Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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Hobbies of Dereham: Dolls House Furniture & Fittings by Rebecca Green

From the 1935 Hobbies Handbook, 'Lessons in Fretwork': the No 133 Special dolls house and the furniture designed for it.


In the last issue, I described the early history of the company Hobbies Ltd, based in Dereham, Norfolk, England, and showed the dolls house designs and wallpapers sold between 1913 and 1945. In this article, I present Hobbies' dolls house furniture designs up to 1945, and the dolls house fittings sold by Hobbies in this period.


As well as fretwork designs, Hobbies offered instructions and materials for other crafts such as strip woodwork and cane weaving, and some dolls house items were made using these techniques.


Children demonstrate strip woodwork, as taught in elementary schools, in the Hobbies 1913 Catalogue. A miniature ladder, table and chairs can be seen at the front.

Hobbies Dolls House Furniture to 1945

Margaret Towner, in her book Doll's House Furniture, mentions a design for Chippendale furniture published by Hobbies in 1895. Then, thirteen years later, in a Hobbies Weekly from 1908, a reader's query is answered thus: "The size of the Doll’s Furniture, Eclipse Design No 345 is: Chairs, 3½ in high, and the Couch, 5½ in long." (Hobbies Weekly No 345 would have been published on May 24th 1902.) Thus, it seems that Hobbies provided designs for dolls house furniture many years before they published plans for a dolls house. I have not yet seen either of these designs - if any reader has them, I would be delighted to see them!

The first designs I have seen are No 685 and 685-6, a Model Bedroom Suite in a beautiful Art Nouveau style, published in two parts on November 28 and December 5, 1908. This set comprised a wardrobe, dressing table, wash stand, easy chair, and two small chairs - surprisingly, no bed! It was still available in the 1913 Hobbies Catalogue.

 No. 685 Model Bedroom Suite - Dressing Table. Available 1908-1913


 No. 685 Model Bedroom Suite - Wardrobe. Available 1908-1913


No. 685-6 Model Bedroom Suite - Washstand. Available 1908-1913


No. 685-6 Model Bedroom Suite - Arm Chair or Easy Chair. Available 1908-1913


No. 685-6 Model Bedroom Suite - Occasional Chairs or Small Chairs. Available 1908-1913


A design for a bed was issued in May 1909, along with a towel rail and small table. Perhaps there had been requests from readers for a bed to complete the Model Bedroom Suite?

No 708 - Bedstead. Available 1909-1913


No 708 - Towel Horse and Table. Available 1909-1913


The next fretwork designs that I am aware of are Nos 906 and 907, again a suite of bedroom furniture without a bed. They were probably issued in early 1913. They do not appear in the 1913 catalogue (which would have been published during 1912).


Nos 906 and 907, Doll's Bedroom Furniture. Wardrobe (height 11"), dressing table (height 9") and washstand (height 6"). Available ca 1913-1923.



A laundry set was published towards the end of 1914. Unfortunately, I have only Issue No 998, which contains the second part of the laundry set article, and does not show the completed items. It describes a mangle, clothes posts and pegs; here are the diagrams for the mangle:

Hobbies Weekly No 998, November 28 1914, Doll's Laundry Set Mangle.


If any reader has Hobbies Weekly No 997, or a Hobbies Catalogue which shows this laundry set, I'd be very glad to add it here.


The same issue of the Hobbies Weekly contains directions for weaving a doll's armchair from cane, and shows other furniture which could be made along the same lines. The chair was intended to fit a 12" doll or teddy bear, but of course could have been adapted by readers for dolls of other sizes.


Doll's Cane Chair and other furniture, Hobbies Weekly No 998,  November 28 1914



In 1915, a design for a Garden Set appeared, made mostly of strip wood. Those who remember the Pit-a-Pat article, and the Pit-a-Pat garden shelter which Eleanor discovered she had owned for many years, will find this set familiar. It consists of a deck chair, a shelter, garden seat and folding table. The garden seat (shown here within the shelter) was 6" long.


Doll's Garden Set (Part I), Hobbies Weekly No 1014, March 20 1915.


Dolls clearly spent a great deal of time in their bedrooms in the early 20th century. Doll's Bedroom Furniture, designs Nos 1279 and 1281, would have appeared around the beginning of 1920. This set contains a bed (hooray!), a washstand, dressing table, towel horse and chair. The style is moving from Art Nouveau towards Art Deco.


Doll's Bedroom Set, Nos 1279 and 1281. Bed, washstand, towel horse, chair and dressing table. Available 1920-1932.





During 1922, designs for four sets of furniture were issued, especially "constructed to scale for use with Doll's House No 133 Special." This was the first time that Hobbies provided plans to completely furnish a dolls house (although lacking kitchen and bathroom items).

