Wednesday, August 4, 2021

H. G. Molteno, maker of Walther & Stevenson dolls house furniture

Eight years ago, I was excited to find my first dolls house furniture from the Sydney toy store Walther & Stevenson. I found more soon after that, and over the next couple of years found Walther & Stevenson catalogues showing the range available, and visited a fellow collector who owns more pieces. I published an article about the Walther & Stevenson dolls houses and dolls house furniture in the Dolls Houses Past & Present online magazine in 2015.

I think that I have now found the maker of this dolls house furniture! Searching digitised Australian newspapers on Trove for "dolls furniture", I came across a report in 1944, in several newspapers, about a government office adjusting the wholesale price of dolls house furniture made at home in Sydney by a Mr H G Molteno. Two papers included photos, and the furniture is recognisably Walther & Stevenson!

Compare the pieces in the photo above, from The Sun, Sydney, 18 May 1944, with Walther & Stevenson catalogue images which I have (rather clumsily) compiled below:

I haven't included a catalogue image of the stove (bottom right in the photo), as the catalogues don't show a stove of that design - but I do have one (photos of it can be seen towards the end of my Walther & Stevenson article).

The fullest report appeared in The Newcastle Sun, on the 18th May 1944, which wrote:



SYDNEY— The Commonwealth Prices Branch has fixed prices for 79 articles of dolls' furniture, manufactured at home by Mr. H. G. Molteno, of Eastwood.

This achievement, Sir Frederick Stewart, MHR, said to-day, provided a fantastic example of bureaucracy run riot and of how interfering officialdom devotes time to unnecessary duties instead of matters of public importance.

Mr. Molteno first had to get approval of the Department of War Organisation of Industry to make dolls' furniture, though he had been doing so several years to occupy himself in his advancing age.

"He came to me about the delays and I wrote to the Minister (Mr. Dedman)," Sir Frederick said. 'The Minister communicated with the Minister for Trade and customs (Senator Keane).

"Mr. Molteno was instructed to submit a schedule to the Prices Commission setting out the list number and name of each article of furniture, the time and materials used for each article, the overhead cost, the value of the time and the cost selling price.

"He had to say whether a permit had been obtained from the War Organisation of Industry or Import Procurement or both, the date of issue of the permit, the makers of any similar articles and the prices at which they were sold.

Statutory Declaration

"This information had to be provided in the form of a witnessed statutory declaration and he had to give an estimate of his weekly output and provide a sample of each article, none of which measures more than a couple of inches.

"Letters from Mr. Molteno were ignored and for many months he was unable to make sales, though he and his wife were dependent on his work. At last, Senator Keane announced solemnly that the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner had been advised that the necessary investigation, 'although protracted' had been completed and Mr. Molteno was told by the Deputy Prices Commissioner in Sydney of the maximum price at which he might sell his productions.

"Perhaps it was these 'protracted investigations' that prevented the prices staff from looking into the matter of the Sydney milk supply," Sir Frederick Stewart said.

"Ridiculous Revisions"

He quoted these "ridiculous revisions" made in prices: A doll's ice chest, with hinged door, reduced from l0d to 7d, doll's verandah from 3 3/4d to 3 1/2d, a hallstand from 1s to 11 1/2d, a piano stool from 6d to 5 1/2d, an armchair from 5d to 3 1/2d, and a table from 5d to 4 1/2d.

"It is permissible to imagine the Commissioner and his staff having coopted a panel of joiners and carpenters, having communicated with the timber authorities in Canada, United States and Sweden, sitting hour after hour around a conference table debating solemnly whether a halfpenny or a farthing should come off the costs estimated by the maker."


I have not yet investigated archival depositories to see whether the documents submitted by Mr Molteno still exist. As well as the samples of each item, it would be very interesting to see the list of "makers of any similar articles and the prices at which they were sold".


Other newspapers carrying this report included the information that prices were reduced on 38 of the 79 articles of furniture made by Mr Molteno, including a "kitchen cabinet, with sliding doors and transparent panels, from 3/ to 2/6 (although it takes an hour to make)" (The Sun, Sydney, 18 May 1944); and "a grand piano with 11 separate pieces of wood to be cut and fitted, keys drawn and a considerable amount of finishing work done on it, the commission decided that the 3/6 sought was too much and that he should charge only 2/9." ( The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 1944: 4) This paper, and others, described Molteno as "an elderly man in poor health".


