My grandmother sent me the book in 1973. We visited her over Dec 1972 / Jan 1973, and saw the Lines' dolls' houses she had bought for us for the first time. I loved them, and my sister and I were inspired by them to create a mini scene from moss, pebbles, etc, on a tree stump in the garden. We visited the studio of Oxshott potter Rosemary Wren, and, among her pottery mice and birds, I spotted a china doll's head on a shelf. Rosemary said that she had found it on the Oxshott heath, and very sweetly gave it to me. I took it home to my grandmother, who was delighted, and called her Hitty. She planned to make a body for Hitty. After that visit, during 1973, my grandmother bought me the Cupboard House, destined to be Hitty's house (I've never known what actually happened to Hitty, or more accurately Hitty's head).
Long before I saw the actual house, my grandmother sent me Jean Latham's book, as it had photos of the Cupboard House in it. My grandmother bought the house from Miss Nancy Betteworth, who had bought it from "an American collector, Mrs Fox", who owned it at the time that it was photographed for the book.
I only recently realised that Mrs Fox also owned the Erna Meyer dolls pictured in the same book! I uploaded them to flickr because photos that are dated help to date the dolls themselves. Then I started thinking about Mrs Fox as a collector - one of the early collectors, like my grandmother, and someone who once owned a house which is now mine, and liked the Erna Meyer dolls I love. So I thought I'd try to do a bit of a profile of her. In the course of my research, I learned that Molly Fox called her first baby Rebecca (after the heroine of A Coat for a Soldier, about a girl who stitches a coat for an American soldier in the US war of Independence). So I feel that there are many connections between Molly Fox and me!
Molly Fox was born in the USA, at Fort Benning. Her father was in the US army, and was killed in WWII; later, her brother was killed in Korea. After that, she became a Quaker, and was delighted to acquire a Quaker dolls house, which had belonged to a Quaker girl born in Reading in 1784. She married an Englishman, and lived in London, where her employment included running training courses for executives at IPC and working at Sterling Professional Publications.
"We travelled around so much when I was a child, that I never had a proper dolls' house, though I made room settings in shoe boxes and orange crates. So perhaps my dolls' house collection is a compensation for that, and also for not having had a settled stable home. It is also escapism ... I can put a parlour maid, a cook, a nanny into different rooms. If I want a pink bedroom, instantly, there's a pink bedroom - and indulgence one can't afford in real life." (The Times, 1972)
Mrs Bernard Fox, as Jean Latham called her in the parlance of the time, began collecting in about 1965, and she was one of three collectors chosen by Jean Latham for her chapter entitled "Dolls' House Collecting Today", in Dolls' Houses - A Personal Choice. The others were Miss Faith Eaton (later author of The Ultimate Dolls House Book) and Mrs McQuade.
"The three collections described above are chosen almost at random from amongst an enormous number. They are not in the class of those who are lucky enough to be able to spend freely on anything that catches their roving fancy, foraging in the most expensive antique shops or the greatest salerooms. My three representative collectors have in common a flair for picking out gold from dross, unquenchable enthusiasm, a sense of history, good taste and unbounded energy in pursuit of their fascinating hobby."At the time this book was written, Mrs Fox had five houses and furniture for another six rooms, which she kept on shelves in a cupboard.
One of the houses Mrs Fox owned at the time the book was written was, of course, the Cupboard House. The photographs above show it as furnished by her. The original pieces - the dining and drawing room fireplaces, the drawing room rug, the bedroom curtain, the tiny views of Hampton Court by the drawing room door - remain in the house, along with some that I suspect may have been added by Molly Fox or another owner - the kitchen and landing curtains, and the tapestry rug on the landing. Among the furnishings which Molly Fox had in the house, but which she (or the next owner) did not sell with it, are brass goblets in the kitchen made out of WWI bullets, and a kitchen dresser made by disabled veterans of that war. The kitchen range, ca 1860, looks very like the one my grandmother placed in the house, but I can't see it clearly enough to be sure. Molly Fox made the black and white pictures from illustrations "after Phiz" taken from Charles Dickens' novels.
Another, sadly not illustrated or described, was "Alexandra House, Finchley Road", from about 1914, "and peopled only by women as the men are all fighting in the war!"
Molly Fox's modern house, called "Dolly's House", dated to the 1920s. It had a brass nameplate, letter box and keyhole, and was built as a square, with rooms opening at both the front and the back. The house was mounted on a swivel platform, so that the kitchen, bathroom and laundry at the back could be accessed, as well as the four rooms at the front of the house.
Molly Fox furnished this house with Barton and Dol-toi furniture and Grecon dolls. She added some American-made accessories, and framed postage stamps depicting Old Master paintings as pictures.
Dolls' Houses - A Personal Choice also describes Mrs Fox's late Georgian house, ca 1825, which had four rooms but no stairs. All the chimney pieces were built in, and, as Jean Latham puts it, "suitable fireplaces added", with a grate and stove in the kitchen. I'm not sure, but this phrasing suggests to me that the fireplaces may not have been original - not uncommon in houses of this age.
Molly Fox had traced the history of the house "as far back as the third generation of its owner", who was a Miss G. Baddeley, and so she called it Miss Baddeley's House.
