toy boats; and possibly Abraham Cohen’s children’s furniture. Keystone continued to acquire the ranges of other companies: just before World War II Keystone purchased the tools and dies from Kingsbury Toys, which was going out of the toy business.

We don’t know whether dolls houses were made by one of the original firms before their merger (although no dolls houses marked Jacrim or Marks Bros are known). It would be a natural progression from manufacturing children's furniture – or possibly from boats and wagons – or from Marks’ Bros laminated cardboard, paper lithographed toys. Perhaps, when the three companies had amalgamated, they realised that dolls houses were missing from their otherwise extensive range of toys, or that they needed to cater to girls too.

Keystone continued production during WWII; the 1942-43 catalog, which Florine owns, added lots of war toys (mainly boats; Chester Rimmer’s contribution perhaps), a small “bowling alley” on legs, 2 pages of dollhouses, still had several pages of junior projectors and the adult cameras and projectors, but added a page of 8 and 16 mm movie films, child related and travelogues. (In fact, it seems that Rebecca Marks had continued stitching ties, as a 1942 issue of The Billboard advertises “a line of summer neckwear in the latest designs” made by the Keystone Manufacturing Company. “A spokesman for the firm pointed out that it has been in existence for over 20 years and has always given satisfactory service.”)

 

As we’ve seen, prior to WWII the history of Keystone was one of several small companies being set up and then taken over by the Marks Brothers, initially keeping their original name and separate premises, but then all becoming part of the Keystone Manufacturing Company.

 

The 1950s brought changes. Isidore Marks died in 1951 (and Benjamin in 1956). By 1953, Keystone had split into four separate entities once again. The Keystone Camera Co (manufacturers of motion picture apparatus), and the Keystone Manufacturing Co (manufacturers of metal toys) were both under the direction of Edward M Swartz, the founder.

 

Chester Rimmer, founder of Jacrim Seaworthy wooden boats, was president and treasurer of the Keystone Wood Toys Inc, with Chas V Kesselman as vice-president. Chester Rimmer’s home address is given as Norwell, Massachusetts, from 1953 on, and he died there in 1984.

Another company, Keystone Import & Sales Co (toys) was under the direction of one David Dobro.

 

It seems that these four companies did not continue to operate independently for very long. According to the February 1958 issue of Playthings, Keystone Wood Toys had just been purchased by the South Bend Toy Manufacturing Company of South Bend, Indiana. South Bend Toys had existed since the 1870s, making wooden toys such as croquet sets, rocking horses, wooden and wicker doll carriages, etc. Florine’s most recent Keystone house, which is still in its box, is marked Keystone Division, South Bend Toys; it is one of the models shown in the 1955 Keystone Wood Toys catalog issued from Hallett St, Boston. The Playthings article states that “all of the Keystone tools, dies, jigs, equipment, etc., are now in South Bend and the entire South Bend toy organization is busy getting set up to get into production on this merchandise.”

 

However, in the same month, the Playskool Manufacturing Company of Chicago acquired a fifty percent interest in South Bend Toys. No changes were planned at that point in the management or sales organisation of South Bend Toys, but Playskool later became a subsidiary of Milton Bradley, which then became a subsidiary of Hasbro. In its earliest catalogues, Playskool had offered a collapsible wooden dolls house with four rooms and a sun parlour, and in the 1950s or 60s, produced play sets, including Let’s Play House . Perhaps South Bend Toys, or Playskool, produced the Keystone-type dolls houses shown in the FAO Schwarz catalogs as late as 1967, but the catalogs do not identify the suppliers.

 

According to a 1981 Nutshell News article by Dee Snyder, the Keystone Camera Company was bought by Berkey Photo, Inc. in 1966 and moved to Clifton, N.J. This article also states that “the wooden toy division was sold to the creative person who had designed and supervised the building of the houses and other toys.” This would seem to suggest that Chester Rimmer (who became president of Keystone Wood Toys in 1953, and who had definitely designed the wooden boats) was also the designer of the dolls houses, but this is not certain.

 

(Thanks to Marcie Tubbs for additional images and articles.)

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