Saturday, February 18, 2023

Tebbutt's Strong Toy Co: 1930s dolls house furnishings made in Sydney

Late last year, Canberra collector Wendy Benson's dolls houses came up for sale. I was able to buy several, including some of the Australian dolls houses shown in the exhibition (and book) Dolls' Houses in Australia 1870-1950. One of the houses I bought is called Dunroamin, made in Sydney in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

"Dunroamin" (Photo Benson family)

I saw the Australian dolls house exhibition in 1999-2000, and also visited Wendy and saw some of her dolls houses 8 years ago. So I knew that Dunroamin had some original pieces of metal furniture, probably made in Arncliffe (a suburb of Sydney), in the 1940s. It also has some Walther & Stevenson wooden furniture.

What I hadn't realised until I unpacked it was that it also has two pieces made by an Australian toy maker I had not previously heard of!

This chair has the name E. Tebbutt, Sydney, moulded into the base. The other piece is a bath, which also has a name moulded into the base. It says "Made by E. Tebbutt, Hurstville, NSW."

With that information, it was quite easy to find out more about the maker, through Ancestry and the National Library of Australia's digitised collection, Trove.

Eric Eldridge Tebbutt appears in the Australian electoral rolls in Hurstville in 1930 and 1933. In 1930, he lived at Whinhill, Stoney Creek Road, Hurstville, and his occupation is listed as estate agent. In 1933, he lived at Morgan Street, Hurstville, and his occupation is listed as manufacturer. By 1934, he had moved to 25 Shackel Avenue, Belmore, and gave his occupation as toy manufacturer. He remained at 25 Shackel (or Schackel) Avenue until the late 1940s, although the boundaries of suburbs seem to have changed around him - Shackel Avenue was in Campsie in 1936 and 1937, in Earlwood in 1941, and in Kingsgrove in 1942 and 1943!

As the bath shows the Hurstville address, it seems possible that it dates to the early 1930s. The chair is harder to date, as all of these places are suburbs of Sydney, south-west of the city centre.

Tebbutt registered his toy manufacturing company on 2 July 1937, under the name "Strong Toy Co". The registration entry states that he had started making toys in 1930.

Dun's Gazette for New South Wales, Vol 58 No 3 (19 July 1937), page 8 (accessed through

I'm glad that the bath and the chair show the name Tebbutt, rather than the name Strong Toy Co. There was also a maker called Strong - FW Strong & Co, of Melbourne, who marked their toys "Strong Product" (late last year, I unsuccessfully bid on a miniature diecast pram made by Strong). Tebbutt is a much more distinctive name!

You're probably wondering what these pieces are made from. So was I, as I handled them! They are solid, heavy pieces, but they didn't look or feel like wood or metal. I found a possible answer in a trade directory and a Wanted ad: they are probably manufactured from a type of clay mixture.

Strong Toy Co entry in the Seven Hills suburb section of the Universal Business Directories' Sydney City & Suburban Trade and Business Directory, 1948-49, page 644 (accessed through

The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 14 Sep 1949, page 26 (accessed through

By the late 1940s, Eric Tebbutt had moved to Seven Hills, in Sydney's west. He is still listed there as a manufacturer in 1958. By 1963, however, he had moved to Rouse Hill, where he was farming. By 1980, he had retired from that too, and moved to the lower Blue Mountains. He died in Wentworth Falls in 1990, aged 91.

If anyone knows more about Eric Tebbutt and the Strong Toy Co, or has other pieces made by him, I would love to hear from you!

Addendum: here is a photo of the interior of Dunroamin, taken by the Benson family. I have not yet set this dolls house up, and the furniture is still in boxes, so it will be a while before I can take photos myself. The Tebbutt bath can just be seen in the bathroom next to the stairs, behind a Walther & Stevenson basin. I think the Tebbutt easy chair is hidden at the back left of the living room, where it is almost invisible.

Interior of Dunroamin, with some original pieces and other furnishings and dolls added by Wendy Benson. Photo: Benson family.


Sunday, February 12, 2023

Peters Toys - Australian wooden dolls house furniture from the 1940s


While I was in Bathurst for the summer, I did some sorting of my dolls house miniatures. This set is one I bought last year, and it's a rarity among Australian-made dolls house furnishings: it has the brand name stamped on it, and I have been able to find the date the brand was registered, and the names of the makers!

The name is stamped on the back of the green dressing table:

Probably neither dressing table had a mirror originally - the mirror on the blue one is certainly not original, as it's the wrong shape and rather too thick.

It's plain and simply made furniture - not surprising, as it was made during World War II. The green table has what I believe is a wartime permit stamp on the base:

The name Peters Toys, toy manufacturers, was registered in September 1941 by Hazel M. and Frederick W. Meyer of 88 Milson Road, Cremorne, NSW. The entry states that they had commenced production on 1 April 1941.

Dun's Gazette for New South Wales, Vol 66 No 11 p 5 (12 Sep 1941) (accessed through

This is the only entry I can find for Peters Toys or for the Meyers as toy manufacturers, so I don't know how long they continued.

Interestingly, I can't find the Meyers in Cremorne in the electoral rolls. In 1943, a couple named Frederick William and Hazel May Meyer are listed in St John's Park (where Frederick was a poultry farmer). In 1949, couples named Frederick William and Hazel May Meyer are listed in both Picnic Point (that Frederick is a bus driver) and Oatley (that Frederick is a metal machinist). Cremorne is on Sydney's lower North Shore, while the other suburbs are in the south or west of Sydney, 30 - 40 km away from Cremorne.

If anyone has any other pieces made by Peters Toys, whether dolls house furniture or other toys, I would love to hear about it.

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!