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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Victorian mansard roof dollhouse sold for $2,875. Photo courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers
Bend down and peer through the lace-trimmed curtains into a miniature world in perfect order. A world where Victorian life never ended. A world where 7-inch-high rooms are covered with paper that has been lithographed to create the look of a bedroom, parlor, dining room and kitchen.

The cast-iron stove warms the kitchen. Porcelain teacups clang in the dining room. A tall-case clock chimes in the parlor. The overstuffed feather mattress waits in the bedroom. It’s a storybook world, for the storybook-size character.

Many middle-class American homes in 1870 had all of the above plus intricately detailed architectural features like carved window trim and spires, fancy balustrades, wrap-around porches, and mansard roofing.

So did the dollhouses.

American dollhouse collections are often made up of dollhouses built in the late-19th century. Doting grandfathers or custom cabinetmakers constructed some. Others were mass-produced by companies like McLoughlin Bros. of New York.

McLoughlin Bros. was known for their brilliant lithography of toys, books, games and other items for children.

On Nov. 8, 1997, Skinner Auctioneers in Bolton, Mass., held their fall sale of toys and dolls. Featured were a selection of Steiff teddy bears, early cloth dolls, Victorian dollhouses, cast-iron toys like a Hubley Popeye patrol motorcycle, cast-iron mechanical banks of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam. A sizable group of American 1920s tin windup character toys, trains, and much more.

The auction featured 524 lots and totaled $316,285.

In this arena, “people tend to specialize,” said Mildred Ewing, Skinner toy specialist. “Also, toy collectors are apt to be male, while doll and teddy bear collectors are usually women.”

Lots included a 1909 Kammer & Reinhardt bisque head character girl with an impressed 114 mark, $11,500. An Ideal Shirley Temple doll, mid-1930s, $1,265.

A small, light golden mohair Steiff bear, circa 1905, $1,035. A Nifty lithographed tin “The Powerful Katrinka,” copyright 1923, $1,265. A Santa Claus bank, 1889, $4,312. A late-19th century Victorian mansard roof dollhouse, $2,875. A Victorian dollhouse cottage, $460.
The Victorian mansard roof dollhouse offered in the auction came out of New Hampshire. It had been in the family for 40-50 years, and the owner used the miniature outhouse behind the main dollhouse as a cigar holder.

It’s an unusual dollhouse in that the rooms are only 6-inches-wide and 8-inches-long. Hardly big enough to play inside.

“We think it may be what’s known in Pennsylvania Dutch as a ‘putz,’” said Ewing. “The Germans would set up a village underneath a Christmas tree with a farm scene, fake mountains, waterfalls, and sometimes a replica of the home they actually lived in. That’s what I think we have here.”

Some of the best vintage dollhouses around are German, made just before-1900. Condition and rarity are two important factors. Other points to consider are the overall design, proportions and detail. Are the original colors still intact? Has the house been lovingly cared for?

“So much of the fascination with dollhouses is tied into childhood,” said Ewing. “People want the toys that maybe they couldn’t afford as a child. Or the toy a kid down the block had.”

“There is something too about seeing things in miniature. A delight to the eye. Collecting dollhouses is like eating peanuts. Once you start, you can’t stop.”

Q. Here is a sketch of a fire extinguisher that’s about the size of a pop can. The maker is Hero. Can you shed some light on the subject? Ted Halaski, Pittsburgh.

A. You get the prize for artwork. I can’t say I’ve ever had such a detailed drawing sent to me.

I had some help with the answer from fire collectible expert Tom Laun in Syracuse, New York.

The Hero fire extinguisher you own was made after World War II. In terms of extinguishers, it’s pretty much bottom of the line. Depending on condition, it’s worth about $3-$5.

Factors that come into play with valuing fire extinguishers are rarity, age and graphics.

Some of the extinguishers dating back to 1870 are made of glass. Others are copper and nickel. They can fetch as much as $300-$700.

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