Grünhainichen is a small town of about 2000 people in the Erzgebirge (“Ore Mountains”) region of Saxony, in eastern Germany. Before WWII, several wooden toy makers were based there, including C. F. Eckhardt, D. H. Wagner & Son, Heinrich Wagner, Joh. Dav. Oehme & Sons, Ernst Emil Schubert, and Cuno & Otto Dressel.
Cuno and Otto Dressel are best known as makers of porcelain dolls in their factory at Sonneberg, in Thuringia, about 200 km from Grünhainichen. The firm was founded in 1789, and, according to Swantje Köhler’s Lexicon of Dolls’ Rooms and Dolls’ Houses, by 1919 they had also established a wooden toy factory in Grünhainichen. Their wooden toys were exported to Great Britain during the 1920s, through importers and wholesalers G. Greiner and Co of London. Production was discontinued in 1942, due to WWII. Following the end of the war, when Germany was divided into 4 occupied zones, Saxony found itself in the eastern zone occupied by the Soviet Union, and thus became part of the German Democratic Republic.
Grünhainichen (red) in the Erzgebirge and Sonneberg (purple) in Thuringia. Map © GoogleMaps
By 1949, the firm of Cuno and Otto Dressel in Grünhainichen had been nationalized as a state-owned enterprise (Volkseigener Betrieb, or VEB). A document exists, dated 10.10.1949, headed ‘Resolution of the staff members of the state-owned enterprise formerly Cuno and Otto Dressel in Grünhainichen’.
In 1950, the factory was mentioned in the newspaper Berliner Zeitung, in an article called “Now Father Christmas can come” (2.11.1950, Issue 255, page 5):
In the large Holzspielwarenfabrik Grünhainichen VEB (wooden toy factory, Grünhainichen, state-owned enterprise), our activists are at work, and are achieving 134% of their normal output, thus ensuring that a good many wooden horses come to the Christmas table. They found significant technical improvements to replace time-consuming manual labor by standardized machine work, to save material and to achieve quality work, whether by stamping moulds, attaching jigs to the pendulum saws, bracing horses’ bodies so as to prevent subsequent breakage, replacing the earlier nails and wooden runners by split pins and bolts, and much more.
Note that, in Swantje Köhler’s Lexicon of Dolls’ Rooms and Dolls’ Houses, 1952 is given as the date of the establishment of the state-owned enterprise. The documents mentioned above indicate that it was established at least 3 years earlier.
Haus Monika, 1950s (probably ca 1955), in Spielzeug von heute, 1968.
The earliest images are photos of two models, Haus Monika and Haus Waldfrieden, which appeared, dated '1950s', in a 1968 issue of the GDR journal Spielzeug von heute (Toys of Today) illustrating a history of dolls houses. Both have wooden doors with glass insets (rectangular in Haus Monika, oval in Waldfrieden), straight wooden balustrades around the balconies and roof and ground terraces, and very plain natural wood window and door frames.
Waldfrieden, 1950s (probably ca 1955), in Spielzeug von heute, 1968.
My Waldfrieden - I have set up a front garden scene to bring life to the dolls house with the romantic name "Peace of the Wood". The Caco mother and her daughter put new plants into the flower box under the window - while the Caco neighbour is ready for a chat.
Waldfrieden was available until at least 1958, the date on an inspection label on the base of a Waldfrieden house which appeared on ebay. This small type of a dolls house - which is so difficult to furnish and which symbolizes clearly the dream of a little house of one's own (at least realized in the nursery) - was offered by many dolls house manufacturers of that time - Gottschalk produced a similar design. And the wonderful name Waldfrieden (peace of the forest) was popular for many years before and after the 50s in Germany - just google it and you will still find a lot of cafés and restaurants romantically situated near a wood.
Another Waldfrieden, in the Gronau Collection, complete with its outdoor terrace.
Note the parquet wood flooring paper, and the strip curtains attached to wooden pelmets - red and white gingham in both houses, and small blue floral or red geometric patterns on white grounds.
Haus Sonnenschein (Sunshine House) in the Borbeck collection.
Haus Sonnenschein (Sunshine House) is very similar to Haus Monica (above), but has a pitched roof rather than a flat roof terrace. There were several versions of this house, some substantially bigger than this one. This model has no inner doors. Later versions have plastic windows.
Interior of Haus Sonnenschein (Sunshine House) in the Borbeck collection.
