A Rare Antique "Swan Dolls House"
by Celia Thomas of KT Miniatures
This is a real gem of a dolls house, around 100 years old, which at first I thought might be German. Then by chance, as I was flicking through my well thumbed copy of Marion Osborne's "A To Z 1914 - 1941 Dolls Houses" yet again, page 185 caught my eye where there was a black and white scanned image of a circa 1912 Swan Toys advert.
It was the similarity of the roof for the "Up-To-Date Town Mansion" in the advert that grabbed my attention. The hand painted tiled roof, the shape of the dormer windows, the way the roof lifts up and the way the very large chimneys are set behind are all identical, so much so that there just had to be a connection. Plus the angled embellishment on the top of the frontage and the hand painted brick top half are similar. I am convinced that this was made by the same company. Swan Toys was the trade mark of Star Manufacturing Co which was based in London and which was made up of a group of companies ... including Simpson Fawcett & Co.
In The Beginning........
This was what this house looked like when I first took it on. It had belonged to someone who had been given it way back as a youngster by her grandmother. But the granddaughter had no interest in the house, it was most definitely surplus to requirements and it had been sitting in her parents' garage gathering dust for a very long time. As you can see from the above photo, this was covered in modern brick and tile paper (although the upper tiled paper appeared older than the lower), and inside, the floors were covered in vintage sticky-back plastic which hid an endless number of wires that all led up to the roof. Needless to say, the wiring looked lethal and was the first thing to come out. In the kitchen there was a 1960s/70s Blue Box plastic kitchen unit which was also promptly removed.
On the roof, I peeled a little of the modern tiled paper off at the front and found the hint of some wonderful hand painted tiles underneath .... so it was a case of "off with the paper" there and then .... before I realised, it was 2.30 am in the morning by the time I'd finished! What I found underneath was truly delightful!
By now I could not wait to see what else was under all the brick paper and I was not disappointed! Those of you who like immaculately manicured dolls houses will not be keen on this ... but those of you who, like me, adore old dolls houses that are not afraid to show their "wrinkles", you will love it! The most glorious hand-painted bricks were painted over a rich terracotta colour on the top half. On the bottom half there were the remains of a pretty yellow paint. The "Grandma" had, in good faith, painted around the windows and exterior embellishments in a grey gloss paint. I have to say that I didn't dislike it ... but of course, I was curious to see what was lurking underneath that grey .... more about that later!
The front door opens ... whether the yellow paint is the original, am not sure, but there is this rather nice set of steps and canopy.
Around the rest of the exterior, the side and back walls are painted in a glorious rich terracotta. The side and back of the roof is painted in grey. The exterior is all a bit blotchy due to the removal of the papers. You can see a view of the very large chimneys in the above photo.
Inside, there are four main rooms, a hall with tiny room under the stairs and a landing with a second little room, plus a very odd window and tiny cupboard door above.
The roof lifts up....you can see one or two cracks along the back of the roof ..... a common sight with these very old dolls houses, but is not detrimental to this house overall.
In the above photos, is a close up view of the hall and landing. Generally .... this house has been beautifully decorated internally. I think " Grandma" had used gift wrapping paper to cover the internal walls and is definitely in keeping with the house.
The kitchen has a gorgeous hand painted tiled floor over terracotta paint and must be original to the house, as the colouring is similar to the exterior. There is a tear in the tiled kitchen wallpaper where the plastic kitchen unit had once been stuck.
In three of the four main rooms there are simple wooden fireplaces, all similar like this upstairs one seen above.
The frontage comes off and stands freely in front. The modern plastic catch situated at the top of the front has long been broken. I suspect at one time, there were hook and eye catches at each side to keep the frontage in place, judging by the holes.
This stands at 40" high and is magnificent. The very high ceilings give huge scope for furnishing.
Needless to say, this lovely house was sold very quickly and it was whilst waiting for the customer to collect, I was so intrigued as to what was underneath the grey paint around the windows, I asked her if she would mind if I had a little scrape.
The reply was ..... "scrape away" .... so indeed I did just that and was delighted with the result!
By the time I'd finished scraping, I had managed to take off the grey paint from around all the windows, top and bottom. Much of the brown discolouration from the lower half was removed quite easily too, which revealed rows of black bricks ... probably drawn on with what looks like lead pencil.
The new owner was thrilled with what my further scraping had revealed and she has vowed to continue with the restoration and keep me informed of its progression. I am confident that it is in safe hands and am quite excited to see what else the new owner is able to discover! If I get any more information with regards to this house, I will put it up on KT Miniatures Journal which you can find on www.ktminiatures.com.
All photos and text on this page © Copyright KT Miniatures 2014 - Celia Thomas