The first set, No 1379, probably published in March 1922, contained a hall stand, sideboard, table, chairs and bureau (and the chimney stack for the No 133 Special house).



Set No 1379, clockwise from top left: hallstand, sideboard, table and chair, bureau, easy chair. Available 1922-1934.



The second set, No 1389, would have appeared in the middle of 1922, and comprised designs for two mantelpieces and small tables.


Design No 1389, two mantelpieces and small tables. Available 1922-1934.



The third set contained bedroom furniture (a bedstead, wardrobe, dressing chest, washstand and small chairs), with four chairs for the drawing room. (A cheval mirror is mentioned in the descriptions of the complete set of 25 designs for the dolls house No 133 Special and furnishings, but I have not seen an illustration of this mirror.)


Design No 1394, clockwise from top left: bedstead, wardrobe, washstand, dressing chest and small chairs. Available 1922-1934.



(The finished drawing room chairs are not illustrated on the design sheet or in the catalogues I have. The side profile and backs look like this:




The final set provided plans for a china cabinet, a piano & stool, a gateleg table, and a child's cot.


Design No 1402, clockwise from top left: china cabinet, child's cot, piano and stool, and gateleg table. Available 1922-1934.



The 1923 Hobbies Catalogue also offers a wallet of toy designs, which included a mangle and a kitchen dresser and chair. This may have been available before 1922, and remained in the catalogue until the late 1940s.


From a wallet of designs for the toy maker (Simple Toys, Series 1): a toy mangle, dresser and chair. Available 1922-1949.


By 1929, another wallet of toy designs was available, in which a kitchen range appeared - the first I know of published by Hobbies. There was also a ladder.


Kitchen range and ladder, from Simple Toys, Series 2. Available ca 1929-1949


The next series of dolls house furniture designs was issued during 1933 and 1934 (although too late for the 1934 Hobbies Handbook). It was in 1/12th scale, and complemented dolls house design No 186 Special. The full scale designs were available until 1943.

However, both the 186 Special and the complete set of these furniture designs were reissued in 1/24th scale in the 1945 Hobbies Handbook (available also in the 1946 and '47 Handbooks), so that dolls house building could continue despite the post-war shortage of wood. Then, in the 1955 Hobbies Handbook, the small scale version reappeared as Doll's House Furniture Designs for SMALL Houses. This was shown in Hobbies Handbooks throughout the late 1950s, and was listed (but not illustrated) up until 1965.

Finally, as previously noted by Marion Osborne, the Kensalcraft company used some of these designs for the dolls house furniture they produced from 1941 until the mid 1950s. The bedroom set in particular, No 2003, often appears with the Kensalcraft label. How, or whether, unmarked Kensalcraft pieces can be distinguished from pieces made at home from the Hobbies plans, I don't know. 

The first set, design No 1988B, contained plans for hall and kitchen furniture:


Design No 1988B: Hall Stand, Hall Seat, Hall Mirror (with hat rack). Available 1933-1943 in 1/12th scale; 1945-47 & 1955-65 in 1/24th scale.


Hall stand (modified), mirror & hat rack, and hall seat, made from design No 1988B. Photos © Isobel Hockey.



 Design No 1988B: Kitchen Dresser, Table and Chair, and Mirror. Available 1933-1943 in 1/12th scale; 1945-47 & 1955-65 in 1/24th scale.


Mirror made from design No 1988B. Photo © Isobel Hockey.


The next set, Design No 1989, contained more kitchen furniture, and drawing room furniture.


Design No 1989. Above, mangle; below, kitchen overmantel, round table and plant table. Available 1933-1943 in 1/12th scale; 1945-47 & 1955-65 in 1/24th scale.



Kitchen overmantel made from design No 1989. Photo © Isobel Hockey.


 Design No 1989. Settee with two easy chairs and standard electric lamp. (The lampshade was to be made of coloured paper or card.) Available 1933-1943 in 1/12th scale; 1945-47 & 1955-65 in 1/24th scale.


Dining room furniture plans were provided in design No 1998, published in February 1934. Included were a dining table, two dining room chairs, a service wagon (or trolley), a sideboard and a bureau.



Design No 1998: sideboard, bureau, dining table and chairs, and service wagon/trolley. Available 1934-1943 in 1/12th scale; 1945-47 & 1955-65 in 1/24th scale.


Dining room sideboard, made from design No 1998. Photo © Isobel Hockey.


Design number 2003, also published in February 1934, provided bedroom furniture for the dolls house: a bed, wardrobe, dressing chest (really a dressing table!), with an easy chair and bedroom chairs.


Design No 2003: dressing table, wardrobe and bed. Available 1934-1943 in 1/12th scale; 1945-47 & 1955-65 in 1/24th scale. (The 1/24th scale version of this set did not have the fretwork overlay applied to the wardrobe door or foot of the bed.)


