Sunday, September 19, 2010

Introducing Miss Birdie Fethalite

Miss Birdie Fethalite is an Australian doll, who was born in the 1940s in Sydney. She has an extensive wardrobe, consisting of two summer frocks:

two winter coats:

a siren suit:

and a party dress:

From the front, Birdie looks nicely rounded. Her back view, however, shows that she is flat, and even slightly hollowed out:

From the back, you can see how her clothes clip on around her waist. Sadly, she has had an accident some time in which she lost most of her right arm.

Birdie is not as fortunate in regards to housing as she is with her wardrobe. I'm sure she would love to live in the Marquis kitchen and other rooms in that set. As I didn't win it, however, I have posed her here in front of Marquis kitchen furnishings set up in front of the photo of the inside of the box on my computer screen. It looks just the right size for her, and the walls even match one of her dresses - but as she can't live in front of the computer all the time, I will have to find another home for her!

Perhaps she could live with the Cacos, and they could all share the curling tongs:

This little doll is marked with the Fethalite brand name and symbol:

The number 204/1 appears to be the product number. All the pieces of clothing are also marked: the frocks are 204/2, the long dress is 204/3, the coats are 204/5, and the siren suit is 204/6. She must have had another outfit too, as 204/4 is missing from this set.

Fethalite plastic products were made by Pierwood Plastics (Piercy & Ashwood) in Chatswood, Sydney. qilich has a Fethalite catalogue from 1949, which shows miniature kitchen and bathroom sets, and a couple of dolls, but not this one. Her hairstyle and the siren suit definitely date her to the 1940s, so she was probably made before 1949. I wonder if she was always alone, or whether a family of dolls was produced?

Update: Ysé6 and Roberta have told me on flickr that the same doll was also made by the Selcol company in England. A Selcol doll is listed on ebay at the moment - here she is with her outfits and her right arm:

The clothes are almost the same as Miss Fethalite's, although the decoration on the long dress is different. The piece missing from my set is probably the little gym tunic, here in yellow next to the yellow frock.

Thanks, Ysé6 and Roberta - though I'm sorry to realise that all Australian-made plastic dolls house miniatures were made using moulds from US or British companies! Seems we did OK on production (at least while tariffs were in place), but didn't produce original designs.

Update 2: Sally also has a Selcol doll set: see her blog stitchywoowoo. It's clear from Sally's pictures that the frock is a pinafore dress - Miss Birdie's frock doesn't have straps, so that's another difference between the English and Australian clothes.

And Marcie Tubbs has very kindly emailed to say that in her book Dollhouse and Miniature Dolls 1840-1990 (which I have!), she pictures both a 'Peggy' doll made in the US by Ideal in the mid 1950s, and a Lido doll dress set, also made in the US. She also received a photo from a reader of a boxed set of 'Peggy's Magic Snap-On Wardrobe', made by Bell Industries (in the UK, I assume).
The dolls and clothing sets made by Selcol, Fethalite, Ideal, Lido and Bell, in the UK, US and Australia, are almost identical. As Marcie says, this doll really travelled! I wonder where she started?
The mid 1950s Ideal catalogue which Marcie has describes her wardrobe as consisting of 2 bathing suits, pajamas, 2 over-coats, hat, 2 school dresses and party dress. The Lido set identifies the bathing suit as a play jumper.
Sally describes the 'school dress' as a pinafore dress (the Australian one isn't, as it doesn't have straps). I was seeing the clothes through the lens of 1940s British novels, so the bathing suit / play jumper looks like a gym slip to me, and the pajamas look like a siren suit. If Peggy was originally made in the UK, the siren suit would make sense (and as I suggested, it goes with her 1940s hairstyle). If she was first made in the US, then they probably were pyjamas originally.

So, more questions: where was she first made? when? and how did she come to be made or sold by 5 companies in 3 continents? We may be able to answer some of them if we're lucky enough to find dated catalogues showing the Selcol and Bell dolls one day.

Thanks, Marcie and Sally, for sharing your dolls!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dolls Houses for the War Effort

I've been having fun looking at mentions of dolls houses in old Australian newspapers. I've noticed that quite a few dolls houses were raffled during WWII, to raise money to support the troops and prisoners of war. In Tasmania alone, the Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury reported on over 12 dolls houses donated for raffles. Some were made especially for the raffle, some were old childhood or family dolls houses. The Mercury was also particularly good at showing photos of the dolls houses, and I thought you might be interested to see them.