Closeup of the upper room of Haus Sonnenschein (Sunshine House) in the Borbeck collection. Note the parquet flooring paper. The windows open inwards, with a round handle on the window frame. The curtains are attached to the plain wooden pelmet, as in Waldfrieden, but are lacy net rather than patterned cotton fabric.
A large room box with a bathroom that is separated by a partition and curtains. The floral wallpaper, parquet floor paper, and plain wood trims suggest that this roombox is probably from the mid 1950s, when bathrooms were still rare in German households. WK Collection, Niederrhein.
The bathroom with a tile pattern on the floor. The boiler on the wall indicates that there was a bathtub once.
Under the window is a built-in cupboard with sliding doors. I only knew this cupboard from a 1962 ad (see 1960s section below) for a doll kitchen made by VEB Grünhainichen - was this room perhaps a kitchen once? The parquet flooring and floral wallpaper suggest not, but it is more common to see this built-in cupboard in roomboxes with tiled floors and walls, like this one, a kitchen with a small partitioned-off bathroom:
This roombox has the same windows and parquet flooring as Haus Sonnenschein. However, it has a door between the two rooms, which may indicate that it dates from ca 1957, the year when this note appeared in the toy trade journal Das Spielzeug:
Until last year, dolls houses were the neglected stepchild of toy production in the Soviet zone. They also come for the most part from the Holzspielwarenfabrik Grünhainichen. The Council of Industry Shapers has had an effect even on the new dolls houses. Certainly, the basic shape of a "box without a lid" with three side walls is retained. But what a difference between what was offered today and last year. Wallpaper, curtains, the dividing wall - everything is different and more tasteful. The inner walls have doors, and windows are stylishly inserted. The dolls furniture has not been spared, either.
The curtain rods are certainly very different from the earlier pelmets, even if, to our eyes, the wallpapers look similar.
The back wall of the roombox, with closeup of the window (above) showing how the supports for the curtain rods are held in place.
This roombox with a roof terrace is most probably from the second half of the fifties. The balustrades are similar to those on Haus Monika, Waldfrieden, and Haus Sonnenschein. Gronau Collection.
The curtain rods are the same as those in the roombox without roof terrace which we have just seen. Gronau Collection.
Another dolls kitchen made by VEB Grünhainichen ca 1955 with a separated little room - the pantry? Photo © Jörg Bohn, www.puppenhausmuseum.de
The roombox on the left, above, is from a 1957 GDR toy reference book. It has a roof terrace and stairs similar to Haus Constanza (see below in the 1960s section; closeup on right above), and is probably from Grünhainichen. It certainly fits the description given in Neue Zeit (New Time), on 31 August 1957:
Advances in the production of toy gas stations at the Holzspielwarenfabrik Grünhainichen are also very distinctive. This operation is one of the few which have sought the advice of industrial designers and redesigned its entire collection. (...)
The models have become more beautiful through simplification of form; there are many curves instead of corners, transparent walls and bright colors. These gas stations and other toys coming from Grünhainichen are more modern and cheaper. (…)
The VEB Holzspielwarenfabrik Grünhainichen also currently makes collapsible country villas, which will stimulate the playfulness of children as well as their manual dexterity.
An ad in Das Spielzeug in 1959 for the Landhaus (Country House), which describes it as "painted in different colours, with modern wallpaper features. Delivery in flatpack form also possible." The same ad appeared in 1960, too.
VEB Holzspielwarenfabrik Grünhainichen company photo of a Landhaus
This is presumably the “collapsible country villa” mentioned in the 1957 article, so this house was probably available from at least 1957-1960. The garage is a separate part which could be placed next to the small house. The Country House itself has only two walls, one of which consists only of windows and the entrance door.
This small dolls house from the exhibition "Dream Worlds of the Fifties" was always a special one. We never had seen it before and all the following years it never would cross our paths again.
Two views of a Landhaus from the book Traumwelten der fünfziger Jahre : Puppenwelt und Wirklichkeit (Dream Worlds of the 50s: Dolls' World and Reality). Used with permission.
Above and below, exterior and interior views of the Country House, now in the collection of Anna Setz.
An extraordinary modern dolls house, still mostly made of wood, only the little pond and the window panes are made of plastic. It is the first architecturally exciting house that I know from this firm. Earlier houses were in more traditional styles, but in the years to come VEB Grünhainichen would show us many more amazing models.
