Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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Schoenhut Dollhouse Furniture by Patty Cooper

 (This article was previously printed in the Schoenhut Collector's Club newsletter)

 

 It’s easy to identify a Schoenhut dollhouse--Just look for the label on the the base.  But how do you identify a piece of Schoenhut dollhouse furniture? If it’s one of the few miniature pianos, there may be a label above the keyboard that says “Schoenhut.”  But every other piece of dollhouse furniture that the company made between 1928 and 1934 is unmarked. During the seven years that Schoenhut produced dollhouse furniture, they made (more or less) five different lines, in different scales and different styles. To add to the confusion, several other companies also made dollhouse furniture that is almost indistinguishable from Schoenhut.


The best, most reliable reference is Dollhouses and Dollhouse Furniture Manufactured by the A. Schoenhut Company, Philadelphia, Pa. 1917-1934,  a reprint showing dollhouse items from Schoenhut catalogs edited by Margaret Whitton. Unfortunately, this booklet does not include all of the furniture, and even with the photographs it is still sometimes difficult to distinguish Schoenhut from the nearly identical German furniture produced in the late 1920s and the Converse, Strombecker, and Menasha Woodenware furniture produced in the1930s. To be sure, one must consult the Sears catalogs, illustrated boxed sets, and, finally, compare similar items in hand.

 

Still unsure? If you have a piece of dollhouse furniture that was made during that time period, the odds are that it’s not Schoenhut. I’ve been trying to find all of the furniture for the past twenty years and believe me, it’s really really hard. The company made dollhouses for at least ten years before they made any dollhouse furniture to put in them and perhaps for several years after. It’s easier to find a Schoenhut dollhouse than the furniture for them. At least half of the furniture advertised as Schoenhut on Ebay is not--and often the real pieces sneak by unnoticed. It is so difficult to identify that even the most knowledgeable, reputable dealers may find that it’s simply not worth trying. But if you’re still determined, file this article away for some time in the future when you actually have a piece in your hands and maybe you’ll get lucky!

1928-1930

The first known Schoenhut furniture was made in 1928. The catalog for that year advertised a dining room, living room, bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen in a small 1/12th scale. The furniture, especially the living room, was  influenced by the Stickley/Arts & Crafts/Mission style. It was quite detailed, with operable drawers and doors, and most pieces had a natural wood finish. In 1930, Schoenhut introduced five folding apartment rooms, sold both unfurnished and furnished. The furniture was mostly unchanged from 1928, except that it was available in new, bright colors: pink, turquoise, orange, and green.

The ten-piece, 1928  living room set was originally sold in a natural wood finish. Later, it was available in brown, turquoise, or orange.

According to the 1928 catalog, the bedroom furniture was made from “clear red gum lumber” with a walnut color, natural wood finish. Later sets were available in pink or turquoise. The sleigh beds came furnished with mattresses and pillows in a small, print which matched the curtains found in some Schoenhut houses and the folding rooms. The beds are 5 3/8” long. 

The 1928 bathroom was finished in white enamel and had six pieces including a small mirror not found with this set. The freestanding shower had both a ringed curtain frame (with white curtain) and a wooden shower head.

The kitchen set had an icebox, Hoosier style cabinet, table, and two chairs. Presumably, as with the German kitchens of the time, stoves were purchased separately from other manufacturers.

In the apartment living room, the Mission style pieces were replaced by an overstuffed, underscaled sofa and two chairs. However, the Mission living room was still offered separately in the catalog, as well as a new design which was then carried over into their 1931 line.

The dining room remained unchanged in style, but by 1930, the finish changed from natural wood to brightly colored enamel, either orange or turquoise. All of the doors and drawers opened. The chairs are 3 1/4” tall and the buffet is 3 3/8” tall.


It would be fairly easy to identify the 1928-30 Schoenhut furniture using the illustrations found in the Whitton catalog reprints except for the fact that nearly identical pieces were being made in Germany at the same time. This furniture was so similar that it is tempting to think that some of the Schoenhut furniture was actually imported from Germany or at least inspired by it. The German furniture is usually stamped “Germany” and sometimes bears a paper label from a department or toy store. Pieces have been found with stickers from F.A.O. Schwarz, Marshall Fields, and White House (a  San Francisco store.) The German pieces are often marked with a price which indicates that they may have been sold by the piece whereas the Schoenhut furniture was apparently sold only in boxed sets---I’ve never seen a piece individually priced. The German furniture is most often found in a natural wood finish.
 The similar pieces include the Mission style sofa, arm chair,  rocking chair, and fireplace; the sleigh beds and vanity; and all of the dining room pieces.

