Another mystery is a firm called Nall, the label on the back of the items states NALL of Birmingham, TOYS WITH THE CRAFTSMAN TOUCH, plus a star on a green oval label. Nall is proving hard to research, as it seems that they did not advertise in the trade journals or display at trade fairs. Other collectors and myself have contacted the Birmingham Library and they could find no trace of NALL.
Nall bedroom set as listed on ebay © ebay seller mixedmarie
In Dec/January ebay seller mixedmarie sold some Nall of Birmingham pieces on ebay. They had come with a dolls house (also sold on ebay) which she had bought at an auctioneers in Dec 2010. It came from the estate of a lady who lived in Sutton Coldfield (a town to the north of Birmingham). I bought the pieces from Mixedmarie, and I was delighted to receive them because I had once (and only once) had some, but had sold them back in the 1980s - and regretted it ever since.
Anyway when I told mixedmarie who I had sold them to back then, it transpired it was the same lady whose estate she had just bought from. In other words, I had got my pieces back!
The items are a bedroom set consisting of a bed, wardrobe, and a dressing table cum chest with two drawers and a chest with three drawers. If you look at the photos you should see that they all have an extra piece of wood at the end of the sides/legs and they are all well made as per the label. However the wood itself is not first class and is a little rough, so it is likely that these were made in the late 1940s when wood was still rationed and anything that came to hand was used.
Another item that came with the bedroom was a radiogram, very nicely made with lovely touches of the green stained wood on the front and brass arm for the record player. There is material for the hinge, which again indicates to my mind a late 1940s dating or early 1950s when hinges and similar items were still not available.
The last item was in Angela Bates' collection and is a bookshelf/bureau, a very unusual design indeed. The flap opens for the doll to write letters.
Several more lots of Nall furniture then appeared on ebay as I was writing this article! The seller had had the pieces since she was a child. She told me, “We lived in Birmingham & I think my mother worked near Five Ways, Aston & I believe the toy shop was somewhere near there. My mother would usually buy me a piece of furniture on Fridays, after she had been paid. I got my dolls house about 1949/50 & the furniture was bought from then on. The only item with a Nall label is the chest of drawers.”
Nall bedroom set (with bedding made by seller as a child, and Barton dressing table) © Iris Ameghino
Nall bedroom set with original mattresses © ebay seller nicky4cats
This confirms the dating, and provides another example of the bedroom set and the bookshelf/bureau, as well as a grandfather clock and a different radiogram which, while not labelled, has the same brass arm and support rod which fits into a slot in the wood, and cardboard turntable.
Nall bureau / bookshelf (with Barton chair and sideboard) © ebay seller nicky4cats
Nall clock, radiogram ad octagonal table © ebay seller nicky4cats
Another Nall item then popped up on ebay, listed by seller the-lucky-black-cat. This is a fireplace made of composition, painted with great details of the fire. Was there a lounge suite to go with the clock, radiogram, bookshelf and fireplace? What else was in the range?
So, who was NALL when were they making dolls house items? Rebecca has investigated Nalls living in Birmingham, in the hopes that we might find the dolls house furniture makers that way. She discovered that at the time of the 1911 census, there was a family of craftsmen and women living in Aston, Birmingham (at 43 Ravenhurst St Camp Hill). The parents were Sam and Selina Nall, with 11 children: William, Gertrude, Frederick George, Ellen, Ethel Emily, Harry, Frank, Lilian, Sam, Selina and Hilda Rose.
In 1911, Sam Nall the elder was a fellmonger (wool merchant). His son William was a plumber (brasswork), Frederick George was a hide and skin classer, and Harry (then aged 14) worked in a rubber tyre warehouse. Daughters Gertrude and Ethel Emily were french polishers, and Ellen was a warehouse brassfounder. (The other children were still at school.)
There were Nalls other than Sam and Selina’s descendants in Birmingham in the 1950s. However, as many in this family were clearly skilled craftsmen and women, it seems likely that one or more members made the ‘Toys with the Craftsman Touch’. So far, attempts to contact Nalls still living in Birmingham, and others descended from the family of Sam and Selina Nall, have not found anyone with knowledge of the dolls house furniture.
Perhaps the pieces were samples and never went into production, after all no other pieces have been seen, unless a reader can come up with additional pieces? If so why did NALL go to the expense of having the labels printed? The labels themselves are reminiscent of the label of the Kensalcraft firm, produced in London by a Harry Reynolds, Esq., from 1941 to approx 1955. They are not quite the same colour, but the same oval shape. Having just fished out some Kensalcraft items so that I can photograph it for this article and dropping the whole box on the floor at the same time, I realise that the Kensalcraft labels are smaller. Kensalcraft labels are ¾" x ½", whilst the Nall are 1" long and ½" tall.
Additional information provided by Deirdre Alden and Rebecca Green.
All photos © Marion Osborne unless otherwise indicated.