This may be the dolls house mentioned in the 1972 article (see below), which says that one of Molly Fox's first purchases was a box of dolls' furniture in the Portobello Road, for £50. The man who sold it to her said "I'll give you the Georgian house that goes with it." Mrs Fox was sceptical, but the V&A verified from samples of the wallpaper that the house was pre-Victorian.
Molly Fox had repapered the house with modern wallpaper (I do hope she left the original paper underneath, as this is vital for future owners wanting to verify the date or origins of a house!), and furnished it with a towel rail complete with an old linen towel, a toilet mirror and chest of drawers with an ivory hand miror, and a sideboard containing unusual ivory tablespoons and knives and a rare cradle (I think this may mean ladle?).
I've also found an article in The Times of 1st April, 1972, 'Collecting short storeys', by Bevis Hillier. From this, I learnt that Mrs Molly Fox founded the Dolls' House Society in 1970 as an offshoot of the Doll Club of Great Britain.
"We are the Jesuits of the doll world," Mrs Fox says. "To qualify for membership, you have to own at least a nineteenth-century dolls' house, and you have to have a skill - woodworking , repairs, needlework or so on. Among our members, for example, Mrs Beryl West has made an exquisite silver Queen Anne teapot. She also has a lathe for turning miniature furniture, and she makes tapestry carpets. Mrs Winifred Warren is a needlework teacher, and makes pillow lace with bobbins. Miss Faith Eaton is a specialist in doll repair, especially wax faces. She has done repairs for Buckingham Palace and many major museums."
For their AGM, the members of the Dolls' House Society held 3 day weekends. In 1971, they stayed at Shepton Mallet and visited the American Museum at Bath and Titania's Palace (then at Wookey Hole). In 1972, they planned to stay at Fittleworth in Sussex, and view Lady Samuelson's collection of dolls' houses, and the Uppark dolls' house.
At the time the newspaper article was written, Mrs Fox owned what she described as a small-scale model of the first commercially made house, with bay windows and a balcony (ca 1885-1890), bought for £25. This sounds like it could have been a boxback-type house, which were sold by companies such as Silber & Fleming (established ca 1860), C. E. Turnbull (established 1872), and G. & J. Lines (ca 1890s). Much of what we now know about these firms was of course only just being discovered in the early 1970s.
Also in her collection was a Seaside Villa, ca 1890-1910, purchased for £50 - the photo below shows some of the dolls in the Seaside Villa preparing for a night at the opera. The dolls and furniture usually cost more than the house - the dolls in the Seaside Villa were priced at £100.
The prize of her collection was a 1775 house (perhaps an architect's model) with a distinguished neo-classical facade, which she bought at a shop called The Lacquer Chest, Church Street, Kensington.
A shop she recommended for collectors was The Dolls' House, at 4 Broadley St, NW8 (ph 723-1418). It stocked a wide range of houses, from cardboard houses at £1 to a ca 1830-1850 wooden house at £160. In the mid-range at the time of the article were four pretty French houses with balconies at about £38 each. The Dolls' House specialised in reproduction hand-made furniture - it was, said Mrs Fox, a good idea for the beginner to furnish their houses with reproduction pieces, and gradually replace the new with old pieces as they were able to acquire them.
Molly Fox herself did just that, buying artisan-made reproduction furniture for her Georgian houses. In an instance of serendipity, one of a set of 6 issues of International Dolls' House News, which I bought last year from a collector who was disposing of her duplicate issues, has an article by Molly Fox! The article (My Missing Treasures, IDHN 6:1 Spring 1977) is about miniature furniture which had been stolen, and which had been destined for her Georgian dolls' house (which had been featured in the IDHN of Summer 1975, if anyone has that issue).
The globe pictured here had been bought at Willoughby's 18th Century, in California. The library furniture were bought from a London dealer. "The collection had belonged to Anna Massey, the actress, so I was able to put a possible date on the furniture. I think it was made in the Forties and Fifties and purchased in New York at the oft-mentioned shop on East 53rd St. One of the drawers of the sideboard had a trade sticker of E. Kautter."
Mrs Fox also lost some pine kitchen furniture made by Warren Dick, a hooded mahogany cradle from the Chestnut Hill Studios, and a small bureau bookcase which had a twin in the display cases at Windsor Castle, and probably dated from the 1920s.
She had begun to replace the furniture she lost, buying from artisans working in the 1970s: a four-poster bed from J. Huthwaite of Coventry, an oak trestle table by Don Slater, a basket spit by Alf Atkins, and Regency chairs and a pedestal table described as "made in Columbia and bought at FAO Schwartz in New York". This last sounds like Sonia Messer (Lynnfield/Block House), which is still much sought after by collectors. I'm not familiar with the other names myself, but perhaps some of their furniture is also appearing in online and live auctions?
Perhaps some other UK-based collectors will know whether Molly Fox still has her dolls' house collection. Of the eight houses mentioned in the book and newspaper article, I know that she sold at least one (the Cupboard House). I wonder where the others are now - Miss Baddeley's House, Dolly's House, and the others? If they have new owners, do those owners know that their house was at one time owned by Molly Fox? Unlike real houses, dolls' houses unfortunately don't come with title deeds, and a few changes of ownership can be enough for any history that earlier owners have discovered to be forgotten.