An Interview with Marion Osborne
by Wendy Gater
Marion Osborne has been a large influence on my collecting as she has been for many others. She has always inspired myself and others with her passion for the hobby and her wealth of knowledge, which she shares with new and old collectors. Marion has helped myself and many others, she gives a lot of her time answering questions and dealing with requests for pictures of old Dolls Houses.
As well as helping everyone Marion has provided collectors with three excellent books, which have allowed collectors to be able to access important information and references which would otherwise be unknown. Marion is currently working on a new book, the subject: Dol-Toi.
I was very pleased when Marion agreed to do this interview, which was compiled by long phone calls and emails, I would like to thank her for taking the time to do it and also for sharing her private life details.
1. Could you tell me about your life, the early days and later.
I was born on the 25th December 1941 at Bedford General Hospital, my father was in the army at the time and I have been told that a telegram was sent to him about my arrival and it went to the wrong Mr Cook (can’t remember his rank then) and he didn’t know about me until he received letters confirming the information. Someone got a shock!!
The arrival was about 3 weeks early, my brother was 3 ½ years old at the time, so when Mum went into labour he was carried fast asleep into the house next door to spend the rest of the night in bed in the house of my grandmother and aunt. When he woke up he was only interested in asking how Santa Claus knew where he was.
After the war my father came home in April 1945 to discuss with Mum what he/they should do and as a result stayed in the army. So a few months later we sailed the high seas to join him in Naples, Italy, where we stayed a month and then moved on to Gratz, Austria. In the September at the age of 4 ¾ I started my 3rd school. This was the pattern of my childhood, moving from one place to another.
In my school career I went to 16 schools, 1. Nursery school in Bedford. 2. School in Naples for 1 month run by army. 3. Gratz in Austria. 4. Villach in Austria. 5. Kidderminster. 6. Donnington in England. 7. Klagenfurt in Austria, where incidentally I had a dolls house a No 77. 8. Kidderminster England. 9. Woodhouse Eaves, Leicestershire for 3 weeks. 10. Old Dolby, Leics, where I passed my 11 plus. 11 Melton Mowbray. 12. Melton Mowbray Grammar School. 13 Petersfield High School. 14 Gosport Grammar school. 15. Andover Grammar School. 16. Hamm School in Germany. It is along time ago and I hope the names are correct. Luckily I was at Andover at the right moment and passed 7 ‘O’ levels and then managed to pass one A in Germany.
Really I should have passed more A levels, but we had one year in Hamm, then the powers that be decided to merge the Hamm co-ed school with the one at Plon, near the Danish border and create a boy and a girl separate school. The girls had to go to Plon for the Christmas term, which terminated very early December and we did not return to school until late January – a very long holiday. Add to that I was taking ‘A’ level History and there was no teacher at the girls’ school to take the subject, so it was a bit like a correspondence course. My brother went to boarding school in England from the age of 11, he didn’t apply himself and Dad was reluctant for the same thing to happen to me!!
On leaving school at 18, I then went trainee nurse at The Westminster Hospital, London, but that finished after 6 months due to eczema on the hands being made considerably worse by being in water most of the day. No rubber gloves in those days. So returned home in Duisburg, Germany, which is where my parents were at the time. Mum would not hear of me wandering round England on my own so I got work at the NAAFI in Dusseldorf, which was the only place I could work as I did not speak German apart from the extreme basics. In January 1962 we returned back to UK as Dad was due to leave the army in 1963. Chilwell, Nottingham was the last posting and the parents had decided that wherever they finished up there they would stay, having no wish to return to Bedford.
Initially I worked at the Chilwell Ordinance depot as the army quarters were up a hill and certainly not near a bus stop. Then Dad bought a house not far from the depot, but not up a hill, I stuck if for a few more months and then tried for jobs in Nottingham. In those days it was not difficult to get a job and before long I was working in the Claims Department for the Royal Insurance (now under the name of More Than) in Nottingham. In September 1963 I started French Evening classes at the local college and there I met Mike, the following April we were married. Then the same year my mother died at the age of 50, she had a heart problem caused by Rheumatic Fever at the age of 10. She was told not to get married, not to have children and to take it easy. She did none of these and it took us all our time to keep up with when out shopping, quite a whirlwind, but very lovable with it.
It is probable that my love of independence was fostered by going to so many schools, certainly my initial shyness had to be over come. The down side is that my memory for names and faces is very poor, but perhaps you can understand that. Also my childhood is mainly a blur, just an occasional snap shot.
