Friday, May 17, 2013

Toy journals and catalogues at the National Library of Australia

While I was in Canberra recently, I was able to look through the collection of toy trade ephemera (catalogues, flyers, etc) and some issues of the Australian toy trade journal, at the National Library of Australia. Autumn is a lovely time in Canberra, as you can see!

The National Library holds issues of The Australasian Sportsgoods and Toy Retailer from 1964 (I will have to go to Melbourne to read issues from the 1950s). So I started with 1964 (the year that Barbie was new! Play-doh was new!), found that 1965 wasn't on the shelf, and went through 1966-1969. I really only had time to skim and look at the photos. Here are some of the dolls houses I spotted.

The East German export agency Demusa advertised regularly. Above, in December 1967, is a dolls house with an open front and arched doorways, shown fully furnished. Below, from August 1966, is a bungalow:

(Sorry about the curved photo - 12 issues of the journal were bound together, so getting them to lie flat wasn't easy!)

In December 1966, the Demusa ad showed more traditional furniture:

I was rather surprised to see that Demusa also advertised traditional German "Schultüten", paper bags full of goodies for children's first day at school. I imagine that their ads were prepared for international distribution, but I do wonder whether there were any orders for these from Australia:

Actually, with most of these manufacturers' and agents' advertisements, we don't know whether the items were actually ordered by Australian retailers, and stocked by Australian toy stores. I spotted some toy store ads which do show dolls houses - in some cases, I recognise the houses, as with these Triang dolls houses in the Melbourne toy shop Nathan Blight in July and September 1967:

The Triang U dolls house can be seen just to the left of the two women, while the Triang V is on an upper shelf on the right. (Is there another house in the corner to the left of the U? I can't quite make it out ...)

Other photos of toy shops show dolls houses I don't recognise, for example this house shown in November 1968:

It looks rather like what I remember of our childhood dolls house - white and two-storey!

I did discover at least one Australian dolls house maker I hadn't known about before. I had seen a few dolls houses by Bestoys on ebay, but hadn't realised they were Australian. Here are the photos I found:

Bestoys display at the Melbourne Toy Market, in July 1964
(The table and chairs in the foreground look very like the ones we had as kids!)

Bestoys display at the Melbourne Toy Fair, in the August 1967 issue
(Perhaps the house on the right here is the one behind the toy shop owners in the photo above??)

Bestoys was based at Botany, a suburb of Sydney. When I googled it, I found entries in recent business directories for Lumberjack-Bestoys, in Engadine, another Sydney suburb. Interesting, especially as I had found this dolls house in a Toyworld catalogue from Geoff Emerton Sports & Cycles, of Kingston in the ACT:

This looks rather like the design of the Bestoys dolls house on the right in the 1964 display above. I can't find a date on my photos of this Geoff Emerton catalogue - I think it is probably from the late 1970s or the early 1980s, as it also shows Matilda doll playsets, the Toltoys Family Tree House, Matchbox Play Boot, and Fisher Price Play Family School and Chime Ball. (Also, the phone number for the shop is 95 9741.)

And I think the dolls house on the left in this photo below, could be the dolls house on the left of the Bestoys 1964 display, above:

This photo dates from November 1966. The house on the left has the same alignment of doors and windows as the Bestoys house does, and when I zoom in on the 1964 display photo, I can see some markings above the door and windows. I didn't see a photo of a Bestoys display from 1966, but perhaps that's what this couple are standing in front of?

Mt Ainslie from the National Library

Other imported dolls houses I saw were Jenny's Home, from Triang, heavily promoted in 1967:

A Chad Valley tin lithograph dolls house, advertised in 1968 and 1969:

I think this Melbourne toy store (H W Rice of Fitzroy) has a Chad Valley dolls house on the floor in the centre of the photo in this ad from May 1969:

What's the taller dolls house behind it, I wonder?

Eagle Toys of Canada exhibited at the toy fair in 1968 - the write-up mentions "dolls house mounted on castors" - but I don't see any in the photo of their stand, though there are lots of tea sets:

The "Holly Lodge" Wooden Doll's House from the UK was displayed at a toy show at the Travel Lodge Motel, Sydney, in February 1968. There's no photo of it, but presumably this was the Chas. E. Methven "Foldaway" dolls house, which has the name Holly Lodge by the door?

