Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rocket Science and the 1940s

This week, I contacted two people who bought 1950s Australian toy catalogues on ebay. Both sent very helpful replies. One collects Australian tintoys, and the other, qilich, collects Australian and New Zealand made space toys.

qilich shared some research on Australian toy manufacturers, and reminded me of an essential source for research: the digitised Australian newspapers (1803-1954, but not yet complete) available on the website of the National Library of Australia. I have previously searched this, for family history and for dolls houses, but had forgotten about it when writing my last two posts.

qilich had found advertisements for the Marquis kitchen set in newspapers dating from 1948 and 1949, so they're earlier than I'd thought. The 1949 ad, which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday 30 November, is wonderful, as it shows the whole set illustrated:

As you can see, it cost 22/6, which sounds quite expensive to me - although the year before, David Jones, an upmarket department store, had advertised it for 27/6!

qilich also found a 1948 ad for the Tiny Town Kitchen Set I showed in my previous post. It was on sale for 1/9; the original price was 3/7. Being on sale in March 1948 suggests that it was not new - I'd think it would have been released in 1947 at the latest.

The same sale included Miniature Furniture, 6/- now 3/-, and Morley Toy Furniture (8/6, now 6/-), as well as Little Housewife Sets (5/2, now 3/-). It might be possible to find out more about the Morley Toy Furniture, but (saving an illustrated ad), I doubt we'll ever know exactly what the Miniature Furniture was!

So, having been reminded of this wonderful Australian research source, I did a search for Wee Folks, the company that made the Dining Room Table and Four Chairs in my previous post. Turns out they were based in Melbourne - the company advertised in the Melbourne newspaper The Argus. The first ad I found was in 1944, for Skittles, The Old Favourite Game, 8/6 each. Other ads were for factory space, plastic moulding, staff (secretarial and packing), and residential properties to buy and rent. The company was also the subject of legal action in 1949, so the records of that case might give more information about the people involved. I haven't yet found any more information about their toys, but qilich also sent me a 1947 article from Australian Plastics about plastic toys, which shows the Wee Folks table and chairs:

The Wee Folks dining room table and four chairs are in the centre of this display from Australian Plastics September 1947.

So, there are ads for the 3 Australian-made boxed sets I've posted about which date from 1947, 1948 and 1949. All of them were available in the late 1940s, earlier than I had estimated in my earlier posts. Thank you, qilich, for providing evidence to date them - and for reminding me of a great resource for research!


  1. Your're doing excellent research about dollshouse in Australia - I try the same about Germany and always keep your tools and creative ideas in mind. It was very surprising for me that in spite of infinite internet websites often nothing is to be found about a certain toymaker.

  2. Thank you for this post Rebecca, I really enjoyed reading it. Pan x

  3. Thank you, diepuppenstubensammlerin, you have inspired me to look for catalogues and ads! I did bid on some catalogues, but they're so rare, and go for a lot of money, so I decided to try contacting the winners. Luckily they are passionate collectors and researchers too!
    Some websites can be searched through google, some only through their own catalogue or search engine, so it is time consuming. I've just seen a listing for toy catalogues in the National Library catalogue - but it is just listed as a collection, so I think I'll have to go to Canberra and look at it!

  4. Thanks, Pan, glad you enjoyed it! Not every one is so interested in research into the makers, but it's nice to have fellow collectors who are :-)

  5. Thank you for doing the hard part (research!) and making it so interesting for the rest of us. It is nice to know the background/history of all the wonderful Australian pieces that most of us are unfamiliar with.:)

  6. So great you could find even more background info and interesting facts about your newest treasures, the digitised Australian newspapers are really a remarkabale source for research! I know you have written about them before, but now I checked the link and it seems very userfriendly. For fun I searched for doll's house and found a long and very interesting review of Ibsen's play from the Queenslander 21 February 1891!

  7. Besides the NLA site there is also the National Archives of Australia site which has two sets of searches:

    Records -

    Photos -

    I found both have some interesting information though you do have to ferret around a bit. Searching on both using the word "toys" is a good starting point.

  8. Hi Florine, thank you! You know, until I saw these on ebay, I didn't know about the Wee Folks or Tiny Town either, and I don't think much is known about them at all. In the exhibition of Australian dolls houses 10 years ago, there were some houses with wooden furniture bought at a department store in Sydney (probably Australian-made, but maker unknown), and one with the metal furniture I have in my Italian Villa. Maybe some of the other furnishings were Australian-made, but if they're not marked, and the boxes were thrown out, who would know? So these boxed sets are real treasures - and are getting me more interested in finding more info and more pieces!

  9. Hi Pubdoll, yes, the world of digitised records is really transforming research! The Australian newspapers are pretty user-friendly - and users can correct the transcriptions, as they are done automatically using Optical Character Recognition, which is a bit hit and miss! So as more people do corrections, it gets easier to find what you're looking for.
    Searching for dolls houses, I've restricted the search to exclude Ibsen, otherwise I get references to all the performances of A Doll's House over the years and in many cities!

  10. Qilich, thank you again! The National Archives is another source I've used for family history research - and I've found some great photos of dolls houses in their photo collection. But it's good to be reminded to search again, now I have names to search for or recognise, and because the records are updated or added to as well. When I lived in Canberra, I was able to use the NLA - hope I can get down again sometime and look at documents in both the NLA and NAA. Happy collecting and researching!