Kaybot Novelties and Kay Miniatures
by Rebecca Green
I have mentioned before that my dolls’ house collection was started by my English grandmother, who collected dolls and dolls houses in the 1960s and 70s, and bought two houses for me, and one each for my sister and my cousin. About 15 years ago, I started cleaning and researching the items in my houses. Among them were these luscious grapes, another plate of fruit (citrus of some kind?), and a birthday cake, all made from plaster:
Kaybot plate of grapes © Rebecca Green
Kaybot plate of fruit © Rebecca Green
Kaybot birthday cake © Rebecca Green
Faintly visible on the back are letters stamped in purple ink. The wording is not visible, or legible, in its entirety on any one piece, but between the three, clearly states
Made in England
So who or what was Kaybot, when were these pieces made, and what else did Kaybot make?
Marion Osborne included them in her book Bartons “Model Homes”, A History of A. Barton & Co (Toys) Ltd, 1945-1984, and Suppliers 1920-1984. The 1957 Barton price list included “Kaybot plates of food, cakes, etc. 1/2d”. At the time that Marion wrote this book (late 1980s), this was the only information she had found about Kaybot – there had been no mention of them in the trade journal Games & Toys at all. Later, Marion found two ads in The Toy Trader & Exporter, in September 1951 and January 1953:
Kaybot ad in The Toy Trader & Exporter, September 1951, courtesy Marion Osborne
Kaybot ad in The Toy Trader & Exporter, January 1953, courtesy Marion Osborne
The ads do give information about their range, saying that they are manufacturers of "doll’s food, fireplaces, decorations, etc", and that In 1953, their extensive range comprised over 125 items. Frustratingly, though, the photo in the ads shows a “soundly constructed wooden toy store”, “containing real food”, not Kaybot’s own plaster food! The 1953 ad also gives the names of Kaybot’s agents, but does not name the manufacturers themselves.
To find out who was behind Kaybot, I turned to some of the family historian’s favourite online resources – the digitised British telephone directories, and the digitised electoral rolls for London. I discovered that Kaybot Novelties appeared in the London telephone directory in 1946, at 20 Little Trinity Lane, E.C.4. They continued at Little Trinity Lane until 1955 (this is the address that appears on the two ads shown above), then there’s a gap due to missing telephone directories. From 1958 until 1968, Kaybot Novelties, Toy Manufacturers, are listed in the telephone directory at 52 Columbia Road E2.
Turning to the electoral roll, I searched firstly for 20 Little Trinity Lane. A Phillip Botibol appeared on the electoral roll at this address in from 1949 – 1954 (at least). At 52 Columbia Road, the electoral roll showed the name Alex Kay from 1956 to 1960.
These names looked very promising – Botibol and Kay, or Kay and Botibol – very probably the source of the trade name Kaybot.
To find out more about Phillip Botibol and Alex Kay, I turned to other sources, including the indexes of births, marriages & deaths, and the 1911 census of England. I found that Phillip Botibol was born in 1912 in Stoke Newington, London. His parents were Daniel Angel Botibol (also born in London), a manufacturing milliner, and Bessie (née Davis). At the time of the 1911 census, a year before Phillip’s birth, they had been living at 12 Wiesbaden Road, Stoke Newington, with their two daughters, 1 year old Jenetta and 4 month old Dora.
Phillip Isaac Botibol married Amelia Kushelevitch in late 1933; he gave his profession as Fur and Skin Merchant. His wife appears in the 1911 census of England with her parents, Boris and Sara Kushelevitch / Kushelevitz (née Gulkoff), who were both born in Minsk, Russia (in 1883 and 1885 respectively). They had 3 children: Amelia, born 1907; Helena, born 1908, and died before 1911; and Alexander, born 1920.
Boris Kushelevitch was a chromo lithographer, and in 1911 Boris, Sara and Amelia were living at 12 Canonbury Lane Islington London N.
Amelia’s brother Alexander Kushelevitch, a Toy Manufacturer, married Rita Pletnick at the end of 1947. His marriage is registered under the name Kushelevitch and also under Kay – he is, in fact, Alex Kay! He used the surname Kay in all telephone directories and electoral rolls from that time.