This dolls house was made by the employees of Nettlefold's Bodyworks, Hobart, in their spare time. Mr Bernard Walker (an architect who was involved in the development of the Cadbury Estate in the 1920s) designed the dolls house, and Miss L. M. (Maud) Poynter (a potter and painter) and Miss E. (Spring) Reid made the furniture and fittings. It was described as a very modern dolls house, "modelled on the lines of a modern home, and fitted throughout with snappy miniature furniture."
The lounge, bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, and dining-room are all completely furnished down to the tiniest detail. Real carpets are laid down and the rooms are fitted with electric light. A special feature is a roof garden, complete with swing seat and a large sun umbrella. Special pottery equipment and dolls were made by Miss Poynter. The house is painted in cream and has a brown roof.

The house was donated to the Red Cross Prisoner-of-War Fund in January 1942, and drawn in March. The Mercury published the amount raised in 8 weekly instalments, totalling over £120. Here's the winner, Margaret Neave of Battery Point, Hobart, with the house, showing just how big it is:

(Nettlefold's had another dolls house on display two years later, in 1944, when they posted the following public notice in The Mercury:
Would the boy who took Toy Motor-Car from the Doll's House at Nettlefold's Showroom return same to save further trouble.)

Two months later, in May 1942, another dolls house, fully furnished and with running hot and cold water, was donated in aid of the Air Training Corps equipment fund. This raffle also realised £100; the winner was Miss Diana Rex, c/o Mr. G. Rex, Morrison St., Hobart. Sadly, there are no photos of this house with its running water. Although the maker is not named, F. X. de Bavay was responsible for placing the announcement of the winner in The Mercury; he is named as the maker of another dolls house in 1945, so perhaps he made this one too.

Then in October 1942, members of the Apex Club of Hobart designed and built the "Dolls' Dream House", which they donated to the Red Cross "Young Bill" prisoners of war appeal.

This house measured 4' 6" by 2' by 2' 6". It had a sun roof and a garage, and the furnishings included tiny carpets, bedsteads, blankets, pillows and pictures. Most of the furnishings were made and donated by Peter Eldershaw, then a patient at Wingfield House for crippled children (he later became principal archivist, State Archives of Tasmania). A Mrs Basil Crisp donated a Parisian teaset to the house in the second week of the raffle.

The dolls house was exhibited in Hobart, Launceston, Burnie and Devonport, and regularly reported on in The Mercury. The manufacturers of the materials used to make the dolls house took advantage of the massive publicity to advertise their products. Here, we are informed that "The Feltex floor covering for the "Dream House" was donated by Felt and Textiles of Australia Ltd."

Another version of this ad informs us that
"MASONITE, "the wonder Board with a Thousand Uses," was used in the construction of the Dolls' Dream House.
This Advertisement is inserted by the manufacturers, THE COLONIAL SUGAR REFINING CO. LTD. (Building Materials Division), to assist in the war effort."
(Who would have thought masonite was made by the CSR sugar company?)

and a third tells us that
"The painting of the Dolls' Dream House was carried out entirely in "Dulux."
This advertisement is inserted by the makers, British Australian Lead Manufacturers Pty. Ltd., to assist the war effort."
All three companies had further information at the bottom of the advertisement about how they were contributing to the war effort:

A dinghy was raffled at the same time as this dolls house - between them, they raised £516. The winner of the dolls house, drawn at an Apex Ball on December 19th 1942, was Elsa Young of 35 Tennyson Street, East Malvern, Victoria. Did she take her dolls house home to Victoria, I wonder?

In May 1944, two Hobart children made a dolls house for the Red Cross. They called it Austerity House, because it was made from "boxes and "bits and pieces" at the cost of 1/."

The children were Brian Kemp, aged 8, and Ann Kemp, aged 10; their father, LAC Wilfred Kemp, was in the Royal Australian Air Force. Brian had already made models of a man-o'-war and a hospital ship, which he had donated to the Prisoners of War shop. Ann was "an accomplished knitter, making her own jumpers and cardigans, and now knitting her first pair of gloves." She made "vases and pot plants [for the dolls house] from coloured bottle tops, and match boxes and cotton reels were used in the construction of the furniture."

This dolls house was won by Betty Groombridge, of Lower Longley.