So who was H.G. Molteno? He appears in electoral rolls and directories as Herbert George Molteno. His trade is variously described as cabinetmaker, wood cutter, marquetry cutter and furniture maker. He was quoted in a newspaper report in 1914 of a commission into duties on imported goods:


Herbert George Molteno manufacturer of inlays, said that the present duty on imported inlays was 30 percent on those arriving from Great Britain and 33 per cent on those imported from elsewhere. He asked that the rates should be 60 and 70 per cent respectively. Inlays which he could manufacture and sell at £1 a dozen could be bought in England at 9 6 a dozen

The Chief Commissioner-Then a 60 percent duty would be no good to you

Witness-It would help me considerably, even if it did not bring the cost right up. Australian woods would be suitable for my purpose if I could get them the right thickness. Cutters of these inlays in England receive 4d or 5d an hour, with 1/ an hour for special work

Mr Lockyer-Then could any possible duty help you to compete?-Yes At present cabinet makers have to take stock designs and sizes. I could make any size, and my own designs to suit any particular style of furniture.” 

At that time, he was living in Melbourne, where he appeared in the electoral rolls from 1912 to 1924. A notice of his marriage in 1913 includes the information that he was "second son of the late F. J. Molteno of Ceylon" (Molteno ancestors and descendants are shown on a Molteno Family website). Herbert George Molteno was born on 26 December 1883 in Reigate, Surrey, England; his father was working as a photographer in London. I'm not sure when Herbert George left England for Australia (obviously before 1912).


By 1926, he appears in a Sydney directory, living first in Rockdale, then in Eastwood. His address from at least 1930 to 1937 was ‘Hauteville’, Gordon Crescent, Eastwood. From at least 1943 to 1963, he lived at 72 East Parade,Eastwood. This, then, was the address at which he made the dolls' furniture featured in the newspaper articles.


H. G. Molteno, as he appeared in the photo published in The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld.), 8 June 1944.


How long had he been making the furniture? The 1944 articles say "several years", so it's not clear whether he was the sole maker of the dolls house furniture shown in the Walther & Stevenson catalogues, or whether he took over the manufacture (and designs) of a previous maker. The earliest Walther & Stevenson catalogue I have seen dates from 1931, when 3 suites of approximately 10th scale furniture were available. By 1933, additional sets and individual pieces in a smaller scale were available, including several pieces of the furniture included in the 1944 photo. It seems to me likely that H. G. Molteno was producing this dolls house furniture by at least 1933, if not 1931. Some of the pieces were still available, in the same designs, in the 1953/54 Walther & Stevenson catalogue, so he probably produced it for at least 20 years. Molteno died in 1968.

If any descendants of Herbert George Molteno have any further information, I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Right Toys dolls house - or two?

When an Australian-made dolls house is listed on Australian ebay or gumtree several times from the same area, it's a fair guess that it was made in that area. This type of dolls house on wheels has appeared many times in Victoria:
When I was looking through the Australasian Sportsgoods and Toy Retailer at the beginning of last year, I was pleased to find this dolls house in a photo of a toy fair stand in 1975:

The caption says:
"RIGHT TOYS: Another new manufacturer, also featuring wooden toys, run by partners Peter Fortune and Gary Mellish. The range embraces some 21 items including doll's house on castors, table and chair set, walker wagons, blackboards, rope ladders, swings, go-kart, etc. Holding a truck is sales rep. Beverley Hall."
Right Toy Manf. Pty. Ltd. also had a display at the 1976 toy fair, sharing a stand with Sun Dip soft toys. The caption indicates that Right Toys displayed a '2-storey, 4 room unpainted dolls house on castors' - it is just visible at the front left, under a very large Pink Panther soft toy!
These entries don't give an address for Right Toys, but I have been able to find both partners in the Australian electoral rolls, and their addresses indicate that these dolls houses were indeed made in Victoria. In 1977 and 1980, Gary Mellish lived in Bentleigh, a south-eastern suburb of Melbourne; he was self-employed. Peter Fortune lived in Dandenong, a bit further out than Bentleigh, in 1977, when his occupation is given as 'woodworker'. In 1980, his address was in Seaford, a beachfront suburb further south again. Peter Fortune's occupation in 1980 was stated as 'foreman' - was Right Toys still in operation, and if so, were Gary Mellish and Peter Fortune still partners in it? I don't know.

For some years, I had watched these dolls houses come up, and I was very pleased to be able to buy one earlier this year. I only have a couple of photos of it, which I took when I was in Bathurst in May:
If you've been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I love dolls houses with original wallpaper, so I was delighted to find this Right Toys house decorated with typical 1970s wallpapers! Why pink curtains, though? I suspect they are not from the same period as the wallpaper! I have not yet furnished this dolls house, so I haven't decided whether to keep the curtains or change them.

