Antique American Toy Kitchens
by Tracy Harnish
I don't like to cook in real life (in fact, I don't cook at all), but for some reason I find toy stoves and toy kitchens very appealing. They're charming toys, they reveal a lot of social history, and they're perfect teddy bear and doll accessories. Here are a few from my collection, dating from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. While I am lucky enough to have an antique German kitchen, the ones I share here were all made in America.
Antique Toy Kitchens
Found recently in a far back corner of an antique mall was this small doll kitchen, American made circa the early 1900s. The peg wooden dolls, while rather out of scale, seem very at home inside.
The kitchen is one of the smallest I've ever seen, just 6 3/4 inches tall by 9 inches wide. The open, wooden room features an impressed printed design on the sides and base, including windows, shutters, and a "stone" foundation.
The contents include a wee little cast iron stove, just 3 1/2 inches wide, and an assortment of kitchen apparatus: an earthenware pitcher and bowl; tin plates, pails, and molds (note the lobster shaped mold mounted on the wall); and a cast iron frying pan.
The peg wooden dolls are German, and the larger of the two is probably late 1800s. They, and the kitchen itself, show a lot of play wear, but I think that only adds to their charm. Some little girl over 100 years ago really loved this toy. I wonder what she pretended to cook on its tiny stove?
This antique doll kitchen 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.
The peg wooden doll is getting ready to start her cooking. This kitchen gives her more room to work in!
Antique Toy Kitchen Cupboard
I do love Hoosier cabinets. It's strange, really: I don't cook or bake; in fact, my own kitchen serves primarily as display space for my PEZ dispenser collection and vintage toy stoves. But for some reason, I find Hoosier cabinets fascinating. They can be used to set up delightful vignettes for dolls or teddy bears, but they're also just lots of fun to stock. Searching for just the right tiny utensils, or doll-sized pots and pans, or salesman's samples of food items, and then arranging and rearranging the contents can consume me for hours. It only took me a few minutes, however, to load up this circa 1900s-1920s handmade kitchen cupboard, found at an antique show. It measures 18 inches tall, and has all of its original hardware. Its primitive charm and obvious wear just endeared it to me, and I find myself wondering how it was filled by the little girl who owned it almost 100 years ago.
For a sense of scale, here's the toy cupboard sitting on top of my real-life Hoosier cabinet:
1920s-30s Dollhouse Hoosier Cupboard
This even smaller dollhouse Hoosier cabinet measures 6 1/2 inches tall, and came with the accessories and kitchen chair shown. It was made by the Wisconsin Toy Company, a short-lived firm that manufactured dollhouse furniture in the 1920s and '30s. All the cupboards, drawers, and the pull-out shelf are functional.
My 5 inch dollhouse doll gives a sense of the Hoosier's scale. Below, the cabinet is fully stocked with all sorts of goodies. (As I look at this picture, I realize my dollhouse denizens actually have better supplied cupboards than I do...)
Vintage Kitchen Playset
I have several of these vintage tin toy kitchen playsets: they line the counters and appliance tops in my real kitchen. I think I've used my Easy Bake Oven more than I have my real oven, now that I think about it...It's futile to expect real food, or even coffee, at my house, but if you want to play kitchen, I can totally hook you up.
This set is all made of lithographed tin in the late 1940s - early 1950s, the stove is by Marx while the fridge and sink are by Wolverine. For scale, the stove measures 12 1/2 inches high.
The fridge features great lithography on the inside door, revealing well-stocked shelves, and houses some unique pressed tin food items:
The stove has an opening oven door with a bright red rack inside:
And the sink actually works: a reservoir on the back can be filled with water, which then pours out through the tap!
A very retro kitchen set, indeed. Makes me want to go to Grandma's for some pie.