In 1960, an ad appeared in Das Spielzeug for Haus Constanza, describing it as "Interesting, sturdy and tasteful, toys which stimulate each child’s imagination, the toys from the Erzgebirge always comply with regulations." Constanza has a roof terrace, parking for a car and three main rooms, two of which are open from the top as well as the sides.
Haus Constanza, 1960 version, in the Borbeck Collection.
In Haus Constanza, we see some of the new floor papers which characterise the 1960s dolls houses of VEB Grünhainichen. The exterior crazy paving design in blue, red, grey and black was also used by Gottschalk, but the speckled lino design seen in the Constanza above in green is one of the papers exclusively used by Grünhainichen:
Here it is in another Haus Constanza in orange:
Haus Constanza, another 1960 model, in the Borbeck Collection.
and in brown:
These rooms also show that the floral wallpapers of the 1950s have been replaced by abstract designs typical of the 1960s.
A slightly different model was advertised in Das Spielzeug in 1961:
The new dolls house “Constanza 2” has the highest play value for both individual and joint play, due to its sensible layout and modern home décor. It consists of a living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and toilet, roof garden with an outdoor staircase, and an outdoor swimming pool. The removable fireplace can be heated with incense cones. All surfaces are finished with washable paints. The sturdy, take-apart dolls house is made of wood and hardboard, and measures 820 x 765 x 360 mm in size and weighs 7.2 kg.
As can be seen in the illustration, the outdoor swimming pool replaces the tiled area used for car parking in the earlier version:
Both versions of Constanza had a parasol on the roof terrace - these are now often missing, so look at the close-up and if you spot one in your collection cherish it ...
Also advertised in Das Spielzeug in 1961 was the Puppenhaus Libelle, or Dragonfly Dolls House, a dream of the architecture of the fifties:
“Dragonfly Dolls House, adapted to modern apartment buildings, with roof garden and conservatory, hinged plastic windows, large double doors and outdoor seating area, all tastefully and colourfully painted.”
Dragonfly Dolls House displayed at the exhibition Moderne Zeiten im Kinderzimmer (Modern Times in Children's Rooms) in Bergkamen in 2012.
As so often with VEB Grünhainichen products, this house is clearly marked, not only with the manufacturer's logo, but also with the name of the house:
As well as the curved plastic window pane, the window frames are now made of plastic. This example has a rarely preserved flower decoration:
I have seen several examples of this doll house. It is remarkable how, despite a very short period of production, a model was still varied; it was still not an automated mass production.
The name of the dolls house pictured below is unknown, but with the same curved plastic window as in the Dragonfly House, it probably also dates to around 1961.
Collection of Jörg Bohn, www.puppenhausmuseum.de
Below is a slightly different version of the Dragonfly House, with exterior stairs to the roof terrace, and a pool instead of plants. It is probably also slightly later: the mosaic tile paper appeared in an ad for another Grünhainichen dolls house in 1964.
Photo © Jörg Bohn, www.puppenhausmuseum.de
Interior of the Dragonfly Dolls House with exterior stairs. Note the speckled lino floor paper in grey. Photo © Jörg Bohn, www.puppenhausmuseum.de
In 1962, Das Spielzeug advertised two dolls houses from VEB Grünhainichen, Haus Elfi and Haus Kathrin.
Haus Elfi is a single storey with exterior stairs to a roof terrace. It also came with a children's swing attached to the overhanging roof at the opposite side to the stairs:
Haus Elfi in the Borbeck Collection
Haus Elfi in Katharina's Collection
Haus Kathrin has two storeys and a garage. The ad says:
Peter also shares the "Kathrin" dolls house because the garage is his area. Girls and boys play together with this sturdy dolls house, which offers possibilities for play from all four sides, indeed with every spot. Garage with folding door, roof garden with sundeck, balcony, outside staircase, double doors, garden lantern and house entrance – they have thought of everything which comprises modern home decor and contemporary play. Measurements: Length 735 mm - width (with entrance to the house 625 mm) - Height 470 mm - Weight 7.7 kg. On the balcony, in the room, in the garden - the "Kathrin" dolls house invites children to play.
Haus Kathrin in the Borbeck Collection
The logo on the side, and the name of the house as well: "Haus Kathrin". Why can it not always be like this? Identifying and cataloguing would be so simple...
The side view of sleek shapes, and above the garage with windows is the terrace with a colourful awning. A small house, only two rooms one above the other, the dolls can walk on the long balcony, onto the terrace and via the tall staircase. The roof is partially cut out, so that one can reach into the upper room better.