The layout, of two rooms upstairs and two downstairs, with the stairs on the left and fireplaces on the right, is the same as in two of the other Right Toys dolls houses I showed at the top of this post. One has only two rooms, but the same positioning of the stairs and fireplaces:
I have another dolls house on castors from Victoria, too. It also has four large window openings, although the bottom two have no bars, and the top two have sliding doors:

Left: front of dolls house, closed; right, inner front of dolls house.

The sliding doors, the balcony wall and the back wall of the dolls house are made of laminex on plywood. The main walls are made of chipwood. The curtains came with the house, and seem to date from the 1970s - there is a pair for the other downstairs window too, but they need new wire to hang on.

The front of this house opens from the other side - from the left side, rather than the right side as in the Right Toys dolls houses above. There are no stairs, and no fireplaces. (I haven't furnished this dolls house either yet, though I've had it longer than the one above. I have bought some pieces of furniture in hot pink and bright blue, to match the curtains, so I must try setting it up. It will need some flooring too, I think!)
This house does have a chimney, which is not only on the other side of the house - the left, rather than the right - but runs all the way up the side of the house, rather than sitting on the roof:

Is this also a Right Toys dolls house, despite the differences? I don't know.

I don't know, either, whether these other dolls houses on castors from Victoria were made by Right Toys or by another company:

This one in the three photos above, said by the seller to date from the 1970s, is made of pine wood, rather than chipboard, and has two opening fronts rather than a single large one. The windows are divided into 9, rather than 4, and the stairs and fireplaces are on opposite sides to the Right Toys dolls houses, with the chimney on the roof, but on the back left rather than the front right. (This dolls house has two fireplaces; I have also seen the same model with only one fireplace.)

This dolls house in the two photos below looks more recent, with a piano hinge instead of two smaller hinges. It does have one opening front, and the windows are divided into 4 panes - but there is a front door instead of a fourth window. Like my second dolls house, there are no stairs and no fireplaces. I can't see from the photos if there's a chimney; if there is, it's not on the front of the roof.
So, I definitely have one dolls house made by Right Toys, and the first three I showed here are also by Right Toys. For the moment, I can't say whether my second dolls house and the other two houses shown here are Right Toys variants, or similar models made by (an) other manufacturer(s). Hopefully, I will find more information in catalogues, toy trade journals, or even from the manufacturers themselves! Hopefully, too, I'll be able to show you my dolls houses furnished and inhabited before too long!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Something a bit different!

This is another of my new dolls houses in Bathurst. The house itself is fairly recent, and I don't know who made it, or even what it's made from (mdf? pine?). I bought it for the decorations - it has been painted inside and out by Australian artist Janine Daddo, and I love the details on it, especially all the cats!

There's a black and white cat on the front left, like my Harriet, and two white dogs with black spots on the front right. 
On the inner left front, there's a ginger cat, like my sister's cat Treasure.
 On one side there are two white cats:
 and on the other side, there's another ginger cat, as well as several kennels:
The roof doesn't open, but the attics are accessible through the dormer windows and the round windows at each end, so the space is usable.
Three more dogs are on the back:
 The house came with furniture, which is painted as brightly as the house itself:
The bedroom:

 The bathroom - lots of fish!
 The kitchen:

 And the living room (not many chairs - I wonder if there were more once? I might have to add some):

 Who will live here? I don't know yet, but they will certainly have lots of cats and dogs!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Queenslander - or two ...

While I was in Bathurst two weeks ago, I was able to take photos of some new dolls houses. 
This one is my first made in the style commonly known as a Queenslander - built on stumps, with a verandah on at least one side. The stumps mean that air can flow under the house, and the house itself catches more breezes, being raised. It's also useful in areas that flood.

This one is quite simple - a single storey, with square verandah posts and solid brackets, and large-scale lattice on three sides of the underfloor space. It was made for a little girl who would have been born around 1920 - she is now 95. Unfortunately I don't know her name, but I bought the dolls house from her niece, who lives in an inner north-western suburb of Brisbane. The niece had also played with it as a child, and so did her (the niece's) daughter, so it had remained in one family since it was made. 

The inside is also simple - just three rooms, with solid partitions between them, no doors. It's big - 134 cm long, 63 cm deep, and 88 cm high. (This dolls house is currently stored in a room with many others, and it's so big that I couldn't get far enough back to get the whole length in a shot, so the photos of the front and back of the house are the seller's.)