At first Mike and I lived in a flat to save enough money for a house, which we duly did in 1966. In 1970 I finished work at the Royal Insurance to have Gregory and two years later Vicky. Gregory was a not a well baby and by the time he was 3 he was diagnosed with asthma, that year he was admitted to hospital 7 times with it and ended up in the Intensive Care Unit. This was hard on us all as Vicky was still only a year old and there was no one to care for her whilst I visited Gregory. Of course the hospital was on the other side of Nottingham. Still we managed and then he was given a Nebuliser and that meant his visits were reduced drastically.
The kids grew up, though Gregory’s health was always a concern until he was a teenager. In the mid 1970’s Mike’s mental health was also a concern and that was when and why I took up a hobby, but we managed to get through all the problems that cropped up. In 1987 I returned to work as Gregory was planning to go to University and it would help with the finances a little. At first it was just filing, then clerical in a builder’s office, eventually making it to Boots. After a year I went back to evening classes and took an HNC in Business & Finance in all fairness I had NO idea what I was letting myself in for, the letters meant nothing to me. It was a real struggle, working full time and adapting to being at school again, but I did pass it. Then decided a different job was needed, so not long after I started work in the Power House at Boots. Thoroughly enjoyed that work, which included a hard hat and strong boots to wear with a boiler suit – still have the boiler suit which is exceedingly useful when interior painting. Nothing lasts and so I was moved into a different department, which was not as enjoyable, so I retired in 2000.
Since then I have enjoyed life considerably, the last 4 years Mike’s health, both mental and physical has improved enormously and we can relax. Two grand daughters to keep me on my toes, both Gregory and Vicky live locally so we see them frequently. What more can any sensible woman want?
2. How did you become interested in Dolls House and Miniatures?
When the kids were 5 and 3 I was bored in the spring of 1975 and Mike suggested that I made a dolls house for Vicky, the fact that she was too young was swept aside, make it for myself and then she can have it later!! Unable to think of a reason why not to do it, so I did it. Borrowed several books from the library, bought a saw and some wood and I was off. One library book recommended the International Dolls House News, so subscribed to that and a whole new world opened up.
After making the dolls house (a front and back opening house from plans in the Woman’s Weekly and I don’t recommend that style any more) I then bought some American plans for making boxes and furnishing them with cardboard furniture. After the 10th I ran out of shelf space for them and in Christmas 1980 the kids and I had a joint Christmas present of a Lundby de Luxe dolls house, plus a garage extension and some furniture. I started writing to other collectors and one gave me the idea of adapting another garage extension to raise the roof as you might say. Eventually the Lundby skyscraper had 3 garage extensions, the dolls house proper, a wing on one end, plus 4 more floors across the lot. Giving 9 floors and over 40 rooms, plus a lot of furniture, dolls and animals of all varieties. It became a repository for furnishings from most of the makers since the war years, but that is leaping ahead somewhat.
I had drooled over the older dolls houses in the IDHN, but none had come my way, hence the Lundby. If I couldn’t have a collectible item from the past I would have one that would be collectible in the future. Then at an Antique Fair at a nearby school there was a dolls house, Mike asked if I would like it, the answer was an emphatic YES. It was £40 because the seller was fed up with carrying it round. So we put down a £5 deposit and I rushed off to organise a lift for it home. On my return the house had disappeared, shock, horror!! However he had so much interest that he had placed it under the table. That was the first house to arrive and once the barrier had been broken they seemed to be queuing up to arrive after that.
Once Red Roofs had arrived, with some furniture, then I needed to know what it was, so started asking questions and haven’t really stopped 28 years later. I call myself the Original Elephant’s Child from the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, he too asked a lot of questions, but my nose is still a nose. Also though I have quite a few collecting friends, there are times when they have a hard time of it, fielding my questions. So will take the opportunity to apologise now.
In 1983 Mike pointed out that the information that was trickling in was being kept in random fashion and there was a strong possibility something would get lost. He suggested that I started a filing system in ring binders. The single binder soon multiplied worse than rabbits, the total stands at about 170 and some of those should be split. However you can guess I have run out of space.
The collection is being down graded now and will continue to do so in the future.
The Lines and Triang book was written in a fortnight in 1986, I was annoyed that only those in the know had access to the information and decided to do something about it. The reason for the rush was due to the deadline for IDHN, if I had missed that then it would be 3 months before it could be advertised. The first books were made in two sections, with the Spot On etc being separate, this was due to the stapler I was using could not cope with more than 50 pages.
In 1987 I began the Barton Model Home book, it took me 6 months in all and don’t forget I used a typewriter and my initial typing skills were not brilliant. Though I did improve over the months there was still a few bottles of Typex used to cover over the mistakes. Another hazard was the end of the page suddenly appearing and disappearing!! This appeared in 1988 and because it was over 100 pages the stapler could not be used, so we punched holes in them and used butterfly clips to keep them together. At the same time the Triang books had the same treatment and the two sections put together.
