An American Collector finds her favorite American Dollhouse: Tynietoy, an introduction
by Carol Morehead
Have you heard of the American dollhouse by the Tynietoy Company? It is very sought after. One day a little well made rush seated bench and rocker caught my eye and I began my introduction to this delightful doll furniture. I never thought I'd own a Tynietoy house of my own because they are so rare.
As a collector I am head over heels in love with antique German dolls and dollhouses because of their fine craftsmanship. Christian Hacker is poetry, Gottschalk is charm itself in houses and perfect little couches and tables. (I even own a Gottschalk painting!) Boulle makes me swoon with its intricate designs and is so pricey in America I had to go to Paris to afford some. German Hertwig dolls bring their own stories with them in their complicated facial expressions. So I am besotted with all things dollhouse of antique German manufacture.
This is the little detailed rush seated set that began it all. This was the first Tynietoy furniture I had ever seen and I began to research it. Then I saw the painted wing chair and settee and fell head over heels in love.
First a little history about the American dollhouse market. German items were imported and considered most desirable. During WW I and II American companies filled the void as European production stopped. In 1920 two women, Marion Perkins and Amey Vernon, wanted to preserve traditional Americana furniture design, and they began their own company reproducing American antiques. Eventually they offered 10 styles of houses and 120 pieces of furniture. You can find their early advertising catalogs and goggle at the prices though at the time they were considered upmarket in their day.
The craftsmanship of the pieces is what makes them special, and they hold up well after 90 years of play. They are more simple in design than their Rococo and Gothic German predecessors. The two founders hired art students from the Rhode Island School of Design to hand paint the wing chairs, seats and screens.
There are several sources you can go to to learn more. Tynietown.com (at Tynietoy.org), by Susan Grimshaw, is my Tynietoy Bible, Jennifer McKendry in her History of Dollhouses describes them, and Ann Meehan who sells Tynietoy and archives her acquisitions is a good source where you can see what is out there, even hard to find pieces.
My Tynietoy Townhouse A Model
There were five kinds of houses made. These can be seen in Diane Zillner's books. A primitive Farm which is very rare, a 4 room house, a Nantucket Cottage with a sloping roof, and The Townhouse series which came in an A model, B and a C. And the piece de resistance The Mansion. Ann Meehan told me, "They are as rare as hens teeth," but I know a dealer who currently has 2. I think they run about $10,000.00 USD. You can tell the difference between the Mansion and Townhouse because there is an extra room between the dining room and kitchen, and the upper bedroom often designated as a bathroom. The molding detail is more intricate and the roof is shaped in the Gambrel or "Dutch" style.
My House is called the "Tynietoy Townhouse". It was a garage find. I saw it at auction and crossed my fingers and scooped it up for several hundred dollars, Someone began sanding the front cover and painted over the upper right bedroom but fortunately left the distinguishing blue outline design over the doors intact.
The floorboards are slightly warped and I wonder if the roof has been repainted though it has the original hinges. It has an original chimney and one that looks replaced. Oh how I wish it could talk to me about its past!
My house comes wired with lighting and I am now wondering how to go about testing it. I think I better find a specialist so I don't have any unexpected problems! I have seen a Tynietoy with lights from the Washington-Gunn Memorial Museum in pictures by Jerry Dougherty on flickr, and a Tynietoy Mansion in the Strong National Museum in Rochester New York (though sadly it is not online on the Strong Museum website). This exhibition show the wonderful garden that came with the Mansion. I have the benches (see the photo below), but the other items are... well as they say like finding hen's teeth.
There is so much more to say about this wonderful American dollhouse and I will leave it to others! I hope you enjoyed this introduction.