Catherine Macleod of Richmond was one of the people who donated her childhood dolls house in aid of the war effort - it was "most attractively refurnished by Mrs J. Eldershaw and her son, Peter" (who furnished the Apex dolls house, above) before being raffled for the Red Cross in May 1944.

Another old dolls house had been donated to the Battery Point Red Cross at the end of 1943. This wasn't just a childhood dolls house - it was nearly 100 years old!

Ouch! They are leaning on an antique, 3-winged Georgian dolls house to write the raffle tickets!!

The Mercury gave the history of this dolls house (I've added to it with a bit of online research). It was sent from England to Mr William Knight in Van Diemen's Land, for his baby daughter, Emily Lang Knight, who was born in 1850. She grew up and married Henry Thomas Maning in 1876, and gave the dolls house to her daughter, Frances Maning, born 1878, to play with. Frances Maning became Mrs Cecil Baldwin, and donated the house to the Red Cross in 1943. The Mercury reported that
It ... is in an excellent state of preservation. Only a comparatively small amount of renovation was necessary, and this was undertaken by Miss Poynter, who is well known in the world of art, and is a keen worker for the Red Cross.
Most of the furniture is the original, and a feature is a fascinating little writing desk complete with candlesticks. The remainder is more than 50 years old, and is in perfect order.
(Miss Poynter had also furnished the Nettlefolds' dolls house raffled in early 1942.)

What an amazing piece of Tasmanian history. It would be one of the oldest dolls houses in Australia, if it still exists. Strangely, this raffle was to be drawn after only one week - I wonder how much it made, compared with the raffles that went on for weeks with huge publicity. The winner was J.S. Ramsay of Launceston. I'm going to try tracing this house!

"Housing problem solved - for this little lady at any rate! She was purchasing a ticket in the doll's house raffle in connection with the Allies' Day Appeal yesterday."

The Allies' Day Appeal was held in July 1944, and this dolls house was raffled on the Free French Stall. The reports don't give any information about who made or donated the dolls house, and it's hard to see the details in this photo. It seems to be a fairly traditional two-storey house with a simple pitched roof. Lorna Ahearne of Mt. Nelson won this house (so perhaps this little girl's housing problems weren't solved!)

Finally, in February 1945, F.X. de Bavay, master brewer and general manager of the Cascade Brewery, made a dolls house which he called the Victory Doll's House. He donated this house to the Tasmanian Society for the Care of Crippled Children and thc Tasmanian Sanatorium, so it wasn't strictly speaking in aid of the war effort - but the name certainly referred to the war! The winner of the Victory Doll's House was Miss Sallie Hall, of 10 Tasma Street, Launceston.

Does anybody recognise the Nettlefolds' house, the Dolls' Dream house, or the Georgian house? They are all fairly distinctive - if they have survived, they would be quite easy to recognise, I think. I'd love to know where they are!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The oldest dolls house for a dolls house? (Updated)

I've just ordered Halina Pasierbska's book Doll's House Furniture. Google books has a preview, including this photo, of the nursery in Ann Sharp's baby house:

Ann Sharp's house dates from 1695, and is the oldest surviving English baby house. Could this be the oldest surviving dolls house for a dolls house?

Update: Christine and Beatrice asked on facebook about the size of this tiny dolls' house. Flora Gill Jacobs, in A History of Dolls' Houses, gives the height of the whole house: 5' 10" (so 70", or about 1.78m). The house has four storeys, including an attic - I think that this room would be about 18 1/3" high (or 46.8 cm). (The attic and basement have less height than the two main floors, so this room is probably a bit more than a quarter of the total height.) As you can see, this dolls house is almost half the height of the room, which would make it about 9" high. I've been trying to work out the scale. I think the rooms being represented here (in Ann Sharp's house and the dolls' house dolls' house) are a bit over 12 1/2 feet high. So I think the scale of the little house is about 1/44th. (Corrections welcomed!)

Flora Gill Jacobs quotes a Mrs Willoughby Hodgson, who in 1917 wrote an article about Ann Sharp's baby house for The Connoisseur . The dolls' house is, Mrs Hodgson says, made of and furnished with cardboard (though Halina Pasierbska says it's paper, and thinks Ann Sharp probably made it herself).
The tiny prints which adorn its walls are believed to represent Bishopthorpe [residence of the Archbishop of York], with the church in the grounds, and the furniture includes a grandfather clock, flap tables, footstools, a slung looking-glass, dressing tables, kitchen stove and dresser, and many other articles.