 

The German furniture is usually slightly larger in scale, a more standard 1 inch to the foot. But even the German furniture seems to vary slightly in scale, and to be honest, I’m not absolutely sure that I can tell the difference between the Mission style sofas and chairs made by the two companies. In addition to being smaller, the Schoenhut fireplaces have the faux brick paper lining only the firebox; the paper is wrapped around the front of the German models. The Schoenhut mantle clocks read 9:00; the German ones say 8:17. The German pieces have metal knobs, but the Schoenhut knobs are wooden. Several examples of this Schoenhut-like German furniture is shown in the various books by Dian Zillner listed at the end of this article.

These dining room pieces are not Schoenhut, but similar ones marked “Germany.” The shield back chairs, buffet, and server are nearly identical to the 1928 Schoenhut set, although somewhat larger. The chairs are 3 7/8” tall and the buffet is 4” tall. The china cabinet is noticeably different from the Schoenhut one and the table in this set has a square base which is quite different from the round Schoenhut pedestal. Schoenhut dining rooms did not include a rolling teacart which is often found with the German sets.

1931-1932
    
 In 1931, Schoenhut introduced a completely new line of dollhouse furniture, in a comfortable, “overstuffed”,  middle class style. The effects of the Great Depression were evident. Each box had a utilitarian looking  photograph of the appropriate set on the cover and an NRA (National Recovery Act) logo. The calico mattresses and pillows were eliminated and replaced by printed paper glued to  the wooden bed and dowel “bolster.” Most of the doors or drawers were merely embossed in the wood and inoperable.

 

The furniture was also slightly smaller, a fairly consistent 3/4” to the foot in scale, which was appropriate in size for most of the Schoenhut dollhouses. The boxed sets were sold with the furniture attached to copies of Armstrong’s linoleum rugs which could be used as flooring in a dollhouse. This furniture was sold through the 1931 Sears Roebuck catalog for 89 cents a box.

 

 

 

The 1931 Sears Roebuck and Company Fall and Winter catalog advertised five sets of Schoenhut furniture. Photograph by Suzanne Silverthorn.

The 1932 sofa and chairs were similar to the ones offered in 1930 catalog, but the fireplace was no longer included and a library table had been added. The “upholstered” areas of the sofa and chairs were painted blue or reddish-brown while the library table, floor lamp (with a very flared shade), and grand piano with stool were stained walnut. Photograph by  Suzanne Silverthorn.

The seven piece kitchen set was green in 1931 and orange in 1932. The door of the monitor-type refrigerator opened but none of the other pieces had functional parts. The stove had metal “burners” which resembled shoe eyelets. The chairs were 2 7/8” tall. The sink had only two legs and a distinctive faucet fashioned from flat metal.

The bathroom was available in either green or white in 1931, but the 1932 version was orchid. The seat of the toilet was the only opening part. The 1932 set also included a mirrored vanity. The bathtub was almost 4” long and had wooden knobs and a flattened metal faucet (missing in photograph), similar to the one on the kitchen sink.

The bedroom set was available in pink or green. The twin beds had  printed paper “bedspreads” with bolsters. Only the top drawer of the dresser could be opened; the other features are embossed. The set also included a nightstand and lamp not shown in the photograph.

The 1931 dining room had a walnut stain. The two top drawers of the buffet opened as one while the two drawers and two doors below were merely embossed.

The 1932 catalog continued to show the 1931 furniture with only a few modifications. The Whitton reprints advertise four piece sets, but sets with seven pieces were also available. Some of the colors were changed. The kitchen was available in orange and the bathroom in orchid. The bathroom was sold with a stall shower and vanity. The dining room table  and buffet were slightly different and the bedroom set was also redesigned with a more scalloped headboard. This bed design, with the bolster removed,  was carried over to the 1933 furniture.


In 1930, the Sears Roebuck catalog advertised a set of furniture which is easily confused with Schoenhut. It was produced by the Morton E. Converse company under the name “Realy Truly” and it sold for 89 cents per set.  The Realy Truly dining tables were round, pedestal types, very different from the Schoenhut tables. By 1931, Schoenhut furniture had replaced the Realy Truly furniture in the  Sears Roebuck catalog.  Photographs of the Converse sets can be found in Dian Zillner’s Furnished Dollhouses 1880s-1980s and in some of her other books.

The Converse Realy Truly furniture was offered in the 1930 Sears catalog. It did not include a bathroom. Courtesy of Dian Zillner.

The Converse Realy Truly kitchen had many similarities to Schoenhut. The Realy Truly chairs were almost identical to the 1931-1932 Schoenhut ones, distinguishable only be a narrow ridge along their seats and the fact that the little bulge in the back splat was slightly higher than the one on the Schoenhut chairs. The kitchen sinks were also similar but easily recognized because they do not have the flattened metal Schoenhut faucets. Photograph by Suzanne Silverthorn.

