Monday, August 24, 2009

To Brio or not to Brio?


When I saw these pieces on Australian ebay, they looked familiar. The Shopping Sherpa, for example, has the shelving units in her Brio house. But did Brio make them in these colours and these finishes? I wasn't sure.

I bid on the auction, which also included these pieces:


and won it.
Not long afterwards, a boxed set of kitchen furniture was listed on Australian ebay too:


The seller gave the brand names shown on the box - EUROPA on the left, and RUSCO OF AUSTRALIA on the right.


Well, I'd heard of Rusco as an Australian company making dolls, but was not aware that they produced any dolls house miniatures. I also thought that by the 1970s, manufacture of plastic dolls house furniture had pretty much ceased in Australia. So I was intrigued - and could see in the pictures on the box the other pieces I'd just bought, as well as an identical sink unit.

So I bid on this set too, and when it arrived, discovered, in small writing on one side, that it was MADE IN HONG KONG.

Also, that this is
Modern Scandinavian Design Doll House Furniture
and
Neues Design aus Scandinavien Puppenhaus-Möbel




Presumably this was marketed in Germany as well as in English-speaking countries.

It seems that there was quite an industry in Hong Kong making plastic dolls house furniture based on the designs of other companies. I have Blue Box furniture, made in Hong Kong, which is almost identical to Jenny's Home (Triang Spot-On) pieces, and other pieces of Blue Box furniture which look very like the 60s designs made in the former East Germany. This box does not give the name of the Hong Kong company which made the furniture, and all the furniture is unmarked. So it wasn't Blue Box, and in Australia seems to have been marketed under the Rusco name - if it was sold in Germany, it surely would have been under another company, though?

As well as the photos on the sides of the box showing each set of furniture, there is a photo on the back of a Europa dolls house filled with Europa furniture. Again, the house looks very like Brio dolls houses, even having the brand name on a central pediment:


The box doesn't show any of the chairs or sofas in the Arne Jacobsen Egg and Swan designs, however, so there was clearly a limit to what they would or could copy!

Has anyone produced a book on Hong Kong dolls house furniture, I wonder? Carola's dolls house website does have a page on Europa furniture, so perhaps she knows a little more about it.

7 comments:

  1. First of all, thanks for sharing!!! Very interesting, and the items are GREAT finds. Second of all, I wish I had more to contribute in the way of information, but at least I learned something. Third of all, I must get to Australian eBay more often!!!

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  2. Brilliant! Thanks for clearing up a mystery that's been bugging me since 2007 when I spotted this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hiekkaoliivi/3026719157/ and continued with a visit to Wendy Benson's collection where I spotted the fridge, shelving and ant chairs... :-)

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  3. Interesting post, I hadn't heard about these Hong Kong copies before!
    I had the Brio shelving unit when I was a child, but didn't like them then because I thought they looked too plastic, so I altered them. Quite sad about it now! The drawers can now be spotted in Nora and Helmer's bedroom with a silver finish. But the rest of the shelving unit is sadly long gone. I like the bright colours of the Europa version. The white and black corner cupboard looks like a copy of a Lundby furniture.

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  4. Thanks, Callsmall! Actually vintage dolls house items are not that common on Australian ebay :-( And I've noticed some sellers list on US ebay too.

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  5. Thanks for that link, TSS. Sounds like it was marketed in Europe if it pops up in Finnish flea markets!
    If you saw ant chairs as well, maybe they did copy the Jacobsen designs! They probably did have other pieces that are not shown on this box.

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  6. Oh, I must look for the drawers, Pubdoll! Interesting how our taste as children is quite different, isn't it? And they were after all made as children's toys, so why wouldn't kids change them?
    Yes, I think the corner cupboard is probably based on a Lundby piece - and also the bedroom furniture, and the living room chairs. I guess that's why the box says 'Modern Scandinavian Design' rather than 'Brio Knock-Offs' ;-)

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  7. Oh, now I've looked further in that Flickr set - I think she also has a Europa bathroom - looks like Lundby, but isn't! http://www.flickr.com/photos/hiekkaoliivi/3026719173/in/set-72157609003891528/

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