So Phillip Botibol and Alex Kay were brothers-in-law, and the name Kaybot appears to be formed from both their surnames.
Phillip Botibol died on the 2nd of April 1964. His widow Amelia died less than a year later, on 30 January 1965, naming her brother Alec Kay, toy manufacturer, in her will. Alec Kay died in 1979.
I have written to descendants of both Phillip Botibol and Alex Kay, in the hope that they might be able to provide information, catalogues, or even just confirm that these were the makers of Kaybot. Alicia Davies has assisted in trying to make contact. So far, we have received no response.
At some point, Kaybot plaster food and other accessories appeared under the name Kay Miniatures, and the ink stamps on items and the labels on boxes read “Kay Miniatures Made and Painted by Hand in England”. We are not sure when this happened. It seems possible that it was around 1964, when Phillip Botibol died (or 1965, when Amelia died). However, the name Kaybot still appeared in telephone directories until 1968, so perhaps the year after that, 1969, was when Kay Miniatures appeared.
Kay Miniatures salad, Kaybot plate of fancy cakes, both with backstamps © Rebecca Green
Measurements: salad 1 3/8" (4.5cm) wide; cake plate 1½" (4.75cm) diameter
Another twist in the story is that, in about 1969, a firm called Kaybot Wheeler Ltd appeared. The director of this firm was John V Wheeler, who had set up Wheeler Woodcrafts in about 1963, making dolls houses and other wooden toys. Wheeler Woodcrafts dolls houses have wooden fireplaces (see the Wheeler Woodcrafts category in our Photo Gallery), while Kaybot Wheeler dolls houses used the Kaybot plaster fireplaces (see photos below). Did Alec Kay join forces with John Wheeler, or did John Wheeler buy Kaybot (or perhaps just the Kaybot fireplace moulds)? Kaybot Wheeler didn’t last long – it went into liquidation in 1973.
The Kaybot Range
The 1950s ads say that Kaybot made doll’s food, fireplaces, decorations, etc, with over 125 items by 1953. I am not going to attempt to show their complete range. What I would like to do is to show as many items as I can which are labelled as Kaybot, or are otherwise known to be Kaybot.
Liza Antrim writes in Family Dolls' Houses of "being taken to Harrods in the early fifties and seeing a glass topped showcase full of every kind of delicious temptation, many of them things that had hardly been seen since the war, and all utterly bewitching."
Rosemary Myers also bought Kaybot pieces around that time, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, many from a toy and craft shop called The Spindle. Among her earliest items are the yellow and orange pudding and the chicken in this photo:
Kaybot pudding, bread (stamped), pie and chicken (stamped) © Rosemary Myers
Bases of Kaybot pudding, bread (stamped), pie and chicken (stamped) © Rosemary Myers
Another Kaybot chicken with backstamp © Laurieleeplays
Kaybot stamp on base of chicken © Laurieleeplays
Three plates of Kaybot iced buns (upper right is stamped) © Rosemary Myers
Bases of Kaybot iced buns (upper right is stamped) © Rosemary Myers
Plates of icecreams and fancy biscuits (stamped) © Rosemary Myers
Bases of plates of icecreams and fancy biscuits (stamped) © Rosemary Myers
Rosemary remembers that the food changed over the years, with the “new” items often being the many vegetables on chunky boards, but most things just kept going on being produced over the years – the iced buns, the ice cream, the birthday cake.
Cake with pink icing and bird decoration (stamped) and chocolate cake © Rosemary Myers
Bases of cake with pink icing (stamped) and chocolate cake © Rosemary Myers
Chocolate cake (stamped) © Di Davies
Pudding (stamped) and Christmas plum pudding © Rosemary Myers
Bases of pudding (stamped) and Christmas plum pudding © Rosemary Myers
Kaybot salmon with stamp on base © Di Davies
Some vegetables on round boards:
Kaybot vegetables (above), and bases (below) © Rebecca Green
The painted decoration on the plates could vary, as the chickens, iced buns and chocolate cakes above show. I don't know whether different coloured doilies or different designs on the plates were available at the same time, or whether they changed over the years.
There were also different versions of some of the items. These fruit plates from Rosemary, as well as having different painted patterns, have different selections of fruit in varying arrangements, meaning that they were made in different moulds.