Other Australian dolls houses included one from John Sands, a stationery and board games manufacturer, in June 1968:

and a craft set from Sally-Ann in August 1964:

The ephemera collection of toy catalogues included some earlier and some later than these trade journals. There were two Walther & Stevenson catalogues, one missing the cover, but going by the items shown and prices given, it's from the year before or the year after my 1933 catalogue. This catalogue shows four dolls houses:

I am very intrigued by these houses, especially as there's a note just underneath these descriptions saying "We also have English and Aust.-made dolls' houses in other styles than above". My "Italian Villa" style house, which I had thought was homemade from the 1950s, has a red roof, rough cast walls and fancy door and window frames - and the porch over the front door is identical to the porch on the No 3 and 4 "Wendy" two-storey houses here:

So perhaps it's not homemade after all! And perhaps it's earlier than the 1950s, too.

The other Walther & Stevenson toy catalogue held by the National Library dates from 1953/54, a couple of years earlier than my 1956/57 catalogue. It has a page of dolls houses:

A Triang No 50, No 60 and No 61, with one Australian-made dolls house shown, just above an Amersham house:

The Australian-made house (no 64) is described as "Beautifully made and coloured, opening doors and windows. Side also opens. Green and red. Size, 8in. high x 14in. x 15in. A fine house. Price, 46/3 each." It looks to me as if it has Romside windows?

Again, the catalogue says "Come in and see the largest range of dolls houses in Australia. A size and price house to suit "your" request. Here are a few of these Wonderful Houses." So, there were probably other Australian-made designs as well as other imported ones - if only there was a complete, fully illustrated catalogue of all of them!

Walther & Stevenson still sold Australian-made wooden dolls house furniture, and was also able to offer Kleeware furniture again, showing bathroom and dining room sets for 1953/54, and promising sets for other rooms by January 1954. I'm curious about the statement "These are now made in England" - where were they made before this?

Black Mountain with the Telstra Tower, from the National Library

Among the more recent catalogues, from the 1990s and 2000s, I saw familiar brands like the Sylvanian Families, in this November 1993 ad:

Blue-Box, with the Carry-Along Dream House from December 1995:

And a whole page of dolls houses, furniture and dolls in the 2000 Millennium edition of the Windmill Equipment and Good Toys Guide, for teachers, schools, kindergartens, childcare and parents:

I will, eventually, put all the images from the toy trade journal and catalogues onto flickr. There's a lot of food for research in the trade journal especially - I hope I'll be able to go back and read the 1960s issues more thoroughly, as well as go through later issues.

I hope you've enoyed this glimpse of Canberra, too!


  1. Hello Rebecca,
    Thank you for the great post. It is amazinbg to see how the hobby has changed over the years.
    Big hug,

    1. Hi Giac, Thanks for visiting and commenting! I think if I had been able to look through 1970s and 80s issues of the toy trade journal, I would have seen the introduction of dolls houses and miniatures for collectors, adults as well as kids, but in the 60s, there weren't many in Australia at all, and those that were made or imported here were kids' toys only. Of course, some of them are now very collectable!

  2. Hello from Spain: beautiful pictures. I see it's a lovely autumn. I love to watch the evolution of dollhouses and toys over the years. Keep in touch

    1. Hello Marta, it was indeed a beautiful autumn in Canberra! Here in Darwin, it's nearly the dry season - we don't have the same seasons here. I'm glad you've enjoyed seeing the different toys and dolls houses over the years.

  3. Great to be able to access such documentation at the Library ! I am very intrigued by the Kleeware remark too... Do you think they used to sell the same sets but made by an Australian maker (like Marquis Plastic had a Plasco licence, which one had a Renwal licence ?) ?

    1. Yes, I think that's quite possible, Ysé - I think I'd have to look at the 1950s issues of the Toy Retailer to find out, though! Or possibly earlier Walther & Stevenson catalogues, but they are fairly rare.

  4. Gee Sherlock you are amazing! Great material and such fun pictures!

    1. Thanks, CM! It was fun spotting dolls houses!

  5. Wasn't it exciting? Going through all these ancient journals, never knowing what the next page will reveal? I love that, too, dear fellow Sherlock...

    1. It was fun! Wish I could do it more often, and more thoroughly. Still, I'm very happy with what I found on a first go!

      Do you recognise the dolls house furniture? or the two-storey house? I think you have just shown the bungalow in your post about flower windows ☺

  6. Hi Rebecca I love your stuff, your blog is so put togetherIm a wannabe blogger! I love those photos of Canberra too, dont suppose you could share some of that sunshine with us in cold Northumberland could you :)

    1. Hi Poppet, Thank you for visiting, and my apologies for taking so long to reply. I do hope you'll blog, or post photos on Dolls Houses Past and Present - I'd love to learn more about your collections and inspirations!
      I expect by now you're warm enough in Northumberland! The week we had in Canberra was lovely, and well-timed, as the weeks before and after were quite cold. Here in Darwin it's warm all year round - I wish I could sometimes send some of the warmth to colder parts!