Bedroom set made to design No 2003.  Photo © Isobel Hockey.


Left: Design No 2003: bedroom chair and easy chair. Available 1934-1943 in 1/12th scale; 1945-47 & 1955-65 in 1/24th scale. Right: easy chair made to design No 2003. Photo © Isobel Hockey.



In early 1936, new furniture designs were published to suit the dolls house bungalow, design No 2093. This furniture was described as "dead-easy" to make, with a new simplified system of construction using dowelling.

The first set of designs, No 2098, exemplifies the dowelling construction well. It comprises hall and dining room furniture, with a dining table, four small chairs and two arm chairs, a sideboard and a hallstand.


Design No 2098: Dining table and chairs, made with dowelling legs. Available 1936-1942.


Design No 2098: Sideboard, made with dowelling legs. Available 1936-1942.


Design No 2098: Hall stand, made with dowelling legs. Available 1936-1942.


Next came a bedroom set, design No 2104, comprising a bedstead, wardrobe, kneehole dressing table and cheval mirror, all incorporating dowelling.


Design No 2104. Above: bedstead; below: wardrobe, cheval mirror and knee-hole dressing table. Available 1936-1942.



The next set, Design No 2108, provided items for several rooms in the dolls house: a drawing room settee and two easy chairs, another design for a bed, a kitchen dresser, and two fireplaces.


Easy chairs made from design No 2108. Photo © Rebecca Green




Design No 2108. Top: Drawing room settee and two easy chairs. Above left: bed; above right: kitchen dresser. Below: two fireplaces. Available 1936-1942. 



This was the last complete set of designs for dolls house furniture issued by Hobbies before World War II. During 1938, plans for a Modern Model Kitchen in 1/6th scale were published:


Modern Model Kitchen in 1/6th scale. Above, the completed kitchen; below, details of the kitchen cabinet,with a drop leaf for a pastry board, and flour hopper fitted to the underside of the shelf above. Available 1938-1944.



As noted above, the furniture designs intended for the No 186 Special dolls house were re-issued in the 1945 Hobbies Handbook in 1/24th scale.

Both Elizabeth Jackson and Nicki have wonderful sets of this small scale furniture, Elizabeth in her Red Lion Inn, and Nicki in her 1/24th scale No 186 Special:


Small scale bedroom and dining room furniture in the left side of Red Lion Inn. Photo © Elizabeth Jackson


Small scale bedroom, living room and kitchen furniture in the right side of Red Lion Inn. Photo © Elizabeth Jackson


1/24th scale 186 Special and furniture. Photo © Nicki H.


New designs, for both dolls houses and furniture, had to wait until after the war. We will explore these in future issues of this magazine.

Hobbies Dolls House Fittings

Surprisingly, Hobbies carried few fittings for dolls houses in their catalogues, apart from glass, mirrors, hinges, nails and screws, all of which were also required for their fretwork designs for ornamental shelves, boxes, photo frames, etc.


Above, mirrors, and below, glass, as shown in the 1929 Hobbies Catalogue.



The bisque jugs and vases below appear in the 1913 Hobbies Catalogue, described as "attractive ornaments for fretwork brackets etc". Many readers will recognise them, as they made their way into many dolls houses:

'Attractive ornaments for fretwork brackets etc. Sizes 3/4 in. to 2 1/2 in. high.'

Hobbies Catalogue, 1913.



The rival firm Handicrafts had sold electrical fittings for dolls houses from 1930; however, even in their 1934 article on 'Electric Lighting for a Doll's House', Hobbies simply recommended using spotlight or flash-lamp bulbs, as they were the smallest, and suggested that dummy switches could be made from dowel or similar material, and lamp shades made from cellophane or coloured paper. While Handicrafts had offered dolls house door knockers and letter plates from 1925 at least, Hobbies did not introduce them - or other dolls house accessories - until 1937.

The polished aluminium fittings shown below, from the 1937 Hobbies Handbook, were made by Rusco of Walsall.  Hobbies carried the fireside and bathroom fittings until 1941; the door set was available until 1939.


Door, fireside and bathroom fittings for the dolls house.

Available 1937 to 1939 (door set) or 1941 (remainder).


Rusco splashback with mirror, shelf and brackets; airer; and sponge rack.

Photo © Zoe Handy



Romside metal windows were introduced in the 1940 Hobbies Handbook. This was published during the previous year - 1939, the year World War II started. By the time the 1941 catalogue was being prepared, metal would no longer have been available for toys. Romside windows were not reintroduced into the Hobbies inventory until the 1950 Handbook.


Metal dolls house windows. Available in the 1940 Hobbies Handbook.

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