Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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

Albert Neely Hall, Prolific Designer of Dolls Houses by Rebecca Green

Home-made vintage dolls houses are listed for sale on Australian ebay quite frequently.  I have several in my collection, and would have bought quite a few more, if I had room and if ebay sellers could freight them all to me .... but as neither is the case, I enjoy looking at them on ebay.


Recently  I've been looking through old Australian newspapers online, and saw ads for dolls house plans - and realised that some of the plans for sale were the same models that are now coming up for sale on ebay.


Here's one that I've seen a few models of:

 

and here it is advertised in the Sun Herald in 1978:

 

 The ad says that the house is 27 1/2 inches high and 29 inches wide, and the back is cut away for play. The pattern included acetate windows with printed dividers, and decals for the house and window boxes. The house "will be cherished by any little girl fortunate enough to receive it, [and] is sturdy enough to last for several generations."

This seems to be borne out by the houses which have survived - the one above has wonderful 1970s wallpaper, and, except for one of those acetate windows, looks pretty sturdy 30 years on.

I was pleased to know the source of the design, and the date of this house, and then ebay threw up another piece of information:

 

The plans themselves are currently available for sale, and, as you can see, they give the designer's name: A. Neely Hall.

Another house, which came up on ebay in Sydney recently, was also made from plans for sale - the ad I found was in the Sydney Morning Herald of 1982:

 

 It turns out that this house was also designed by A. Neely Hall. This I discovered by browsing the galleries of old dolls houses on KT Miniatures. Marilyn Pittman of Ohio found the same model dolls house at a flea market, and later, she says,

While browsing eBay, a "Craft Patterns Doll House Packet" came up for auction, and it was my house! After buying the pattern, my decision was made for me. The pattern had an address, so I contacted the museum in Elmhurst, Illinois, and the rest is history.

The house now resides at their Historical Museum in the section of their famous architect, Albert Neely Hall, 1883-1959. His first pattern for this house was printed in 1958 and there were several subsequent printings of the pattern of the house, breezeway, and garage, as well as patterns for furniture. The brick paper, paper to cover the shutters, and plastic windows were included in the pattern packet.

 

So houses made to this plan could date anywhere between 1958 and 1982, or even later. Probably the best way to date them is by the materials used to decorate them - the offcuts of flooring, wallpaper, fabric and so on.

Elmhurst, Illinois' website gives more information about Albert Neely Hall. He wrote many books and articles in newspapers and magazines, and with his brother, illustrator Norman P. Hall, he founded Craft Patterns, which published the designs he created. The business was continued in Elmhurst by other family members until 1986

 

 Fellow blogger Amy remembers going to Hall's miniatures store in Elmhurst as a child, and being fascinated by the minis. The craft patterns were of course for sale by mail order in the US, as well as Australia and no doubt other countries too. A 1973 ad mentions an illustrated catalogue of plans which was also available for sale  - no doubt that would reveal more dolls houses designed by the Hall family!


(Another Elmhurst resident was Walter Burley Griffin, who designed the Australian capital city, Canberra. Elmhurst Historical Museum recently had a fantastic-sounding exhibition,

Dwellings: A Study in Residential Architecture
Using Elmhurst as a case study, this original exhibit takes visitors on an exploration of the diverse architectural styles of the western suburbs. From bungalows and prairie style residences to turn-of-the-century Victorians, Sears mail order homes and more, Dwellings depicts the architectural details of neighborhoods in the Elmhurst area and explains how the city evolved as a classic example of Midwestern suburbanization. The exhibit includes special features on the work of Walter Burley Griffin, Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright; a video on "The Lost Homes of Elmhurst"; and a hands-on kids' activity desk with architectural building blocks.

Next year, an exhibition called "Toys in the Hood - A history of toys, toy makers and their Chicago area roots" will run from late April to mid September. Elmhurst sounds like an interesting place to visit!


Here's an early design by A. Neely Hall, published in a 1937 issue of Science and Mechanics Magazine, for sale on ebay recently:

 

 So, he was certainly a prolific designer of dolls houses, and it seems likely that he (or his company) also produced the plans for these other houses which could be ordered from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun Herald.

From 1973, this open-backed house on castors, pattern no. 411:

 

 (Perhaps the maker of this model, listed on ebay in Adelaide four years ago, had taken to heart the message of the feature (and photo, right) above the ad: "Eye appeal need not rely on furniture .... today's excitement lies in backgrounds provided for that furniture".)

In 1979, plans for this three storey, front-opening house were advertised; I've seen several models of this one too:

 

 A lot of the plans I've come across were for two- and three-storey houses. I have also seen photos or ads for two bungalows.

This fantastic model was advertised in 1966. (Notice how it's the same little girl, in the same outfit, and holding the same cot, as in the Cape Cod plans?)

 

A house of this design was sold on ebay in Perth a couple of years ago. I didn't save any photos, but I do remember that it had a red-painted roof, and the same vinyl flooring as in my re-decorated Lines DH/C.


A model of this house also sold on US ebay recently (thanks to callsmall for noticing this):

 

This house is signed on the bottom, and dated 1965. The maker chose a quite different colour scheme from the maker of the model sold in Perth.

And this one I don't think I've seen yet, a ranch house from 1978, the same year that the Swiss chalet plans were available.

 So parents who wanted to make a dolls house for their daughters (or possibly sons) had some choice of styles. 

 

 Some of the houses, like the Swiss Chalet above, came with plans for making the dolls house furniture. Others, like the hexagonal house, say "Standard plastic dollhouse furniture, obtainable in most toy stores, is the correct size for this house." The furniture shown in the Craft Patterns photo of the hexagonal house appears to be by Marx. It is probably 1/16th scale, like a lot of plastic furniture of the time (although some was even smaller, at 1:24 scale, and some 1:12). The house itself, like other Craft Patterns houses, was 1/12 scale (the one sold on US ebay was 36" (1m) in diameter, and 12" (30 cm) high). Perhaps by "correct size", they meant that 1:16 or 1:12 dolls house furniture would fit in the house, unlike 1:6 scale furniture made for Barbie and other fashion dolls, which would not have fitted.

 

(I first published this article on my blog. Thanks to fellow bloggers Amy, Callsmall and Pubdoll, in particular, for questions and further info.)

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