In 1932, the  Sears Roebuck catalog advertised “Schoenhut’s latest new large size dollhouse wood furniture” for 69 cents per box. This line is not shown in the Whitton reprints--possibly it was made only for Sears. It was a large 1” to the foot scale, too large for most of the Schoenhut dollhouses, and was nearly identical to furniture introduced by Strombecker in 1931. This was apparently Strombecker’s first foray into the dollhouse furniture business and the two sets are so similar that it seems possible that they were both designed, competitively, to Sears Roebuck’s specifications. If so, Schoenhut was the victor only briefly.

 

By 1936, Strombecker had effectively taken over the market, and their furniture,  easily confused with Schoenhut, dominated the field until the plastics era. The Sears catalog illustrations are drawings, not photographs, making the Schoenhut pieces especially difficult to distinguish from the Strombecker version.  Today, the Strombecker pieces can be found at least ten times as often as the Schoenhut.

The 1932 Sears Roebuck catalog offered a large scale set not found in the regular Schoenhut catalog.

The illustration on this boxed set actually shows the 3/4” to the foot set, not the larger set sold by Sears. The buffet had operable doors and the server had an opening drawer. The very similar Strombecker set had trestle type legs on the table and the chairs have a round hole in the back.

In 1932,the two beds were designed to accommodate a mattress, but none was provided. Both of the dresser drawers were operable. The set is described as orchid in the Sears advertisement, but it has also been found in green. The beds were 5 1/4” long. The Strombecker beds had three decorative holes in the footboard; the Schoenhut ones are plain.

The kitchen offered by Sears was white, but this set has also been found in orange, ivory, and green. The chairs are 4 1/8” tall. Note that the sink has the same type of flat metal faucet found on the smaller scale sinks. The burners on the Schoenhut stove are printed; in the Strombecker version the design is impressed. A small diamond printed on the Schoenhut broiler is another helpful clue.

The Sears set was orchid, but the bathroom has also been found in ivory and green.  The stall shower and vanity were rather small and also sold with the 1932 3/4” scale furniture.

The Sears living room was red, except for the green  grand piano with bench.  The piano has also been found in a natural wood finish. A floor lamp, similar to the one shown in the bedroom was originally part of the set. The Sears catalog doesn’t show a library table, but the one in the photograph was definitely made by Schoenhut and matches this set. Unlike the Strombecker version, this one does not have a stretcher. Note that the sofa, chair, and ottoman have knob- like feet, unlike the bead feet found on the Strombecker pieces.  The backs are also slightly different with the Schoenhut version having a more gradual curve. The arms are attached to the sofa and chair with two nails placed horizontally.

A boxed Strombecker set shows the obvious similarities between the furniture made by the two companies. The Strombecker furniture is often found with a decorative gold or silver swirled finish. The sofa and chair have bead feet and the sides are attached with two diagonally placed nails. The other 1931 Strombecker sets are shown in Antique and Collectible Dollhouses by Dian Zillner.

1933-1934

The company must have realized that 3/4” to the foot was a good compromise scale for their dollhouses because in 1933, the catalog advertised “A Good Line of Furniture at a Low Price, Attractively Designed, New--Small Furniture (Special), For Small Doll Houses, Made in One Price Sets Only.” It was actually in a consistent scale with the furniture advertised in their 1931 and 1932 catalogs, but smaller than that sold by Sears the previous year.

 

Six piece sets were sold through the Sears catalog for 47 cents a box.  This design was apparently only made for one year and is quite difficult to find, but it is findable. A six piece kitchen set sold on Ebay this summer for $75.00.  The 1932 furniture line continued to be offered in the 1933 catalog, although this was not duplicated in the Whitton reprint.

The Sears Fall and Winter catalog for 1933 offered this set of 3/4” to the foot scale Schoenhut furniture. The straight-back chairs illustrated are different from any that I’ve actually seen. Apparently the design was altered slightly in actual production. Courtesy of Dian Zillner from the collection of Marge Meisinger.

The dining room also came in green, with six-sided table; a buffet with two opening doors and clovers printed on the front; and four chairs which were identical to the bedroom chairs. 

The 1933 bedroom had only one bed, with a scalloped headboard and a ribbon design stamped on headboard. The mattress was suggested by printed paper over wood but there was no longer a built-in bolster. The dresser appeared to have two drawers, but only the top one opened. This piece was similar to the one from the precious year but no longer had a decorative, scalloped piece along the bottom. There were also two chairs with cutout backs. These were smaller (2 7/8” tall)  versions of the 1-inch scale kitchen/dining/bedroom chairs sold by Sears in 1932. The bedside table was very similar to the piano bench, but square rather than rectangular. The set was available only in green.