Five Kaybot fruit platters © Rosemary Myers
Bases of five Kaybot fruit platters, showing different shaped dishes © Rosemary Myers
Rosemary also bought some of the Kaybot "decorations", including flowers, vases and toby jugs. The flowers are stamped, but the vases and toby jugs are too small.
Two Kaybot vases and Kaybot plate of flowers (stamped) © Rosemary Myers
Bases of two Kaybot vases and Kaybot plate of flowers (stamped) © Rosemary Myers
Three Kaybot Toby jugs © Rosemary Myers
Kaybot Toby jugs, showing the handles © Rosemary Myers
Bases of green and pink Kaybot Toby jugs © Rosemary Myers
More Kaybot vases from Marion Osborne, with a set of books and bookends. Perhaps these were among the "etc" in their range?
Kaybot vases and set of books © Marion Osborne
Marion Osborne shows a boxed Kaybot fireplace in Bartons “Model Homes”, and she has kindly allowed me to show it here too:
Kaybot boxed fireplace © JS, courtesy Marion Osborne
I have two fireplaces which have the same basic design as this boxed fireplace - only the pattern on the hearth differs, with diamonds on the one above, an elongated triangle on one of mine, and a rectangle on the other. In the middle is another Kaybot fireplace of a slightly different design.
Three Kaybot fireplaces © Rebecca Green
Three Kaybot fireplaces side on © Rebecca Green
Three Kaybot fireplaces - backs © Rebecca Green
I love the intricate patterns of the brickwork in these fireplaces, and the accessories built in - a clock, books, ornamented bookends:I love the intricate patterns of the brickwork in these fireplaces, and the accessories built in - a clock, books, ornamented bookends:
Four Kaybot fireplaces © Rebecca Green
Four Kaybot fireplaces side on © Rebecca Green
Four Kaybot fireplaces - backs © Rebecca Green
These fireplaces are slightly smaller than the three above, as this photo (below) shows. Perhaps they were intended for bedrooms or smaller houses:Two Kaybot fireplaces © Rebecca Green
Two Kaybot fireplaces © Rebecca Green
Marion has identified these plaster pictures as Kaybot items - they have the same kind of plaster finish and the same attention to detail in both the moulding and painting as the other Kaybot pieces. I would be interested to know if anyone has a picture with either a Kaybot stamp or Kaybot packaging.
Kaybot plaster pictures © Marion Osborne
Kay Miniatures plate of iced buns © Paige Baird
As mentioned above, we don't know for sure when the name Kay Miniatures replaced the name Kaybot. Possible dates are around 1964 or 1965, after 1968, or even perhaps after 1973 (when Kaybot Wheeler ceased operating). However, it does seem fairly certain that the name Kaybot was used until the mid 1960s.
Kay Miniatures plate of fancy cakes © Paige Baird
Kay Miniatures plate of fish and chips © Paige Baird
Kay Miniatures plate of boiled eggs and toast © Paige Baird
Kay Miniatures are found in a variety of packaging, including boxes, bags and plastic containers.
Box of Kay Miniatures, Made & Painted by Hand in England © Alicia Davies
Inside box lid © Alicia Davies
Kay Miniatures boxed sweet and savoury assortment: icecreams, loaf of bread, bacon and eggs, Dundee cake, fried eggs and chips, iced buns, pudding, chicken, birthday cake, ham and salad. © Alicia Davies
Kay Miniatures boxed sweet and savoury assortment: icecreams, loaf of bread, tart, boiled eggs and toast, fish and chips, sausages and mash, pudding, fancy biscuits, chicken, birthday cake, pie, egg salad. © Alicia Davies
These plates of food are loose in the box, but many items are found with scraps of cardboard on the base, suggesting that they were stuck down. They are certainly stuck on to the cardboard in the plastic packets below.
Kay Miniatures tart, icecreams, chicken, fried eggs and chips, chocolate cake and pie.
Kay Miniatures bag of cakes and puddings.
Kay Miniatures vegetables: leeks, carrots, cabbage and turnips.
Kay Miniatures bag of loaves of bread.
