Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bliss in Winter

During the last couple of weeks, I was visiting my mother in Bathurst, NSW. It's winter in non-tropical Australia, and the temperatures in Bathurst went as low as -4°C overnight, to 11° or 12° during the day. Not as cold as many places in winter - but compared with Darwin (22° overnight - 33° during the day, and not much variation over the year) - bliss! I do like rugging up in winter woollies, and snuggling under warm blankets and doonas at night - and we went to my favourite cafe, with an open fire, and drank hot chocolate and tea - and I picked violets and jonquils for my bedroom. Definitely bliss!

I didn't take photos of that kind of bliss, but I did photograph another kind: the Bliss furniture which my grandmother collected.

My Realitty has been posting this month about her Bliss house, and she has many of these same pieces of furniture too.

A couple of years ago I picked up a copy of Bliss Toys and Dollhouses (Dover Publications, 1979) at a secondhand bookshop in Sydney. This tells me that the R. Bliss Manufacturing Company of Pawtucket, Rhode Island (US) was founded in about 1832 by one Rufus Bliss. He started out making wooden screws and clamps for piano and cabinet makers. Bliss' nephew Albert Bullock joined the company, and then Alva Bullock and Edwin Clark formed a partnership, but the company kept the Bliss name, even after Rufus Bliss' retirement in 1863 and several changes of ownership. 'Bliss Piano' and 'Bliss Doll House' do have a different ring to them than 'Bullock & Clark Piano', etc!

It seems that their first known dolls house was advertised in 1889, long after Rufus Bliss had died. So he certainly didn't design the dolls houses and furniture that bear his name.

This set of wooden furniture with paper litho designs of children and the letters of the alphabet probably dates to 1901, according to Antique and Collectible Dollhouses and their Furnishings. Each piece has a different picture of children engaging in various activities. The sofa - A B C D E and P and Y on the arms - has two children playing with a doll on the back. On the seat, a boy is lying on the ground. He doesn't look very happy - has he been making sandcastles and fallen over?

The alphabet continues on the chairs - I have G/L, H/M and J/O. My Realitty also has I/N. I think we are both missing F/K.

On G/L, we seem to have a depiction of a youthful sailor farewelling his sweetheart, who is then shown weeping. H/M has the interesting combination of a little girl looking at a tea table, and a policeman directing traffic. J/O has a young tailor measuring his equally young client, and a girl in an apron carrying a basket.

The table which goes with these chairs does not show any letters, just some children cooking:

so which pieces completed the alphabet? I can see in Antique and Collectible Dollhouses and their Furnishings that the piano stool, which I'm missing, had T U V, but I don't know where Q R S and X and Z appeared. On other sets, the piano showed QRST (and the stool UVW), but as you can see, the piano in this set has no letters either:

Very appropriately, the children on the piano are playing musical instruments - perhaps in a military band, as the top of the piano shows 5 little soldiers and their tents.

There were several sizes of furniture available, but even within a set, you can see that the scale varies - the chairs are larger in scale than the sofa, table and piano. I have the piano, the sofa and the table, which are in 1" to 1' (1/12th) scale in the nursery of my Lines No 17. The chairs are too big though - they are 5" tall, and more like 1 1/2" to the foot (1/8th scale).

(This photo shows an earlier arrangement, before I added the Bliss table and replaced the black tin piano (hardly visible on the left) with the Bliss piano. At the moment, all the furniture is wrapped up, so I couldn't take another photo (and last time I photographed the other rooms in this house, all the photos I took of this room were out of focus!)


  1. Great! Love the background you gave! The illustrations are so whimsical with little children in adult roles! Cheers CM

  2. I have often enjoyed looking at Carol's Bliss furniture and yours are equally lovely! I can see why your grandmother collected them, the furniture is so cute with the lovely paper litho design! Too bad they didn't use just one scale! As always you have dug up some interesting facts about the company, I can see why they kept the Bliss name even after Bliss was dead and gone :-)

    By the way, I didn't notice you had a new post at first, since it was 2 days down on my bloglist. Is it me who's late or did you start working on this post a few days ago?

  3. Thanks, CM! I'd love to have a house too - maybe one day!

  4. Thanks, Helene - and yes, you are quite right, I started working on this post on Sunday, and forgot to change the date! I tried to change it just now, but I'm not sure that it worked.

  5. what can i say... pure bliss! bliss by name and nature. :-)

  6. I've not come across Bliss furniture before, it certainly looks interesting (and fun). Wouldn't it be good to complete the set with all the letters of the alphabet.

  7. :-) Christine!

    Hi DollMum, yes, it would be great, wouldn't it? I've sometimes seen these pieces for sale, but it would help to know what the other letters are on. Although, even getting another chair or two with I/N and F/K would be nice!

  8. Oh, Rebecca! Your posts always pique my interest and make me want to read more on the history of your current items...and usually make me want to collect them too!
    I have always been amazed that the paper lithographs have adhered so completely to the wood for such a long period of time. I could use some of that good old-time glue!

  9. Hi Florine, I hate to think what that old-time glue was made of, now you mention it! But yes, very interesting that it seems to have a much longer life than many modern glues.
    I think it would be fun to collect Bliss furniture - there were quite a few designs over the time it was produced.Good luck if you do start! And Bliss is one of the companies - like Lines - where quite a lot has already been done and written about - there's also a section in Constance Eileen King's book, and no doubt other modern write-ups too.

  10. What a great set of furniture, and it looks to be in excellent condition too!