Handicrafts Dolls House Designs
by Rebecca Green
Introduction and History
As several members have recently acquired dolls houses made to plans by Handicrafts, I thought it would be useful to write about the history of the company, and to show the designs which they published.
Handicrafts monthly magazines from 1927 (l) and 1934 (r)
Handicrafts, like the better known firm Hobbies of Dereham, published monthly magazines and annual handbooks for amateur woodworkers. Their catalogues included designs for furniture, toys, decorative fretwork, etc, the tools and wood needed to make the items, and articles giving guidance on various aspects of woodwork.
Handicrafts themselves gave differing information about their starting date. In 1929, Handicrafts was converted to a public company, and the directors, Francis Stewart Thomas, Reginald Maidlow Thomas and others, gave a brief history in the published notice: Handicrafts was founded and incorporated as Private Company in 1910, and passed under the control & management of the Thomas brothers in 1913.
However, the 1929 'Handicrafts Annual' states that it is in its 21st year of publication, which would suggest that it started in 1908.
An article by Faith Eaton in 'International Dolls House News' in Autumn 1994 gave more information about the founder, who was not named in the 1929 public notice. Miss Eaton was acquainted with Miss M. Thomas, who I believe would have been either Margaret, the daughter of F S Thomas, or Mary, the daughter of R M Thomas. Miss Thomas told Miss Eaton that Handicrafts was started by Frank Skinner, the brother of John Henry Skinner, who had set up Hobbies in 1887.
I discovered more of the story in a 'Hobbies Weekly' of December 12, 1908, reporting on the outcome of a court case brought by Hobbies Ltd against Home Handicrafts Ltd. A year earlier, in December 1907, Hobbies had sought an injunction against Frank Skinner, James Carruthers Smith Brough and Fred Clark (all described as former employees of Hobbies), to stop them using lists of the names and addresses of Hobbies customers (which they had obtained when they were working for Hobbies) to send out Handicrafts circulars and magazines.
After the court case had run for four days, Handicrafts conceded that they could no longer defend their case. The judge awarded damages of £1,500 plus costs to Hobbies, describing Handicrafts' actions as robbery of trade secrets, and saying that it was lucky for Frank Skinner that the criminal law hadn't yet been extended to such cases (the case was tried in a civil court). This was not a slap on the wrist - today's equivalent would be at least £86,000.
So, this appears to be the genesis of Handicrafts - the brother of the founder of Hobbies, and at least two other Hobbies' employees, left Hobbies to found their own magazine. They took with them copies of customer lists, and the Hobbies chief designer also "went over to the enemy and left [Hobbies] in the lurch". The new company is named in the court case as Home Handicrafts Ltd; the British Library catalogue shows the full name of the magazine as 'Home Handicrafts, Arts and Pastimes', with a publication run from 9 November 1907 - December 1917, continuing from January 1918 as Handicrafts.
According to the 1929 public notice quoted above, it was in 1910, the year after Home Handicrafts Ltd lost the court case, that Handicrafts was founded as a private company, and the Thomas brothers took it over in 1913.
Photo and signature of R. M. Thomas from the 1931 Handicrafts Annual
Francis and Reginald Thomas' father, Ernest Charles Thomas, was married to John Henry and Frank Skinner's sister, Louisa Annie, so the Thomas brothers were nephews of the founders of both Hobbies and Handicrafts. E. C. Thomas, an accountant, probably worked at Hobbies at one time - in the 1901 census, the Thomas family are living in East Dereham in Norfolk, the headquarters of Hobbies, and E. C. Thomas' occupation is shown as Company Accountant.
So, Handicrafts was established in 1910 by Frank Skinner, and taken over in 1913 by his nephews Francis Stewart Thomas and Reginald Maidlow Thomas. From 1919 to 1924, Handicrafts was at 264, then 266 Holloway rd N.7. In 1926, they opened a large new factory at Lister Works, Weedington Road, Kentish Town N.W.5.
Handicrafts Limited, Lister Works, as shown in the 1926 Annual
Their competitors, Hobbies, obviously kept a keen eye on them – in 1926, Hobbies took Handicrafts to court “for selling fretwork and carpenters’ outfits to which the false trade description “British Make” or “British Made” was applied.” Hobbies alleged that, “while in their catalogues they had made a point of warning the public against the German fretwork tools that were on the market, they had themselves sold as “British made” fretwork tools that were imported from Germany and were merely assembled at their so-called “factory” at Kentish Town.” Hobbies protested not only against the false description, but said that they had suffered severe financial loss because Handicrafts sold these tools at lower prices than Hobbies’ own British-made tools. Handicrafts were fined £20, with £8 costs.