On the ground floor of Haus Kathrin we see another of VEB Grünhainichen's new floor papers, which like the speckled lino paper is found only in their dolls houses. There is also a grey version, as in this roombox:
Double roombox in Katharina's collection
The same model with different papers. Collection of Anna Setz.
As well as Haus Elfi and Haus Kathrin, in 1962 VEB Grünhainichen also offered a kitchen roombox with a built-in cupboard. As mentioned above, we have seen some which appear to date from the mid 1950s, so this feature was produced for some time. This catalogue card seems to show a wooden window frame, which makes these roomboxes hard to date.
Doll's kitchen, 1962
As we saw above, VEB Grünhainichen also made doll's bathrooms, and among their range was this one with a built-in linen cupboard:
Bathroom in the collection of Anna Setz
Not all roomboxes have a built-in cupboard - and some do have plastic window frames:
Double roombox in the collection of Inge Michno
In 1963, Inge Gerlich, a reporter at the toy fair at Petershof, was very taken with VEB Grünhainichen dolls houses, writing in the Berliner Zeitung: "A beautiful doll's house, which can be stored in a carton, we marveled at the VEB Holzspielwarenfabrik Grünhainichen." (17.3.1963, Issue 76, page 11.) Unfortunately, there was no photo, so we do not know which house she saw!
VEB Holzspielwarenfabrik Grünhainichen entry in the catalogue of the 1964 Leipzig International Toy Fair. Products include dolls' roomboxes, dolls' houses, children's wagons, scooters in all styles (also with pneumatic tyres).
In 1964, the following information was issued by the Central Control Bureau for Information and Documentation at the Institute for Toys, Sonneberg. Interestingly, the developer of this two-storey dolls house is named: Kurt Eiding. The house itself has no name, though.
This dolls house has 2 storeys and 4 rooms. On the ground floor are the bedroom and living room. A large flower window beautifies both rooms. In the left room it is built out into a corner window. A double door leads from outside into one of the rooms. On the upper floor are the bathroom and kitchen. Each room has a plastic window. The dolls house has an impressed plastic roof. The roof is slightly pitched. All walls are plastic (imitation roughcast). They are washable. Through the addition of a bath packet (Article No 51/920), a dolls bath can be set up.
With this dolls house, the child can always be inspired by new activities; she can already participate early in playing at the work of a mother. The child’s sense of order is promoted. Playing with the dolls house gains great educational significance through new contexts (among other things, the girl sets up the house herself).
Recommended for children between the ages of 4 and 11 years.
1964 two storey dolls house in the Bruchsal Collection
This dolls house was also mentioned in the Berliner Zeitung in September 1964:
“Likewise, the new two-storey 4-bedroom dollhouse of the Grünhainicher Spielwarenwerke (scale 1:12) will find many lovers."
A simpler, two room model, in the collection of Jörg Bohn, www.puppenhausmuseum.de, who notes that "it has typical features of a terraced house and is the only doll house of this type, which I have seen so far. - Since this house is rarely seen today, it does not seem to have sold very well at the time. The children / the parents giving the dolls house obviously preferred large (dream) houses and chic bungalows."
A single storey version of the house in the 1964 ad was also made - the company photo dates from 1965:
Single storey house in Beate's Collection
The dolls house below probably also dates from 1965. One of the opening windows on the upper storey has been replaced by an imitation plastic glass brick window, which were very popular at the time, often used in hallways and in bathrooms.
Two storey house with 'glass brick' window in the Borbeck Collection
Here the room with the 'glass brick' window is the bathroom. The floor patterns on all floors are found only in VEB Grünhainichen dolls houses.
A "glass brick" window also appears in a roombox from the same period:
And in the other room, there is a window with a view:
A year after VEB Grünhainichen produced the two storey house with the glass brick window, the firm ceased to exist. It was nationalised, together with some other firms, to become the famous VERO. That is why the house above from 1965 has a VEB Grünhainichen logo, and the very same model appeared in 1966 in a box carrying the new VERO logo.
Other dolls houses produced in the first years of nationally owned VERO still have the design style of its predecessor VEB Grünhainichen. This dolls house was probably made about 1966, and was still in the 1969 VERO catalogue:
This dolls house even has the characteristic VEB Grünhainichen floor papers. However, the company no longer existed as a separate entity, and as new designs were introduced by VERO, the influence of Grünhainichen was less discernable.