Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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

A Lifetime's Passion (Part 2) by Angela Bulteel

My third house belonged to a young lady called Charlotte Maze, and has provenance, including a picture of Charlotte and details of her life. Apparently the house was made for her in 1840 from an old cupboard, and at one time in its life, it sailed all the way to India with the Maze family and later returned to England with them.

Sadly, prior to reaching the auction house it had been recently repainted with white gloss inside and although retaining its original hand made carpets, tin kitchen range and fireplaces, there was little else original, except a gorgeous English round table and some nice ornaments. At the auction viewing, I had dismissed it completely. It had not sold in a previous auction.  However, when the lot came up, the auctioneer struggled to get a starter bid of £200, so to help proceedings along, I foolishly stuck my hand up and continued to read my catalogue.

 

Suddenly the person next to me nudged me saying “You’ve just bought a house, stick your bidder paddle up!”   I was horrified, the house was 4 feet wide, ruined with new paint and looked positively ghastly!

Nevertheless, having been the only bidder and utterly lumbered, the next day found me in a large borrowed Volvo estate trundling back to the auction house, dreading explaining my overlarge faux pas to my husband, to say nothing of trying to squeeze the monstrosity into our rather small, and overly full terraced home.

Surprisingly, I did find somewhere “inconspicuous” to put it, (well one does, doesn’t one?) as I eventually discovered  all the provenance of the house and its owners and began to look at the house with sympathetic eyes. After all, it had cost me so little for such an old house, and the carpets and fireplaces were worth the price I paid, it was too big to take to fairs to sell, and by jove, once tidied and a few choice pieces of furniture and pictures were arranged inside, it really showed some promise.

 

I’m not very good at stripping, especially thick gloss, so I took the easy option, I lightly rubbed it down and bought pots of Farrow and Ball paint and set to work. It had begun to look presentable, and gave plenty of scope for my excess of dolls house chattels.  The spacious four rooms and centre staircase and landing are quite imposing, although sadly I did have to make a banister and railings on the landing.

 

Later, I found some nice old wallpaper to cover the glossed walls, and the bottom left room I papered with cotton material from the lining of an early trunk, courtesy of a dear friend, and now, despite its  many faults, I love it.  

 

An early wooden set of furniture soon came my way, as did a lovely glass fronted cabinet, perfect beds, nick nacks and of course wooden grodnertals, all of which seem to suit.

 Dolls houses are great places to keep all the tiny bits one accumulates over the years, like the little drawer lying on the floor in the bottom left room, containing minute sea shells and starfish.

 

However, I’m still waiting to replace the later hanging lights in the two top rooms but no doubt something will turn up one day.

In the cupboards and drawers of my dollhouses’ furniture I keep all sorts of special things, old charms, beads, scraps of early material, lace, miniature scissors etc.

When showing interested friends my collection of houses, I may bring out  say a chest of drawers,  and on opening it, I sometimes find a long forgotten little gem I haven’t seen for years. What a thrill!  Which reminds me, many years ago, when  giving a talk on dollshouses to the local WI, I took along a selection of small items of furniture, and on opening the cupboard doors of one piece, was shocked to find two lovely feather chairs which had been missing for years. To my eternal shame, I had come to suspect a neighbour, who was forever calling in to scrutinise the contents of my houses, had purloined them years ago! What a public admission!

 

My final house is a little two roomed 1840/50s treasure.  I was taking my stock into a fair when I noticed a dealer carrying a small dollshouse under his arm. He told me he had saved it from a neighbour’s bonfire only the day before, but was unfortunately too late to save the contents and had watched them burn to cinders! I quickly reserved it and prayed all day, not only that I would take enough cash to pay him (all of £100 -  well it was about 30 odd years ago), but also that I could persuade my husband to buy it for me for my birthday the following week. Always a good acquisitive ploy I find!

 At a guess, this dear little house was probably hand made by a doting father for his daughter and it has no provenance, but luckily still retained its original wall papers.  It’s a warm, dark brown imitation brick, the door and window frames amateurishly carved.

 

The two rooms have been made into a kitchen and parlour, and although quite small in the grand scheme of things, this house has an air of quietly understated  importance, as it rests on a perfectly sized mahogany bidet. It now boasts a fine collection of kitchen utensils on two dressers and a wonderful range, small dogs, the inevitable china mice, and a parrot, as do most of my houses.

 

A fine family of dolls rests in the comfortable upstairs parlour, where silver-framed family portraits stand on the piano, and a moral precept hangs on the wall: "Who went about doing good."

I really have been very lucky in my collecting, not least by having an understanding husband, and a very understanding bank manager, (unheard of today).

 And while luck does play a big part, perhaps the most winning formula, albeit unrealised at the time, is buying only what one really loves, however cheap, seemingly useless, whether or not  it was what one needed at the time, and just enjoying it for it’s own sake. Much later, if an item happens to fit in a certain room or matches something else, it’s an added bonus. At this point, I  hesitate to say, I despair of the customer who says, “Oh that’s a gorgeous chair, I wish I could buy it but today I’m looking for a fireplace!!” Goodness me, far too clinical and orderly. I would much rather have something I really loved when opportunity presents itself, than spend the rest of my life missing out while looking for something I may never find. But it takes all sorts to make a world.

Fortunately, I started collecting some 40 years ago, when things were more plentiful and easier to find.  Nowadays particularly at auction, a few choice items can run into four figures. Nevertheless,  there are still bargains out there.  Only a couple of  weeks ago, I half-heartedly popped into an antique shop I rarely visit, looking for old dolls houses bits.   Having squeezed passed over stocked shelves of flotsam and jetsam, I nearly kicked over an unappetising collection 1960s teapots (human size)  And there, amongst the unwanted, stood an 18th century New Hall teapot. I recognised it immediately as I had wanted one for some years but cost had dampened my ardour.  I picked it up with shaking hands and found no damage other than a tiny chip on the knob of the lid and the price ticket of £6!!

 

Dumbstruck, I rushed out to the car and begged the patiently waiting other half, for the £6 (I hadn’t bothered taking my purse into the shop). I quickly handed over the money uttering only banal pleasantries.  I most certainly did NOT say to the assistant, “ Oh what a beautiful teapot, I would love to buy it but I’m only looking for dollshouse furniture today”!.....  I rest my case.

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