Sunday, October 31, 2010

A little bit of Illinois in every state in Australia

As you know, I love old home-made dolls houses, and I have quite a few in my collection. I would have more, if I had room and if ebay sellers could freight them all to me .... but as neither is the case, I enjoy looking at them on ebay, and saving some of the photos.
Then, as I've been looking through old Australian newspapers online, I saw ads for dolls house plans - and realised that some of the plans for sale were the same models that are now coming up for sale on ebay.
Here's one that I've seen a few models of:

and here it is advertised in the Sun Herald in 1978:

The ad says that the house is 27 1/2 inches high and 29 inches wide, and the back is cut away for play. The pattern included acetate windows with printed dividers, and decals for the house and window boxes. The house "will be cherished by any little girl fortunate enough to receive it, [and] is sturdy enough to last for several generations."

This seems to be borne out by the houses which have survived - the one above has wonderful 1970s wallpaper, and, except for one of those acetate windows, looks pretty sturdy 30 years on.

I was pleased to know the source of the design, and the date of this house, and then ebay threw up another piece of information:

The plans themselves are currently available for sale, and, as you can see, they give the designer's name: A. Neely Hall.

Another house, which came up on ebay in Sydney recently, was also made from plans for sale - the ad I found was in the Sydney Morning Herald of 1982:

Turns out this house was also designed by A. Neely Hall - this I discovered by browsing the galleries of old dolls houses on KT Miniatures. Marilyn Pittman of Ohio found the same model dolls house at a flea market, and later, she says,

While browsing eBay, a "Craft Patterns Doll House Packet" came up for auction, and it was my house! After buying the pattern, my decision was made for me. The pattern had an address, so I contacted the museum in Elmhurst, Illinois, and the rest is history.

The house now resides at their Historical Museum in the section of their famous architect, Albert Neely Hall, 1883-1959. His first pattern for this house was printed in 1958 and there were several subsequent printings of the pattern of the house, breezeway, and garage, as well as patterns for furniture. The brick paper, paper to cover the shutters, and plastic windows were included in the pattern packet.

So houses made to this plan could date anywhere between 1958 and 1982, or even later. Probably the best way to date them is by the materials used to decorate them - the offcuts of flooring, wallpaper, fabric and so on.

Elmhurst, Illinois' website gives more information about Albert Neely Hall. He wrote many books and articles in newspapers and magazines, and with his brother, illustrator Norman P. Hall, he founded Craft Patterns, which published the designs he created. The business was continued in Elmhurst by other family members until 1986.

(Another Elmhurst resident was Walter Burley Griffin, who designed the Australian capital city, Canberra. Elmhurst Historical Museum recently had a fantastic-sounding exhibition,
Dwellings: A Study in Residential Architecture
Using Elmhurst as a case study, this original exhibit takes visitors on an exploration of the diverse architectural styles of the western suburbs. From bungalows and prairie style residences to turn-of-the-century Victorians, Sears mail order homes and more, Dwellings depicts the architectural details of neighborhoods in the Elmhurst area and explains how the city evolved as a classic example of Midwestern suburbanization. The exhibit includes special features on the work of Walter Burley Griffin, Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright; a video on "The Lost Homes of Elmhurst"; and a hands-on kids' activity desk with architectural building blocks.
Pity it's finished, but still, Elmhurst sounds like an interesting place to visit!)

Here's an early design by A. Neely Hall, published in a 1937 issue of Science and Mechanics Magazine, for sale on ebay right now:

So, he was certainly a prolific designer of dolls houses, and it seems likely that he (or his company) also produced the plans for these other houses which could be ordered from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun Herald.

From 1973, this open-backed house on castors, pattern no. 411:

(Perhaps the maker of this model, listed on ebay in Adelaide four years ago, had taken to heart the message of the feature (and photo, right) above the ad: "Eye appeal need not rely on furniture .... today's excitement lies in backgrounds provided for that furniture".)

In 1979, plans for this three storey, front-opening house were advertised; I've seen several models of this one too:

A lot of the plans I've come across were for two- and three-storey houses. There were also two bungalows, neither of which I have photos of, unfortunately.