Harrods had round containers for individual items:
Kay Miniatures pie in container with Harrods label and decimal price © Marion Osborne
Kay Miniatures fancy biscuits in container © Di Davies
Kay Miniatures fancy biscuits out of their container © Di Davies
Base of the Kay Miniatures fancy biscuits container © Di Davies
Kay Miniatures Toby jugs, old stock from a shop which closed ca 1978 © ebay seller push_penny
Kay Miniatures continued to be sold in the 1970s and into the 1980s. The 1976 catalogue of The Dolls House shop shows 12 plaster food items, including meals of fish and chips and sausages and mash, cakes, biscuits, puddings, pie and icecream. This looks very like the sweet and savoury assortment in the Kay Miniatures boxes shown above.
Detail from The Dolls House shop catalogue for 1976, courtesy Marion Osborne.
Hamley’s toy store Christmas catalogue for 1983 includes plates of fruit and vegetables on boards.
Fruit and vegetables from Hamley's Christmas catalogue for 1983 © Rebecca Green
As mentioned above, a company called Kaybot Wheeler existed from about 1969-1973, making wooden dolls houses with plaster fireplaces. Wheeler Woodcrafts had earlier made wooden dolls houses with simple wooden fireplaces.
This Kaybot Wheeler dolls house appeared on ebay a while ago:
Kaybot Wheeler dolls house © unknown ebay seller, courtesy Marion Osborne
Inside are three plaster fireplaces, which are painted pink, blue and red:
Kaybot Wheeler dolls house © unknown ebay seller, courtesy Marion Osborne
The fireplaces have the same designs as Kaybot fireplaces, and were apparently made from Kaybot moulds. However, they do not appear to have been painted by the same people, or under the same direction, as the earlier Kaybot fireplaces. As you can see, none of the details of the moulding, such as the mortar between the bricks, the clocks, books and ornaments, have been picked out in different colours, only the fires themselves.
Other Makers of Plaster Dolls House Accessories
Kaybot was not the only manufacturer of miniature plaster dolls house food, furnishings and other accessories. Several other firms are known to have made plaster items too.
As mentioned above, A. Barton & Co sold Kaybot “plates of food, cakes, etc” in 1957. The Barton range also included other plaster items which were not made by Kaybot. Marion Osborne, in her book Bartons “Model Homes”, states that a Mr Maynard made Barton’s plaster bathroom sets, early plaster art vases with haberdashery flowers, and two plaster fireplaces (a Tudor fireplace and an imitation stone fireplace).
Barton plaster bathroom set © Rebecca Green
Back/base of Barton plaster bathroom set, with base of stamped Kaybot & Kay items for comparison. © Rebecca Green
Carlis Ware, of Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, is better known for their full-sized, decoratively moulded fruit bowls, cheese dishes, vases shaped as swans or ducks, etc. This partial boxed set, which appeared on ebay, shows that they also made some dolls house items, using the not very original name of Lilliput.
Carlis Ware Lilliput Dolls Furniture © unknown ebay seller
Their full-sized items are made of pottery, but this miniature set is made of painted plaster. The box is marked 'Lounge Suite', and has room for a sofa and a small item like a table lamp, as well as the two arm chairs which remain.
Caroline Watt made market stalls stocked with plaster goods (and some clay and wooden items) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The stalls included a greengrocer's, baker's, sweet shop, fishmongers, toy shop, and probably a butcher's.
Paige Baird has had a greengrocer's stall since 1979/80, and has more recently acquired a baker's stall.
Caroline Watt Tom Green greengrocer's stall and ? Mrs Bate's Sweet stall, Hamley's Christmas catalogue, 1978 © Rebecca Green
Tom Green Greengrocer & Fruiterer by Caroline Watt © Paige Baird
Most of the fruit and vegetables on Paige's stall is original, however, the small items in containers are not. They replace some of the original items, including rhubarb and spring onions, which have broken over the years. Here are photos of other original pieces which Paige recognised when they appeared on ebay:
Caroline Watt fruit and vegetables © unknown ebay seller, courtesy Paige Baird
Caroline Watt baker's stall, Alice Boffin Toft baker Confectioner, Hamley's Christmas catalogue, 1978 © Rebecca Green
Alice Boffin baker's stall by Caroline Watt © Paige Baird
Paige has also added some non-original items to the baker's stall (including a Kaybot pudding and cake!), so she has photographed the Caroline Watt bakery items separately:
Caroline Watt bakery items © Paige Baird
Dol-toi also sold plaster food (on metal plates and trays, and in metal pots), plaster fireplaces and vases, a plaster bathroom set, plaster mixing and salad bowls, and an electric mixer made of plaster. According to Marion Osborne, in The Book of Dol-toi Dolls House Furniture and Accessories, these were made by a Mr Percy Needham, who ran a workshop in separate premises from the main factory where the wooden items were made.