In 1934, another new building was erected at Lister Works – but according to Faith Eaton, F S Thomas retired in 1935, and R M Thomas left to join his uncle J H Skinner and cousin R S Skinner in the firm of Skinner, Thomas & Co (manufacturing fine plywoods, veneers and parquet flooring) in Durban, South Africa.
The new building at Lister Works under construction, from the 1934 Annual
Handicrafts, however, continued to be published until 1939, and some of the original Handicrafts dolls house designs continued to be listed. The telephone directory gives an address in Birmingham for 1936-1938: Anne Road, Smethwick. The 1937 Handicrafts Annual also gives this address on the page “How to Obtain Goods”. Three directors of Handicrafts Limited are named: R. D. Best, H. F. Foster and D. H. Robinson. The address for telegraphs is Amatacraft, Birmingham.
In October 1937, F S Thomas published a notice in The Times that Handicrafts Limited was being wound up voluntarily. In May 1931, The Times published information that Amatocraft [sic] was recently registered as a private company “To take over the business of manufacturers of and dealers in amateur woodwork requisites, &c, carried on by Handicrafts Ltd., in Britain.” Its nominal capital was £10,000.
The 1939 Handicrafts Annual is therefore published by Amatacraft Limited, whose directors are named as E. E. Wynne, A. P. Geddes, and K. G. Priestley. The address is still Anne Road, Handsworth, Birmingham. Amatacraft is still listed in the 1949 telephone directory for Birmingham as Amatacraft (Handicrafts) Ltd, but also appears from 1946 in Cardiff, Wales, as Amatacraft Ltd, Woodworkers.
Meanwhile, the name Handicrafts (Peterborough) Limited was registered in 1944 in Peterborough, which is in Cambridgeshire. It’s listed in the telephone directory under Handicrafts (Peterborough) Ltd and Handicraft Publications Co Ltd until at least 1956. The publications included the Handicraft Annual. The 1954 Annual is described as the fourth post war Handicrafts Annual, indicating that the first was published in 1951. The three that I have (1954, 1955 and 1956) all have dolls house designs. However, none of the earlier Handicrafts designs are listed – instead, the dolls house designs are the same as Hobbies designs, and even have the same numbers (except for one which is the same as a Zimplan design). So it seems that, while Amatacraft was intended to continue the work of Handicrafts, and did have Handicrafts patterns and designs, this Handicrafts in Peterborough continued the name, but did not have access to the patterns and designs of the original Handicrafts.
Dating the dolls houses
I have the 'Handicrafts Annuals' for 1926, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1937, 1938, 1939. Isobel Hockey has kindly provided information about which dolls house designs were listed in the years 1919, 1922, 1923, , 1930, 1935, 1936.
It is possible to say that the earliest date a house could have been made to one of these designs is the year the design was issued. However, we can’t say with any certainty when it might have been made after that. Some designs were available for nearly 20 years. Some plans were only listed in the Annual for one or two years, but still could have been used to make a dolls house many years later. Any plan could have been bought and kept for many years, or bought from a Handicrafts stockist some years after its release.
Handicrafts also offered dolls house papers for walls and flooring, as well as furniture plans and dolls house fittings. The papers can also help to date a house, so I have included them here. Fittings and furniture will be covered in a later issue.
The Dolls House Designs
The earliest design that I am aware of was issued in 1913. It was described in the International Dolls House News, Vol 10 No 3, in 1981. I do not yet have the relevant issue of the Home Handicrafts magazine.
The next design to appear, in April 1914, was 265. This was still available in 1922, but it is not included in the next catalogue I have, for 1926.
1914 - 1925?
Design No 325 was, I believe, issued in 1919. This design was available right through until 1939 (except for 1937, when only new designs were included).
1919 - 1939
Susanne has a 325:
Artistic Dolls House No 325 exterior and interior, photos © Susanne G
Next we have the A series, A58, A61 and A67, which make their appearance in 1923. These 3 designs, with 325, remained in the catalogue until 1939 (again except for 1937).
