1930s Playskool Pullman
by Tracy Harnish
About 25 years ago, when I first started collecting teddy bears, I saw an interesting antique toy mentioned in one of my reference books. In a chapter of hints for displaying miniature bears, the author had posed several tiny teddies in an old tin playset called the Playskool Pullman.
I had never heard of this toy, and I was immediately captivated. The tin Pullman car looked like a miniature suitcase from the outside, and measured 11 1/2 by 9 1/2 inches. A leather carrying handle allowed the owner to easily tote the Pullman along, perhaps on a real train trip. When opened, a miniature train car interior was revealed, complete with a porter's closet, fold-up berth with bedding, and a seating area of benches with a fold-down table. I was absolutely smitten: it was an amazing toy.
It also turned out to be an extremely rare toy. Designed by a preschool teacher in the late 1920s and made around 1930, the Playskool Pullman was reportedly only manufactured for a very brief time, perhaps only a year, before the Great Depression put a stop to the toy's production. For years and years, the Pullman eluded me. With the arrival of internet auctions, I finally saw a few, but the prices were high and the competition was fierce, due to the toy's rarity and crossover appeal to lots of different toy collectors: dollhouse lovers, toy train aficionados, tin toy fanatics, Playskool collectors. But finally, I found one. The good news: it was cheap. The bad news: it looked like it had been sitting in a barn and slowly decomposing for the past 80 years. I bought it anyway, on the assumption that my mom could fix it. She did, and here it is:
Big Bear is running to catch the train, but it looks like he's too late.
Inside, the private compartment is home to three little Steiff bears.
The porter's closet on the left was originally intended to hold the mattresses and bedding, but most Pullman owners convert it into a bathroom, as I did with these antique German dollhouse pieces.
The top berth pulls down, revealing a cozy bed complete with sheets, blankets, and pillows.
The littlest bear is tucked in for the night, falling asleep to the sound of the train clacking down the tracks.
For comparison, here's what the Pullman looked like when we got it:
Recently I found another one, in much better condition, with many of the accessories and details that were missing from my first find, including the original green-colored felt-like seat cushions and the curtains.
Two clear windows allow the little passengers to look outside, while a third window is covered with a decal printed to give the look of frosted glass.
The Pullman opens from the back, revealing a compartment tucked behind green curtains.
Behind the curtains, a cozy compartment is unveiled, complete with benches and a fold away table. I've fitted it out with a tablecloth and some refreshments for the miniature French doll and Steiff bear travelling inside. (The Pullman originally came with 2 small bisque dolls, but they are very rare now.)
Above the passengers' heads, the sleeping berth is tucked away, ready to be pulled down in the evening.
Here's the berth pulled down, complete with sheets, pillows, and blankets.
To the left of the compartment is a small closet holding a porcelain sink, perfect for freshening up after a long journey.
I also found some old dollhouse sized luggage, perfectly scaled for the Pullman playset. The largest is a cardboard candy container, made in Germany in the early 1900s. The tiny red hat box is also German, while the black tin trunk was made by the Marx company.
All aboard the Playskool Pullman!