A joint research project on a German dolls’ furniture firm
by Astrid (diepuppenstubensammlerin) and Ysé
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How did our blog on Crailsheimer come about?
Astrid: "It all began when Ysé clicked the contact button on my blog years ago. I was a new blogger in the miniature world but a doll furniture of all scales collector for many years. I soon found out that research and information about the doll houses I had collected was just as fascinating as finding new items. I worked on many topics, Bodo Hennig, Modella and Caco dolls, and wrote about them on my blog, in DHPP, and in private papers for my friends. Ysé and I had exchanged the occasional message but a few months ago it got more frequent: "Shall we collect all the information we can about my favourite childhood doll furniture?" she proposed. I immediately thought : "Yes, why NOT Crailsheimer ?..." - I like these pastel kitchens of the 60s - but, to be honest, I am working on so many projects at the same time and am interested in so many topics, Crailsheimer was not at all high up on my list but the attraction of working closely in tandem with a like-minded soul was too tempting to resist.
And that's how it began..."
Crailsheimer mid 50s painted kitchen, Borbeck collection
Ysé: "How it all started ? Well one day I found my childhood toys and on top of all the fond memories of great play they brought back to me, I looked at them more closely and started wondering who had made them... Most of them were European brands (I was born in France in the mid sixties...) and among my toys were 4 room boxes of doll furniture that I got for Christmas 1970 : two had been made in Italy by Galba - this finding should be the object of an article one day on my new personal blog - and one of the two others bore the mark "Crailsheimer" on the door of the kitchen fridge...
Ysé’s childhood kitchen, with the Crailsheimer name on the fridge door
Googling that brand, as one does, I came across Astrid's site where she had already put extensive original literature on that firm online... I joined Flickr (and also DHP&P) where Astrid became my first contact back in 2009... Consequently, I started identifying and collecting photos of Crailsheimer's pieces but also buying some sets as samples... As we both have the same sleuthing approach to collecting : wanting to learn more, unearth the truth about brands and their history, I thought we could join forces and fortunately she agreed..."
What is on the Crailsheimer blog?
Right from the start, we wanted to share the results of our quest bearing in mind that, according to the amount found in circulation on auction sites, most doll furniture collectors would have Crailsheimer pieces in their collection without even realizing they belong to the brand. For the moment, we are publishing a weekly post (generally on Fridays) creating bit by bit a repertory of diverse designs of pieces of furniture and furniture sets manufactured by Crailsheimer, starting by the beginning in the early 50s and the wooden period. We are in the midst of exploring their wooden kitchen sets production.
The history of Crailsheimer Holz- und Spielwarenfabrik (Crailsheimer Wood and Toys factory)
1948/49 the former tax inspector and revenue agent Richard Dietrich from Olbernhau (later home of the company VERO) moved to West Germany and opened in 1950 in Crailsheim a wooden toy company "Drei Tannen" (The three Fir Trees - such a Christmassy name for wooden toys!). At first, Arno Hübsch and Kurt Wenzel (respectively a toy maker and a toy seller) were supposed to join him in this new enterprise, but they decided in the end to remain in the East and try their luck there.
Why did Dietrich, Hübsch and Wenzel and many other people from East Germany want to leave the most traditional wooden toy region of the country, the Ore Mountains in Thuringia? Here nearly all wooden toys of Germany had been produced for centuries. It was for political reasons, as after WWII this part of Germany was in the Soviet occupation zone and nobody knew what the future would bring economically – a communist state? Nationalisation? So many craftsmen and employers fled into the British, American or French occupation zones of Germany where they hoped for better economic possibilities.
The first years of the new firm in the postwar chaos were turbulent. Why did a tax inspector want to make toys anyway? Where did the knowledge come from? Why they worked and lived penned up in an airport hangar? Some questions we will try to answer before we finish our research project – in two years perhaps?
The young company rapidly became successful. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, two shifts of a total of 170 female employees were alternately busy gluing the diverse wooden parts, smoothing them, polishing them, staining and varnishing them before assembling them into various pieces of miniature furniture such as wardrobes, tables, chairs and seats. At the end, the set was fixed to a cardboard insert by an elastic band and placed inside a box. Most of the ladies would leave after Christmas and would start working again after the annual Toy fair of Nuremberg in spring.