1923 - 1939
Dollhouse Dreams has an A58:
A58 exterior. Photo © Dollhouse Dreams
Note that while dowelling was supplied for the pillars supporting the balcony, the balustrades are made of fretwork. The balcony balustrades are flat; the corner posts on the widow's walk are formed of two intersecting pieces of fretwork, giving the impression of rounded columns.
A58 detail of roof. Photo © Dollhouse Dreams
1923 - 1939
1923 - 1939
In 1923, design number 355 appeared. This could be doubled to make a larger house or terrace. It was still listed in 1929, but was not shown in 1930.
1923 - 1929
19" x 13½"
In 1929, the first of the W series, W116, was introduced. W26 and W141 followed in 1930. These 3 designs were available until 1935. (The only other designs available in 1930 were A58 and A61.)
1929 - 1935
Above, exterior of W116; below, interior of W116.
The balustrades on this dolls house were to be made of cut-down spindles, listed elsewhere in the catalogue with turned knobs, feet, etc. It may have been the case in 1929 that "The uses of these [spindles] are so many that they need no enlarging," but it isn't obvious to me now! However, they do make very good balustrades.
1930 - 1935
The interior of a No. W26 dolls house, made by reader E. A. Barnard of Kensington, and published in the Handicrafts monthly magazine for August 1931.
1930 - 1935
In 1931, there were two new designs in the W series: W169, also listed in 1932 and 1933, and W234, not listed again.
1931 - 1933
The "leaded" effect of the windows was done by ruling lines with indian ink. It seems that not all makers bothered with this - no lines are evident in the following reader's photo of a house made to this design, which also appeared in the August 1931 'Handicrafts' magazine. The maker, J. Roberts of Liverpool, had omitted the sign, used a lion knocker and letters plate on the door (instead of drawing on plank lines and hinges), and added a fence.
The little house below appeared on ebay a while ago; it appears to be made from design W234 with, again, a few modifications - a different front door, and the inn sign replaced by additional timbering in the centre of the house:
W256 was the next design to be introduced, recommended as a quite simple piece of work, with a delightfully realistic appearance obtained by the use of dolls house brick, tile and wall paper. I have this courtesy, of Isobel Hockey, whose copy notes that it is from the Handicrafts 1933 Annual; the page number is 558. As I have the 1933 Annual, which has neither a page 558 nor this design, I think this may have been published in a Handicrafts monthly in late 1933, in time to be made up as a Christmas present.
The last of the W series was W364, issued in 1935.
A house made to this design appeared in our Mystery Houses recently, and was quickly identified by Isobel Hockey. Here is Jackie's W364:
Photo © Jacqueline Stevens
The Ready to Assemble series appeared in 1932, with RTA 117. This design was also listed in 1933 - 1935. RTA164 came out in 1933, and was also available until 1935.
1932 - 1935
1933 - 1935
1936 saw the release of the Craftsman Made Series, the first of which was CMF 116. The following year this was renumbered, and became C248, Georgian Style. (As you can see, it has some resemblance to RTA 164, too.)
C116 / C248
1936 - 1939
Below, the interior of the C116 / C248, showing the special feature of a staircase with banisters.
1937 was the year in which only three dolls house designs were available: new designs C246 (a modern dolls house) and C247 (a half-timbered Tudor style), and the renumbered CMF 116, now C248.
1937 - 1939
1937 - 1939
C333, another modern house, was the last design to be introduced, in 1939. The other 3 houses in the C series were still available in 1939 too, along with the stalwarts A58, A61, A67 and 325.
And finally, not a dolls house, but a toy shop - the plans for this were available from at least 1926 to 1937, firstly as an individual plan, and then in Design Book 29.
Handicrafts Dolls House Papers
As well as plans for dolls houses and dolls house furniture, and fittings such as lighting, Handicrafts also sold dolls house papers.
Several wall, floor, brick and tile papers can be seen in Dollhouse Dreams' A58, below.
Photo © Dollhouse Dreams
Revised: Handicrafts began advertising dolls house papers in 1914. The 1914 Catalogue mentions "paper representing Brickwork (red), Roofing (blue-grey or red), Parquetry Flooring (oak)"; sadly, none were illustrated. From July 1914, the Home Handicrafts magazine carried a short ad for the above dolls' house papers, and for "Wall Paper (conventional pattern in miniature, figures and animals)."