This fantastic model was advertised in 1966. A house of this design was sold on ebay in Perth a couple of years ago - I don't seem to have saved the photos, but I do remember that it had the same vinyl flooring as my re-decorated Lines DH/C.

(Notice how it's the same little girl, in the same outfit, and holding the same cot, as in the Cape Cod plans?)

UPDATE: Thank you, callsmall, for noticing this house on US ebay, and letting me know about it:

This house is signed on the bottom, and dated 1965. The maker chose a quite different colour scheme from the maker of the model sold in Perth - that had a red roof.

And this one I don't think I've seen yet, a ranch house from 1978, the same year that the Swiss chalet plans were available.

So parents who wanted to make a dolls house for their daughters (or possibly even sons?) had some choice of styles. The plans right at the top of this post are a teaser - they're in an ad for a 1975 issue of Woman's Day magazine, so not available from the newspaper. Hope I can track down a copy of the magazine - at least for a better image of the plans!

And just to finish, who would have thought it was International Women's Year the year before this ad appeared?


  1. So interesting, Rebecca, all of it! But, I was most interested to see the 1966 hexagonal house, which popped up a few times on eBay over the summer. It was initially up for $500, then $150, and then it was sold for $76 just last week. When it came up for $500, I tipped off Daddy Types -- here is the post It looks like the same house, definitely! Thanks for solving a little mystery :)

  2. it is all interesting. i wonder where that little girl is now and how old she would be.. and did she ever get a dolls house herself... or did she forever pine for one!! she might have been a tomboy and lusted after the train set that her brother had! :)

  3. Oh my gosh Rebecca. I remember the Hall's miniature store from my childhood. I must have gone there only once and was fascinated with the mini stuff. Elmhurt, Illinois is the town next to where I grew up. You do such a good job with details and information. I just love this post. The Elmhust Historical Museum is only 13 miles from me now and I plan to visit. They currently have a display called "Toys in the Hood - A history of toys, toy makers and their Chicago area roots." I feel blessed to live in this area because my odds of finding vintage doll houses or doll house items is greater. Thanks so much for inspiring me to learn more. I'll let you know what I find after I visit. Wish you could come with me. Cheeers, Amy

  4. Thank you, callsmall! It's a lovely house - very nice colour scheme, and original wall decorations too. Perhaps the recession is affecting prices - $500 seems way too high, but $76 fairly low for a 45 year old house in retro style. Wonder who the lucky winner was?

  5. Good question, Christine - I wonder if she was part of the Hall family? Perhaps she learned to make dolls houses and train sets herself!

  6. WOW, Amy! Oh, I wish I could come with you too! The current exhibition at the Elmhurst museum sounds really interesting too - please share what you can with us when you visit, photos if they're allowed, or whatever you can. Right in your neighbourhood, wow, so not just a little bit of Illinois in every state in Australia, but a little bit of Amy's home area :-)

  7. So interesting, I never knew there were so many different dollhouse plans to be bought! The hexagonal house is of course my favourite. It reminds me of the atriumhouses which were very popular in Scandinavia in the fifties and sixties.

    Great to learn a little bit about Albert Neely Hall and Elmhurst as well.
    My dollhouse childhood was mostly limited to Lundby, Brio and Caroline's home when visiting England. I hadn't even heard of the 1:12 scale until I started collecting again as an adult, so I really appreciate getting so much insight into this other scale world through your posts!

  8. Hi Pubdoll, it is interesting, isn't it? A 1973 ad says there's an illustrated catalogue of plans available - now that would be really interesting!

    Some of the ads (like the chalet and the Cape Cod) give the scale as 1:12, and they also come with plans for making furniture. Some of the others, like the hexagonal house, say "Standard plastic dollhouse furniture, obtainable in most toy stores, is the correct size for this house." Intriguing, as the plastic furniture of the time was often 1:16, though some was 1:24 (and some even 1:12). I wonder if by 'correct size', they meant that it fits in the dolls house, unlike 1:6 scale furniture for Barbie etc, which wouldn't? I think the furniture in the hexagonal house could be Marx, so it probably is 1:16. Hmm, interesting questions, if all their plans were in the same scale, or differed from house to house?