Entry in toy fair catalogue 1954
The big Department stores (Karstadt, Kaufhalle, Kaufhof, Woolworth, Hertie, Horten) and the main mail order companies (Quelle, Neckermann) ordered toys in huge quantities from Crailsheim. Goods were exported to Australia, as well as Canada and South-America. The firm prospered and numbered from then on 150 employees and 60 home-workers. Production sites were established in Gaildorfer Straße and in the former Böhme factory in Gutenbergsstraße.
At peak times and during the rush leading to Christmas - two or three wagons loads and a lorry of the firm Frasch left Crailsheim full of plastic doll furniture. Around that time the brand "Drei Tannen" became "Crailsheimer Spielwaren".
"The big small world of toys. The wooden toy company Crailsheimer was once a Christmas blockbuster" was the headline of an article that a local newspaper in the town Crailsheim published in 2003.
1957 they started experimenting with injection moulding. On the initiative of the eldest son Karl Dietrich plastic toys were to replace the wooden ones. After 1972 the toy production was replaced by the fabrication washing liquid bottles and jerrycans. 1993 finally came the end of production.
Ysé: not a very romantic ending...
Astrid: but really very down-to-earth and realistic...
Ysé: Ah ah ah! I love this dialogue Franco-Allemand ! (I am falling into a bit of stereotyping here... above all as Romanticism was born in Germany in the 18th century...)
Lid of Crailsheimer box, 1957
So - how do you identify a piece of furniture as Crailsheimer when it changes its appearance all the time? Ysé has put together many useful tips for kitchen sets, for example look out and compare the clock, the towel rail, the frosted glass, the handles - see more in the two blog posts Tips Part I and Tips Part II.
That is very helpful as Crailsheimer could seldom put a name on a box of dolls furniture - mail order companies prefer no-name products. Only when advertising for the toy shops in Germany would Crailsheimer use their brand name. On such occasions, they would put their top quality furniture on sale, whereas when mass manufacturing for the chain companies, they often produced simpler and cheaper sets. The mail order companies frequently used low prices as one of their selling points, this naturally could only be achieved by producing simpler sets in high quantity.
We started our chronology by trying to put all the different forms of the Crailsheimer wooden kitchens into the correct order. Such a very difficult and confusing task due to their successful business idea: delivering a variety of sets to different big customers in large quantities - the sets had to differ as the department store chain A would not sell the same kitchen set as its competitor department store chain B - and then there were the big mail order companies who would demand a unique assembled kitchen set for their catalogue and customers, annually or even seasonally.
So we have attempted to classify Crailsheimer kitchens chronologically and if possible into TYPES.
In less than a decade (between 1951 and 1961) the kitchen TYPES changed many times according to contemporary design:
TYPE 1 was a 7 to 9 piece well made mainly white lacquered set, comprising a main cabinet with 1 or 2 attached high cupboard(s) and 2 lower items of furniture (both with or without drawers), one type of round wooden knobs, one table and 2 or 4 chairs, a clock, possibly a towel rail.
Type 1 kitchen, 1951: the first Crailsheimer ad known to us
Type 1 kitchen, 1952, in a mail order catalogue
In 1957 you have a TYPE 5 kitchen which are either white lacquered or colorful or of natural wood, a fitted kitchen with one long cabinet with attached wall units and at least one attached high cupboard on one side (sometimes with an extra high cupboard on top) as a central element, completed by more (fitted or free standing) low cabinets including a sink - with or without tap - or/and a fridge and even sometimes a corner unit. If it is a white lacquered kitchen, it can have a white or red worktop...
Type 5 kitchen, from a toy catalogue of about 1955 (dated thanks to a piece of Hennig furniture elsewhere in the catalogue)
Type 5 kitchen: a 1955 ad
Type 5 kitchen of natural wood, from the end of the 1950s
And what is to come on the Crailsheimer blog?
We have already explored in more detail sinks, fridges, kitchen cupboards and other characteristics of a fifties kitchen.
We will go on to wooden bedrooms and living rooms, before entering the plastic period - and almost certainly, we will (or you, dear reader) discover more kitchen sets or pieces which require us to rethink our chronology, or our types, or our identifying features ... yes, and that is the fun of it!
Lid of a Crailsheimer box, 1958