Dolls' Houses Past & Present

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

A Rare 19th Century Doll House with a Mysterious Past by Susan Hale

I would like to share with you a very special dollhouse -  an F.A.O. Schwarz Mystery doll house from circa 1890.

I have puttered with the furnishings and accessories for several months and feel that it looks pretty good now. That doesn't mean that I won't continue puttering in the future, so things may change.

Here is the kitchen with its original wallpaper. Fido is always begging the cook for treats. Most of the furniture in here is Schneegas golden oak. The sink is a bit too late for the house, but it's all I had. Maybe I will find an older sink at some point.

The bathroom has a lovely floor and early bathroom furniture made of wood. The faucets on the sink and bathtub are metal with wire pipes.


I have tried to furnish it with contemporary items, but I have to admit there are a few anachronisms.


There are several old dollhouses made in the 1890s, that were sold at FAO Schwarz. No one has ever discovered who made these houses, or whether it was one craftsman or a factory. Because of this, the esteemed dollhouse historian Flora Jacobs coined the term "Mystery House." The houses came in many sizes with various architectural configurations. They all share two distinctive features - tramp art trim on the exterior, and painted parquet floors.  

The right wing


The dining room table and the servers on the right and left walls are golden oak from Schneegas, as is the marble-topped table. The six chairs, the settee and the server on the back wall are from the same era, but I don't know what company made them.


I love the maid's apron and cap. She is one of my favourite dollhouse dolls. Her skirt length is wrong for this period. She would probably be more at home in a 1920's doll house, but I couldn't resist putting her in this one. 


1900's dinner set on its original card. Their original box was crushed beyond compare, but I didn't want to take the dishes off the card, so I just put the card and all on the dining room table. Most people don't even notice.  

The dining room

The master bedroom is also furnished with Schneegas golden oak. Most of the rugs in the house are tobacco felts. 


Golden oak Schneegas furniture. The two smaller paintings are real etchings and match the ones in the dining room. The painting on the back wall is an original. Most of the art in the house is not period, but I love putting original art in my houses.


All of the doors have this padded wallpaper and lace curtains.


The chauffeur is waiting in the entrance hall to take the family wherever they want to go. His coat has a big white mark. I think someone pulled off a glued-on belt or other accessory. Mugsie the dog is ready to go anytime the family is.


I love this hall stand. It is one of my favourite Schneegas pieces ever.  


The housekeeper is in the upstairs centre hall making sure all is in place for the family. The two framed cameos on the back wall were brought back from England by my sister especially for this house. I think they look great, although I now see I didn't get them even when I hung them.


The centre right section of the house. The smallest examples of these houses have four rooms. Mine is one of the largest I have found in my research of these wonderful toys. It has five sections, each with an upper and lower floor, giving me ten rooms in the main section of the house and two attic rooms.  


The girls' bedroom. They are having a tea party. The cat is much more interested in the bird in the cage.  


In the formal parlour, Mother, Father and Grandmama are enjoying a nice cup of tea. Although Father's relaxed position makes me wonder if there was more than tea in his cup.  


The left section of the main house


The boys' bedroom. Some of my red Schneegas is a bit rough, but so is little Gabe, so I guess they work well together.


The left wing



The family parlour has the piano, the fish tank, the domino set and a broken fainting couch. Again the furniture is Schneegas golden oak. The pincushion doll in there is quite old. Her head and hands are wax and her wig is mohair. She is not telling her true age and I have not found anything like her online, so I don't know exactly how old she is. If you know, please let me know.


The left attic


The right attic


Each section of the house has its own door.

My house is painted a soft yellow with fancy dark green window surrounds and the defining green chamfered trim. The wallpapers seem to be original, and it has many of the parquet floors, although not in all rooms. I don't know whether the house has been tampered with or whether it is all original. Either way, I love it! 


See more of Susan Hale's collection at Susan's Mini Homes here:

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