The 1923 Annual carried colour illustrations of several wallpapers, which were reproduced in an issue of the International Dolls House News. Unfortunately, I do not yet have the 'Handicrafts Annual' for that year, but can reproduce line drawings of the wallpapers from later annuals, and photos of some of the wallpapers from members' dolls houses.
The Annuals I have, from 1924 on, show that some papers were available for many years, while other designs were listed for only one or two years and then were replaced by different designs.
Handicrafts did not name the supplier of the wallpapers they sold, but after the 1926 court case in which they were fined for selling German tools as British made, they did indicate goods which were not British, or from the British Empire, by an (F) for Foreign. The dolls house papers in the 1929- 1932 Annuals are marked (F). In later Annuals, they are not marked as either British or Foreign.
I believe that, at least until 1932, the papers were made in Germany. Original papers in several designs are still available from German ebay sellers.
No 1, Bedroom Wallpaper, seen upstairs in this A58, was available from at least 1923 to 1932.
Photo © Dollhouse Dreams
A different colourway of this design is currently available from German ebay seller 1puppenstube (store Berliner Puppenstube).
A new No 1, Bedroom Wallpaper, appeared in 1933, and was still available in 1937. This has a frieze of cats, dogs and rabbits above a design of flowers and foliage in purple, red and green on a buff background.
Ellie has a two-roomed bungalow decorated with this wallpaper:
Photos © Ellie
The 'Handicrafts Annuals' do not mention or show a dado for this design. In Ellie's bungalow, however, the other room is decorated with the same paper turned upside down, creating a different frieze from the dado pattern of leaves and berries.
Photo © Ellie
No 2, Tile Paper for kitchen floors, bathrooms etc. In white and two shades of blue. In the 1926 Annual.
A different No 2, tiled paper in white and blue, is in the 1929, 1931 and 1932 annuals. (This is probably the paper used on the ceilings of Susanne’s house.)
The No 2 Tile Paper in the 1933 Annual could be new, or could just be showing a frieze that wasn’t visible in previous years. This was available until 1937. (The double-line effect is a printing mistake - the colour separations on this page of the 19933 Annual were not properly aligned.)
In 1939, a blue and white tile paper without the frieze appears as No 17.
No 3, Roofing Paper, representing a slate roof, and No 3a Roofing Paper representing Red Tiles, were available from at least 1926 until 1932.
The slate paper version can be seen above, in the closeup of the roof of Dollhouse Dreams' A58.
The red tile version is currently available on German ebay from seller liebenswertesundkurioses.
In 1933, new roofing papers appear, still numbered 3 and 3a. These were still available in 1939.
1926 - 1932
1933 - 1939
No 4, Red Brick Paper for outside walls – this design is available from at least 1926 until 1932. In 1933, a new red brick paper was introduced (still with the number 4) – but by 1936, the earlier brick pattern (or one very similar) was back.
The earlier paper was used for the exterior of Dollhouse Dreams' A58, and can be seen in more detail in this photo:
Photo © Dollhouse Dreams
No 5, Parquet Linoleum representing brown inlay linoleum, was available from at least 1926 to 1932. (A green and brown version of this pattern is available from German ebay seller 1puppenstube (store Berliner Puppenstube)). In 1933, a new pattern appears as No 5 Parquetry Paper, and is available until 1937. The 1939 Natural Wood Parquetry for Floors has a new number, No 15, and looks very like the Hobbies parquetry we are all familiar with.
The earliest paper was used on the downstairs floors of Dollhouse Dreams' A58 - the edging can be seen turned up as a kind of skirting board:
Photo © Dollhouse Dreams
In the 1926 Annual, No 6 Drawing Room Paper (left), in delicate colouring with gold decoration throughout, was listed. A new No 6 Sitting Room paper with green background and neat design (below), appeared in 1929, but no No 6 was included in 1931 or later years.
No 7, a floral wallpaper with a trellis of roses in the dado and a frieze of birds, left, suitable for small houses, was available from at least 1923 until 1929; it was not shown in 1931 or later years. This is the wallpaper in the downstairs left room of Dollhouse Dreams' A58.
Photo © Dollhouse Dreams
No 8 is a Bedroom Wallpaper. The first had a buff background, purple clematis flowers and green leaves, and a dado and frieze with orange colour predominating. It was available from at least 1923 until 1926.