Whilst working part time I typed the A – Z and learnt from the other books that drawings were better than photographs. Since 1988 there have been no books till the Dol-Toi book was started.
3. What have you collected recently?
Dol-Toi and more Dol-Toi, plus various bits and pieces to go with them. I did have a lovely lot of ebay for Christmas presents, which I enjoyed greatly. Though I also buy odd pieces of Barton/Caroline Home, Spot On and anything else that will prove useful in the future.
4. What do you find most rewarding about your hobby?
Making friends and using my brains, plus it is very rewarding when another piece of the giant jigsaw is slotted into place. Not that it happens very often.
It is trying to fit in a piece into the scheme of things, looking at the way it was made, the variations for earlier or later pieces. It drives you potty, but when you have solved the problem it is a great feeling.
Helping other people with information about their houses, possibly a bit missing like a fireplace, stairs or similar and I am able to send photos of what it looks like.
Getting a bargain on ebay!!!
5. Who is the most influential collector in your life?
Over 28 years the names have changed; initially it was Evelyn Sole, Ann Sizer and Freddy Farquarharson through the IDHN, then there was Jean Millar of Edinburgh, more recently it is Sonia Payne, Barbara King, Rose Hawkins, Alicia Davies Gillian Kernon and a host of others. I would like to say a special thank you to Karen Paget - without her the Dol-Toi book wouldn’t be as advanced as it currently is. As you can see my husband has been very supportive and helpful. In between there were others, too many to name. When I get stuck on the latest project then I ring one of them up and just by putting the problem into words helps tremendously. My friends are listening ears, but I do give them a chance to tell me about their latest buys. As the friends remain friends for a long time, they presumably don’t feel too hard done to.
It is probable that the most influential factor in the past decade is ebay, it is really great seeing boxed sets, catalogues and similar, without that institution the collections of many people would not be as great as they are. Pity the way they keep putting up the fees.
6. What do you think is at the heart of the passion for Dolls House and Miniature Collecting?
Squirreling, the magpie instinct, call it what you will, but it is an inbuilt feature of the majority of the human race. Most humans will collect once they have security of mind about the roof over the head, regular food etc. These days it is not so much ‘Do you collect?’ But rather ‘What do you collect?’
Dolls houses collecting can start from a variety of reasons, lack of a dolls house as a child, or a friend had a bigger one you always hankered after; the items are small and don’t take a lot of space (a false idea I am afraid as the collection grows and you are squeezed into a small corner). Nostalgia is supposed to trigger it and it is true that many folks start off with what they remember when they were children. After you have started collecting, then there are so many avenues to follow. A particular maker, a certain period, or just a single item such as a table following the variations.
It knocks collecting barbed wire or bricks into a cocked hat, it does not harm anyone and also in our own way we are preserving the toys of previous generations for the future ones. We rescue houses from skips, bonfires, overcome woodwork, dry rot (not sure of this), dry out and replace broken parts. In our way we are conserving and preserving the dolls houses, surely a positive attitude and most importantly we are having fun in the meantime.
The only time it becomes harmful is if envy or bitterness creeps in against a rival collector. This I think is rare, though I have come across collectors who refuse to share their collection or their knowledge, yet expect me to produce articles like rabbits out of a hat!
7. What are your future projects and goals?
My present project is writing a book on Dol-Toi, it is going to be quite long as the firm made so many items and over a period ranging from 1946 – 1975 with changes in designs that add up to 1,000s of pieces.
It was started at the end of January and I keep plodding along, don’t look too far ahead as to how many more chapters will be required. The book will probably be another photocopy book, but with a CD or even a DVD of photographs so colour will be available. It is not ideal but the book would be too costly and heavy (think of the postage) if the photos were put in the book. At the moment the number of photos stand at 750 and I am only on the 6th chapter.
When in the dim future that is complete and being made available to all and sundry, then I propose to continue to the next book. On Tri-Ang dolls houses, in really the same format as the articles I produced in the late 1990’s, but up dated. Followed by G & J Lines, Tri-Ang furniture, Barton’s up dated, A-Z post war to include makers such as Kleeware, Twiggs, and Kensalcraft etc. Not sure about the pre war A-Z as there may not be very much new information on that topic.
It is important to me to get the information out for the present and future collectors, so many people have given me bits and pieces of knowledge that to just walk away from it all is not an option for me. It will be a lot of work, then I shall pass the books and much of the information on to a new person and I will retire from my present position as a central database. It takes up a lot of my time, the books will probably take at least 4 years and I would like to take it easier and concentrate on my hobby of Yoga. It is of no use to wait until I am incapable of doing it due to illness or senile decay to set in and then wish I had done it.
So Happy Dolls House Hunting to all collectors and may you have much fun from the hobby and long may it last.