The living room set included a piano with bench (in natural wood or green); a radio on legs (in natural wood with details printed in black);  a floor lamp; and a sofa and chair with rolled arms (in green, red, or blue with black details.)

The “orchid” colored bathroom included a bathtub with no faucets; a sink which was the same as the 1932 sink; medicine cabinet with scalloped top; a modernized  toilet which no longer had the bowl separated from the tank; and a mirrored vanity with bench, both carried over from the previous year.

The 1933 kitchen came in a creamy yellow color described as “canary” in the Sears catalog. It included a sink with a tall backsplash, four legs, and flattened metal faucet on the right side; a monitor topped refrigerator; a table with two chairs; and a “gas” stove with details printed in black. The catalog shows a stove with a tall oven on right side, but the stove pictured here is more frequently found with this set.

1934


 1934 is the last year that the Schoenhut company made dollhouse furniture and it’s obvious that the company was trying to cut costs. The scale was the smallest yet (less than 3/4” to the foot), most of the details were merely printed on, and few of the doors or drawers were operable. Despite the cutbacks, it was an incredibly charming set, very Art Deco in style, and a nice size for many of the smaller Schoenhut houses.  Even the boxes had a nice Deco flair. And the price was certainly right! The Sears catalog sold the six piece sets for 43 cents a box, four cents cheaper than the previous year, and less than half the price of the 1931 sets.  The Schoenhut catalog also advertised sets in the same style with three additional pieces. Some of these are almost impossible to find and there are many items, such as the chaise longue and fireplace, that I’ve never been able to find.

The five 1934 sets are shown in a Schoenhut dollhouse. The 1934 parlor set had a red sofa and chair with details printed in black. These pieces have also been found in green. There was a walnut colored radio and a green baby grand piano with bench. The deluxe sets included an extra armchair with ottoman and a bookcase.

The blue bedroom had a bed with a paper covered mattress and a short, scalloped headboard and footboard. The dresser had one opening drawer and a metal mirror with the same scalloped design as the bed. There were two chairs, a floor lamp, and a pedestal based nightstand. The night table of the deluxe set had an attached mirror.


The larger set also included an extra bed and a chaise longue. The 1934 bedroom chairs were just like those from 1933, but they were 1/8” smaller, a mere 2 3/4” tall.

The 1934 orchid bathrooms were more streamlined than those of previous years. The smaller sets included a bathtub, toilet, sink, round stool, medicine cabinet, sink, and vanity with metal mirror. The sinks continued to be the same size and style that had been used since 1932, but they were somewhat cruder, less fully sanded and with nails rather than wooden beads for the handles. The nine piece bathroom included a bench for the vanity, a laundry hamper, and a shower. I’ve never seen the shower with this set, but I suspect that it was merely the same one used in the 1932 sets--it appears to be slightly oversized in the catalog illustration.

The 1934 Sears and Roebuck catalog advertised six piece sets of small Schoenhut furniture for the lowest ever price of 43 cents a box.

The orange dining room had a table, buffet with one opening drawers, and four chairs. The chairs were the same as those found in the kitchen and bedroom. The larger sets included a fireplace with a mantle clock and a serving cart.

The 1934 Schoenhut kitchen tables (shown in the dollhouse photograph) were practically indistinguishable from those made by Strombecker, but the Strombecker tables had an extra turned ring at the top of the legs. The tables from both companies were green. The kitchen set also included a white sink with a nail for the faucet; a white refrigerator with two printed doors; two chairs; and a stove with details printed on the front in black, but no burners. The stoves had a cardboard backing which was slightly higher than the stove itself. (This detail was also found on the stoves made by Strombecker in 1934. This extra feature was easily damaged and was discontinued by Strombecker in their 1936 catalog.) The deluxe kitchen sets included a white stool, broom closet, and a piece which is difficult to identify from the catalog, but may have been a trash can.

Still confused? I’d be glad to try to identify any furniture that you think might be Schoenhut. My e-mail address is Gardenmont@aol.com.

Bibliography:

Schoenhut Collectors Club. Toy Catalogue 1930. The A. Schoenhut Company Reprint, 1996.

Sears, Roebuck and Company. Various catalogs 1930-1934. Chicago, Illinois.

Whitton, Margaret, ed. Dollhouses and Dollhouse Furniture Manufactured by the A. Schoenhut Company, Philadelphia, Pa. 1917-1934. Reprint, no date.

Zillner, Dian.American Dollhouses and Furniture from the 20th Century . Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1995.


Zillner, Dian and Patty Cooper. Antique & Collectible Dollhouses and Their Furnishings.  Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2001.

 

Zillner, Dian. Furnished Dollhouses 1880s-1980s. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2001.

 

Zillner, Dian. Dollhouse & Furniture Advertising 1880s-1980s. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2004.

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