The front door doesn't open - it currently has an open upper part, but this may have had glass in it originally. As you can see from this photo of the middle room, some repainting has occurred. I haven't really thought about it much yet, but I do rather like the colour on the side wall here - and I wonder if the floor was originally a reddish colour.

This is the room on the right (as you look at it from the back), and as you can see, there is coloured, patterned glass in one window. Perhaps they all originally had glass - I'm glad it remains in one window. The detail of the glass can be seen better from the front of the house - 

The room on the left (from the back) - both end rooms have two windows. 
Here's a view of the ceiling - just simple planks:

I think the lattice and roof have been painted green fairly recently - I'd say the lattice was white at one point, at least on the outside:

Inside, it is still bare wood:

There's quite a large roof space, but it's not accessible.

I look forward to cleaning this house during another trip to Bathurst, and perhaps investigating if there are other paint colours underneath the current ones. I will also think about what larger scale furniture I have from the 1920s and 30s - perhaps the pokerwork set I bought at the Sydney fair might find a home here, and I have some wicker furniture which will probably go on the verandah.

Another new dolls house, which also has some features of the Queenslander style. Lots of houses in Darwin are built like this too, with the main part of the house set high off the ground, and stairs leading up to the back and front doors. In fact, I bought this house in western Sydney - the seller told me that it came to him from a mate of his, whose son had made it while an inmate in Long Bay Jail (a prison at Malabar, 12 km south-east of the city of Sydney). I don't know where the mate or his son were from, or what inspired the son to make a house in this style. I also don't know when it was made, only that the son was in jail for 20 years.

This dolls house is also large, though not quite as big as the one above - but again I'm using some of the seller's photos, as it was difficult for me to get the whole house in shot. I bought it at Easter, and drove with it to Bathurst. I had hired a sedan - larger than my usual car, but almost not big enough! However, we managed to squeeze the base into the back seats, the upper floor into the boot, and the roof came off its hinges and rested on the base! 

The seller, who is a cabinet maker, had repaired and painted the house. It was not originally red and white - he told me that there were symbols of fruit on the outside walls, from the old cases it had been made from. (They might well help to date the house, but I don't know whether it would be worth trying to strip the paint to find them.) 
The balcony on these two sides of the house was originally there - some of the balustrades were missing, and the seller had replaced them. He added the perspex in the double windows - there was just an open space there.

The doors were originally solid - the seller had cut the half-moon shapes into them. However, the posts and braces supporting this end of the balcony are original, he told me.

At the other end of the house is another door. I think this just opened to a small balcony - the seller certainly added the stairs, so there are now stairs to the front and back doors.

The roof is made to lift up on hinges along the back side of the house. As I haven't screwed the hinges back on yet, I was able to take a photo straight down into the upper floor:

The carpet is new, added by the seller. I don't like it, and I plan to remove it (though I'm sure it will leave a sticky mess - I'll probably have to cover it with other carpet or flooring of some kind). The lino in the two small rooms is new too, but I will keep it, I think, for the bathroom and laundry - or bathroom and toilet? not sure.
The wallpapers are unfortunately sticky-back plastic (Contact), but again I'll remove them - and probably also the remains of earlier wallpaper (from the 1960s or 70s?) and take it back to the original pale green paint, I think:

Although this floor lifts off the ground floor, I didn't take it off to take photos. From the outside, the ground floor is accessed by a small door under the stairs to the main balcony (which you can see above), and two large double doors on one side of the house:

as well as another small door on the opposite side of the house:

 With these double doors, could one of these rooms have originally been intended as a garage? The carpet is new here too - and while the upper part of the base is original, a deeper base has been added, with castors on it - which makes moving the house much easier!
Here we can see the unfinished bottom of the hardboard which forms the floor of the upper level:

The walls of this lower level are also made of hardboard - the rough inner surface is still visible under the paint.

In many ways, I would love to have had this house without the new paint, carpet and wallpapers. However, the seller did a much better job than I ever could in repairing the stairs and balcony - and the house does look really good with stairs at the back too. So I'm happy to have acquired it as it now is - although I don't really look forward to removing the carpet and contact! I'm not sure whether I will leave all the doors and window frames painted red - I'll have to think about it. And furnishing it will be a long way down the track, as this house joins a long list of others in Bathurst needing work! I'd still be interested to hear your thoughts on what period I could furnish it in, though.