Monday, December 31, 2012

Children's Antique Sleigh

This year's most extravagant Christmas present was something that turned up in a local antique shop, a picker's rescue from an old, old house. It took my breath away when I saw it, and so after some budgetary soul-searching, it lived in layaway for a few months, making it out just in time to go under the tree (and just before our big snowfall came.)

This children's sleigh dates circa the 1870s. 30 inches long, the little sleigh is all-original, with much of its beautiful stenciling still intact. What makes it really special is its shape. Nineteenth century children's sleighs sometimes came in novelty shapes, most frequently a swan; this, however, is the only one I've ever seen in the shape of a lady's shoe.

See the shoe? It forms the side of the sleigh, white with yellow and red outlining:

The sleigh has seen heavy use and was coated in coal dust from decades of cellar storage, but many beautiful details remain:

I've loaded the sleigh up with antique doll and teddy bear passengers, all ready for a ride:

German Miniature Wooden Toy Village

One of my favorite presents this Christmas came from an antique shop in northern Michigan, where it was found stashed in an old stationery box.

This wooden playset represents some 400 years of toymaking history. Little villages like this one have been made in Germany for centuries, turned out originally in cottage industries that flourished during the long cold winters in the Erzgebirge and Groden Valley regions.

Wonderfully naive and delightfully out of scale with itself, this particular village was probably made in the 1920s, with a few older and slightly newer pieces mixed in. The smallest item is a chicken, just 3/4 inches tall, while the biggest is a windmill at 3 inches.

This village has houses, churches, town halls, a windmill, fences, trees, animals, people, and a horse drawn wagon. Many of the pieces have traces of candle wax atop them, suggesting the village was displayed for many years in the Putz tradition under a tree lit with real candles, or perhaps on a Christmas candle pyramid or carousel.

Let's tour the town, starting with the front gate:

Beyond the town, farm animals rest in the pasture, while a family of deer graze in the forest:

For futher reading, an interesting history of wooden toymaking in this region of Germany can be found in the chapter "Adventures in Toy Valley" in the book Toys Through the Ages, by Dan Foley.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Victorian Scrap Snowmen

We got our first big snow of the season here on Christmas night, with a little more falling this morning. The drifts are up to my knees now. Seemed like a good time to post some of my stocking stuffers: these Victorian scrap snowmen, circa the 1880s-90s. The larger snowman is 6 inches tall, while his little friends are a wee 2.5.

Unlike the snowmen currently outside in the yard, these embossed paper varieties won't melt away, and have lasted for the past 130 years.

Pink & Green Peng Peng Bear

This funky teddy bear, just 5 inches tall, was handmade by one of my favorite artists, Peng Peng of Chicago. Wearing a pink dress made from a little sock, she is crafted from tie-dyed green and cream mohair and has tiny glass eyes. She reminds me of peppermints and wintergreen, and was a perfect Christmas present this year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Antique Teddy Bear & Photographs

The first antique toys I began collecting years ago were teddy bears, and although my toy collection has become much more varied since then, I am still always in perpetual bear hunt mode. It's especially exciting to find an antique bear that comes with some provenance, like the photographs in this lot.

The bear is an unusual 10 inch American made ted, circa 1906-1908, with a handmade sweater coat. It came for Christmas along with a beautiful photograph of the little girls who originally owned it, and a picture of the house they all lived in, somewhere in Michigan long ago.

These three little sisters were the bear's first owners. Although the bear isn't in this cabinet photo, a doll and picture book are prominently featured.

And here's the house where they all lived. Can't you just picture them playing together on the front porch?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Antique Schoenhut Alphies Blocks

One of my most longed-for antique toys arrived under the Christmas tree this year: a beautiful set of lithographed wooden Alphies blocks made by the Schoenhut Company.


Schoenhut was an American toy company based in Philadelphia which began production in 1872. They are famed for their toy pianos, Humpty Dumpty Circus playset and figures, and many other fine toys.

The Alphies, first patented in 1916, are five inch tall wooden blocks with lithographed paper characters on both sides. One side depicts "Alphie Dollies," the other an "Alphie Zoo." Each character bears a letter of the alphabet on its front.

The Alphies were intended as multi-purpose playthings, as depicted in the possibilities shown on the box cover. They could be used to practice the alphabet and spelling; for stacking and building; and could even be set up as a bowling game, using the included wooden balls.

The lithography on the character blocks is gorgeous; here are some of my favorite pieces.

A tiger sipping soda.
"O" ogles "P."

A frantic looking frog.

"D" is for dolly.

An alligator in an apron.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Did We Get For Christmas?