Dol-toi Stamford or Rutland plaster bedroom fireplaces © Rosemary Myers
Dol-toi Bainton plaster fireplace © Barbara King
Marion had understood that one of Rosemary Myers' Kaybot Toby jugs had a Dol-toi sticker on the base, suggesting that Dol-toi had stocked Kaybot items. However, this is not the case - Rosemary doesn't have, and hasn't had, any Kaybot items with Dol-toi stickers.
After the first edition of The Book of Dol-toi was published, Marion received further information about the plaster items, which confirms that Dol-toi produced their items independently (and also informs us that some entirely plaster plates of food may be Dol-toi). One of the daughters of Mr Eric Green, the founder of Dol-toi, contacted Marion with the following information:
“In 1947 she can remember when the other girls were pouring Plaster of Paris into red rubber moulds that Mr Green had made. The girls then had to turn the plates of food out and later painted them. The plates of food such as egg and bacon had the plate as part of the mould, unlike the later food, which was glued to metal plates. Mr Green was cross if they managed to get air bubbles in the plaster. She remembers it was 1947 because it was the year the twins were born.”
(from The Book of Dol-toi Update, 2012)
Front: Dol-toi plaster sausages and tomatoes and egg on toast, on metal plates; behind: Kay or Kaybot sausages, peas and mashed potatoes and salad with eggs, tomatoes and meat. © Rebecca Green
Kaybot icecreams and Dol-toi icecream with berries © Rebecca Green
Behind: Dol-toi plaster chops and vegetables in metal pots and pans; front: Kay carrots and Kay or Kaybot sausages, peas and mashed potato. © Rebecca Green
Dol-toi plaster chicken on metal salver and small 1" Kay (probably) chicken © Rebecca Green
Some more Dol-toi plaster fireplaces:
Dol-toi all night burning fires © Marion Osborne
Dol-toi gas fire © Marion Osborne
As a bit of an aside, I recently bought these plaster fires:
Two plaster fires © Rebecca Green
They look very like the Dol-toi all night and gas fires just shown. However, this is what the backs look like:
I have shown them with Kay and Kaybot items for comparison, and for further comparison, here is the base of the Dol-toi gas fire in Marion's photo above:
Dol-toi gas fire base © Marion Osborne
Genuine Dol-toi fires would be at least 40 years old, whereas the plaster of the two fires I bought is a clean, bright white. They appear to be new reproductions of Dol-toi fires. (I hasten to add that they were not sold as vintage, nor as Dol-toi, but I was unaware of the appearance of the backs until I received them.)
Very little is known about this manufacturer, which seems to have been based in London until the mid 1950s. The name Jomar appears on the base of this plaster chicken on a plate:
Left, plum pudding by unknown; right, roast chicken by Jomar © Marion Osborne
As you can see, the plate, or serving dish, which the chicken is on is painted silver, quite different from the Kaybot plates.
I played with the colour tones of the photo of the base, to make the ink stamp clearer:
Base of Jomar chicken plate with colour adjusted to show stamp.
Supercast Plaster Moulding Kits
Supercast Dolls House Furniture Plaster Casting Moulds © helpemptymyattic
I know very little about Supercast, the manufacturer of this kit - I think they may have been based in Hull, in Yorkshire. This is a kit for children to make their own dolls house furniture - and pets - at home. The kit contains moulds, plaster, paints and backdrops of rooms to set the furniture up in.