A new No 8 Bedroom Wallpaper appears in 1929 – it has a white background with flowers and green foliage climbing columns (or vertical stripes). It was still available in 1937.
The later No 8 wallpaper in Susanne's 325 dolls house. Photo © Susanne G.
No 9 is Kitchen or Bathroom blue and white tiled paper with a Dutch design of ships and windmills, and a dado and frieze also of ships. It was available from at least 1923 until 1932.
In 1933, No 9 had a similar blue and white patterned tiles, but the frieze pattern appears to be of boys and geese. This was not available in 1937, when only No 2 plain blue and white tile paper with windmill frieze was available.
Original and reproduction papers in this design are currently available from German ebay seller diewindhexe.
1923 - 1932
1933 - 1936?
Susanne’s kitchen has the patterned tiles, but the frieze is not visible.
Photo © Susanne G.
No 10, Linoleum Pattern in green and brown, suitable for kitchen or bathroom floors was listed in the 1926 Annual.
In 1929, the design shown for No 10, Linoleum pattern in three colours, is the same as that printed in 1926 as a blue and white tile paper. As the illustration is in black and white, it's hard to know if this was a mistake, or whether there was a different colourway of that pattern available.
By 1931, No 10 is a new pattern of linoleum in three colours, suitable for dining rooms; this was also available in 1932.
In 1933, another linoleum pattern appears, still numbered 10. This is in brown shades, and is suitable for the kitchen. It was not listed in 1937.
No 11 is a floral wallpaper with the colour purple predominating; it has a frieze of toys shown as black silhouettes. It was available from at least 1923 until 1926.
A new No 11 appears in the 1929 Annual. This has a similar floral design, but the frieze shows a landscape with butterflies. This was also available in 1932.
The No 11 design shown in the 1933 Annual is described as a dining room paper, with a landscape and butterfly design in the frieze – but it looks more like a fence or trellis to me. The overall pattern is certainly different, showing smaller and larger sprays of cut flowers, which are not joined by foliage as in the earlier design. The 1933 No 11 was still listed in 1937.
The bedroom of Susanne's house is decorated with a floral wallpaper with a butterfly frieze - I'm not sure whether it's the earlier or later one.
Photo © Susanne G
No 12 wallpaper (below left) in the 1926 Annual is a dining room or hall paper, with a design in gold on a green background, and some purple in the dado circles. 1926 is the only year I have seen this in; it was not listed in 1929 or later years. It can be seen on the upstairs landing of Dollhouse Dreams A58 (see photo above under No 5, Parquet Linoleum).
No 12 1926
No 13: 1929-1937
No 13, Ceiling paper (above right) in white with a silver design, was listed in the 1929 Annual, but not illustrated until 1933. It was still available in 1937. In the 1939 Annual, a new ceiling paper, still white and silver, appears as No 16.
No 14, stone paper for outside walls, was introduced in 1929. A new version appeared in 1933, and was still available in 1939.
Many new designs appeared in the 1939 Annual, thankfully with new numbers! The old designs which were still available were No 3, grey slate roofing, No 3a, red tile roofing, No 4 red brick paper, and No 14, grey stone for outside walls.
No 15 I have mentioned above – it was a new parquetry design. No 16 was the new ceiling paper. No 17 was blue and white tile paper for bathrooms and kitchens – it is very similar to the No 2 tile paper, but appears not to have a frieze.
The other designs in the 1939 Annual are quite new. No 18 was an orange and gold patterned wallpaper for the dining room.
No 19 is a coloured floral design for the bedroom – the flowers look bigger than in the earlier floral designs.
No 20 is a green and gold pattern for the drawing room or lounge (a new word, too!) – it’s hard to tell, but it looks like a quite small design of foliage and flowers.
No 21 has red imps on a blue background. This is a lovely deco design – although there are no suggestions on which room to use it in!
No 22 is another very deco design. It has a gold patterned background, with small images of figures from the circus in roughly oval-shaped cutouts.
No 23 is described as royal paper colours on a white ground. The pattern consists of flags, crowns, the crowned lion of England, a soldier holding a banner with the three lions of England, etc. Perhaps this was inspired by the coronation of 1937?
I would love to hear from anyone who has a dolls house built to one of the Handicrafts designs, or decorated with the dolls house papers sold by Handicrafts. In a future issue, I'll cover Handicrafts dolls house furniture designs, so if you have any pieces, I'd love to hear from you too!