 For the holidays, I  got a respiratory infection, an asthma flareup, and the flu...but I also got:
-an 1870s children's sleigh
-an antique German wooden toy village
-a 1906-1908 teddy bear with photographs of its original owners
-a set of 1916 Schoenhut Alphies blocks
-some antique photographs of children with their toys
-some beautiful Victorian scraps
-and a new Peng Peng bear
Pictures to come soon...
What did you get? Tell us in the comments!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Vintage Snowmen

From my collection of vintage Christmas, these two little snowmen, just a couple of inches tall, are some of my favorite pieces. The smaller snowman has a peel off sticky label on the back: he was meant to be attached to a package as decoration. The larger snowman is made of mica-covered cardboard with a spun cotton head, and carries a pipe cleaner candy cane.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Vintage Santa Claus

This tiny Santa, about 3 inches tall, has the same molded plastic face as the Christmas elves posted yesterday, and dates from the same time period. I believe those are supposed to be candles he's holding.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pine Cone Elves

These little Christmas elves sitting on pine cones were made by the millions from the 1940s-60s, and can be found today in lots of variations.  Some are singing carols, some are working on toys, some are reading books...these are two of my favorites. Made from cotton batting, chenille sticks, felt, paper, cardboard, and plastic, the elves measure about 3 1/2 inches tall.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Merry Kitschmas!

Happy December! We've come to one of my favorite times of the year: Kitschmastime! I rabidly collect vintage Christmas decorations from the 1940s-1960s, the kitschier the better. This month I'll highlight some of my favorite pieces.

These are some small ornaments and decorations that I wired onto a vintage bottle brush wreath.

A plastic snowman that looks a bit like Jimmy Durante,
along with a rather creepy elf. 

A super-cute cotton batting and glitter snowman,
just 2 1/2 inches high.
More Christmas kitsch to come this month...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Black Friday" Finds

As much as I love hunting for treasures, I don't really go in for the day-after-Thanksgiving "Black Friday" shopfest. TVs, video games, appliances, and all the other electronic gadgets that seem to be the focus for shoppers that day don't really appeal to me much, and you couldn't pay me enough to be in those crowds. Instead I sleep in, then eat breakfast while watching the news stories of riots at the local Walmart. Fueled by Captain Crunch cereal and self-righteousness, I then go the opposite direction, visiting my favorite little independently owned shops in small towns.  My goals are chiefly: 1) supporting them, in an effort to avoid nothing but Walmarts in our future; and 2) seeing how they've decorated for the holidays.

So yesterday found me in a little "County Store" in a remote area, as far from the malls and big box places as I could get. This particular store, housed in several old farm buildings, specializes in holiday decorations along with some local crafts and baked goods. Occasionally, an antique toy can be found in its densely packed display cases, too.

And this trip didn't disappoint: I spotted this little doll's legs sticking out from under a pile of tinsel. Just a tiny 3 1/2 inches tall, this dollhouse doll was made in Germany between the 1890s-1900s, and is still wearing her original clothes.

Other finds included these old Christmas ornaments. The 3 inch snowman is made of cotton batting, and dates from around the 1930s-40s, while the chenille Santa is likely a bit older.

Who needs Best Buy's "door buster" deals when there are things like this out there, just waiting to be discovered?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Antique Tin Toy Kitchen

Here's another antique doll kitchen, just in time for Thanksgiving. This one is from the late 1800s. This style of tin kitchen was made in America to compete with the larger, fancier, and more expensive wooden German imports. Although these were mass produced, they are hard to find today, as they were fragile, heavily played with, and filled with items that were typically lost over time. This one is still stocked with most of its original items.

The kitchen is made of pressed tin and measures 10 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches tall.

The central feature is the wood burning stove with exhaust hood. This is a non-working version, but some toy kitchens came with wood, coal, or alcohol burning stoves that actually worked. That's another reason they're so hard to find today: a lot of them went up in flames from cooking gone wrong.

The more deluxe versions of these tin toy kitchens did have one working feature, however: a water tank that really held water, and could be pumped with a little handle to fill a sink.
The tank rests in a basin on the right side of the kitchen. Pumping the handle on the top makes the water flow into this conical sink:
The kitchen is chock full of tiny utensils and implements. Here are a miniature grater and a mold:
The plate racks at the top of the kitchen are full of tin plates:
One of the few non-tin items in the kitchen is this miniature rolling pin, seen here with a mixing bowl and a butter knife:
The knife, bowl, and rolling pin are all completely out of scale with each other, yet all are original to this kitchen. Scale wasn't important to the makers of these toys. For implements to have been in scale, they would have been so tiny as to be unusable, and the whole goal was to give little girls an affordable (hence small) toy kitchen they could actually use to practice cooking and cleaning. The oversize spoons at the top of the kitchen are another example; such spoons are nearly always included in these kitchens and mounted in this fashion, and they are always this big.
Some of the items in these kitchens were cleverly made from scrap metals. These little frying pans were made from a cosmetics tin and a piece of embossed ceiling tile:
Advertising items sometimes found their way into these kitchens as well, and some kitchens were occasionally given away as promotional items for various home goods companies or as sales incentives. Children could sometimes win such a toy kitchen for selling magazine subscriptions, for example. This one has a tiny dust pan advertising the "Steel Edge Dust Pan" Company.
My peg wooden doll is getting ready to start her Thanksgiving cooking. Hope yours goes well, and that you have a very happy holiday!