Detail of Supercast Dolls House Furniture Plaster Casting Moulds © helpemptymyattic
There may well have been other manufacturers of miniature plaster items, and there certainly were other manufacturers of rubber moulds for making plaster items at home. This was a popular craft in the period when Kaybot and Kay items were produced. A 1957 Popular Handicrafts annual, for instance, contains advertisements from three manufacturers of such moulds (one had a range of over 200 moulds). Another company advertised a product for making moulds, and an article in the annual gave instructions for making moulds from gelatine.
So marked items are very valuable in allowing us to identify manufacturers and their products.
Kaybot and Kay Miniatures produced their dolls house food, and other items, from the late 1940s to the 1980s (we think). How do we date pieces, and can we tell Kaybot and Kay pieces apart if they are not marked?
One clue to dating is that many pieces have a price marked on the back. The UK adopted decimal currency in early 1971, so any pieces with pre-decimal prices must have been produced by 1970.
Cabbage with Harrods label and pre-decimal price © Di Davies
Salad with Harrods label and pre-decimal price © Di Davies
(I am curious about the other numbers on these Harrods labels. Does anyone know what they refer to - stock numbers, perhaps? Or could '53 V/7#' possibly be a date?)
Cheese and crackers dish with handle © Paige Baird
Salad dish with handle © Valerie Towers
All pieces with pre-decimal prices are at least 42 years old, and could be up to 67 years old.
As we are not sure when the name change from Kaybot to Kay Miniatures occurred, it would be very useful to know if anyone has marked Kaybot pieces with decimal prices (in which case the change must have happened during or after 1971), or marked Kay Miniatures pieces with pre-decimal prices (which would put the date of the changeover before 1971).
(Also, any pieces with Gamages labels and decimal prices could be dated very precisely, as Gamages toy store closed in about 1972.)
Iced buns, ham salad, fried eggs and chips, fruit platter and plate of sandwiches with
Gamages labels and pre-decimal prices © Alicia Davies
As can be seen from the photos in this article, the base of marked Kaybot pieces varies from deep yellow, to creamy yellow, to off white. Kay Miniatures pieces tend towards the lighter end of this range. Marion Osborne and Alicia Davies have both compared the colouring of otherwise identical pieces, and it does seem that older pieces tend to be darker.
Carrots and cauliflower, tops and bases, © Alicia Davies
Leeks and rhubarb, tops and bases, © Alicia Davies
The lighter items are not painted as carefully as the darker ones, either - for instance, the orange of the carrots extends into their leaves, while the orange of the board under the leeks does not extend under their roots, as it does on the darker one.
Fewer of the marked Kay Miniatures pieces have painted designs on the plates - the patterns painted around the rim of Kaybot plates of ham salad, eggs and chips, chicken, etc, do not appear on the labelled Kay Miniatures plates.
Peas and potatoes, tops and bases, © Alicia Davies
Part of a lot with Gamages labels sold on ebay recently, courtesy Alicia Davies. The box in which they are photographed is not original - Valerie received it, and reports that it looks like a 1950s chocolate box.
Did Kaybot make their food in different scales? Marion Osborne has chickens and pies in different sizes, suggesting that some foods, at least, were made in more than one scale:
Chickens, pies and roast meat © Marion Osborne
I have two plaster cakes, a Swiss roll and a Battenburg cake, which are only about ¾" (2 cm) long. The detailed moulding on the dishes they sit on suggests that they could well be made by Kaybot - perhaps they were part of the range sold by Barton in 1957? They are much better suited to 1/16th scale than regular Kaybot items.
Swiss roll and Battenburg cake, sides and bases © Rebecca Green
Here they are with regular sized Kaybot plates (and three tiny cakes of unrecognised manufacture in front):
Back to front: Kaybot chocolate cake and fancy cakes, possible Kaybot Swiss roll and Battenburg cake, and 3 tiny cakes of unknown manufacture © Rebecca Green
The Kaybot plates of fancy cakes and biscuits, of course, contain many small, carefully moulded items. It would not have been hard for Kaybot to make similar items on smaller bases.
Did Kaybot make other things such as cats, dogs or bears? Is the piano in the photo below a Kaybot piece? Until such items turn up with a maker's stamp, label or box, or until we find detailed catalogues for Kaybot and other manufacturers of miniature plaster items, we can't be sure.
Plaster fireplace and piano © Marion Osborne