  9. I've just checked the listing for the hexagonal house sold on ebay - "It's 36" in diameter and stands 12" high." So definitely not 1:16 scale - I wonder what that furniture is, in the photo from the pattern?

  10. Thanks for providing even more info! I'm sort of glad it's not 1:16 scale though. I wouldn't know where to put it. I'm (almost)looking forward to when the children move out and I can turn one of their bedrooms into a doll's house room :-)

  11. Hi Rebecca, as always a very interesting and informative blogpost. Lizzie

  12. Hi there nice lady. Hubby and I finally went to that Elmhurst Museum. They didn't have the Toy exhibit like I thought but we enjoyed the magic history and the area history. They are due to have Chicago toys in Spring of 2011. I wrote up a request sheet asking to have information on A. Neely Hall displayed and any possible doll houses that may have been from his plans for the Spring Show. When I go back I'll at least take some photos of the builing the museum is in. It was very old and unique. Thanks so much for leading us down that local path. We had a great time and will again. Thanks!

  13. Hi Rebecca! The ranch style house with the big garage in front has appeared on US eBay several times....usually pick-up only. None of them had the lovely front yard with the ranch-style fence, however.
    The furniture in the hexagon house looks like Marx 1/12th size...they made both 1/16 and 1/12 during the 50s-60s. Other plastic furniture of that era was Petite Princess by Ideal and Little Hostess by Marx.
    I have collected a lot of dollhouse plans...I built 3 dollhouses back in the 70s(but no miniature furniture!) and I feel like I need to build at least one more!
    Delightful post!! Flo

  14. Plans for that octagonal house turned up on Etsy! "U-Build Pattern No. 369" Neat, huh? Hope you're well!

  15. Thank you for your post and pictures about the A. Neely Hall Cape Cod dollhouse. One thing-- the plans pre-date 1958 by at least 15 years. It has been fascinating for me to research this, as I have one of these houses, made by my grandparents for my mother in 1943. They found the ad for the plans in the back of a magazine. This makes sense if you think about it-- 1958 was the very end of A. Neely Hall's life; he died in 1959. His family apparently continued the business and sold many of his plans until 1986. Amy Carter had one of these houses, made in 1979, and now on display in the Smithsonian.

  16. I've linked this article (if it's alright with you) to my blog about Albert Neely Hall's book The Wonder Hill. I will take it down immediately if you object. You've covered the subject (Hall's dollhouses) so completely I didn't see any point in trying to say anything about it myself.
    Thank you for a really informative article. You made me homesick for my beloved dollhouse from the 50's.

    1. Hi ilex, Thank you for your lovely comment - and yes, of course you can link it to your blog post. I've just had a quick look at it - what an amazing book! I'll come back for a more leisurely read :-)

  17. Thank you. I just want to camp out on your blog site for the rest of the morning. Great stuff. I'll be back again and again.
    Best regards!

  18. I am one of A Neely Hall's great-granddaughters, a designer and builder myself. My father (who passed 4 years ago) was a grandson of his, his mother (my paternal grandmother Ruth Smith) was his only child - daughter. It is so lovely to be revisiting the past and seeing all of these wonderful comments, about how much his work was cherished and still is today. My grandparents were very interesting and crafty people, I remember playing with doll houses at their home in St.Charles, IL. Unfortunately, with the passing of my father and having lost touch with his two brothers and sister, I am unsure of what happened to all of the crafts, doll houses, and furniture that was built over the years. I do remember a oil painted portrait of Neely Hall hanging in the hallway of my grandparents home, very ominous to a child, but wishing now I had that painting of history to hold on to. Thanks again to all of you for your kind words. - Carly Faye Smith

  19. Carly I just stumbled onto this post of yours because I was searching Craft Patterns on Google. I know you don't remember me, you were so young the last time I saw you. I am your Uncle Gerrys daughter Sara. Your dad Brian/Bucky and mom Polly were so key in my childhood along with our grandparents Bob and Ruth. If this message finds you somehow it would be so amazing!

  20. I have the craft patterns ranch house AND the plans for it i purchased them for 35 us dollars on craigslist colorado. If anybody wants....i can take pictures