A Revived Silber and Fleming Dolls’ House
by Linda Schmidt
In 1964 I was but a wee 4 year old living in North Dakota, a state in the very north central part of the United States of America. I began to marvel at any type of miniature doll items and would collect and protect them with all my might. I had a sizable collection of Liddle Kiddles, which were made in the 1960’s by the Mattel toy company. Each doll had a theme and came with a few tiny items to support this theme. There were vinyl dolls’ houses made by Mattel that were meant to be matched with these Liddle Kiddles. My fascination for miniature doll items did not seem to go away as I got older.
In 1972, when I was 12 years old, my family was visiting relatives in Kansas, a state in the central United States of America. My mother attended an auction at a local church. She came back with an absolute treasure, an antique dolls’ house with a large box packed with antique miniature furniture for the house. She said that when she saw this incredible house and contents, she knew that she had to have it because of my incredible love of miniatures. The opening bid was $30.00, and she was high bidder at $80.00. The dolls’ house was a 2 story box back house with two rooms upstairs and 2 rooms downstairs. The upstairs exterior was a rich orange and red brick façade with the first story exterior being an off-white stone with soft mustard yellow bay windows on each side of the beautifully etched glass front door.
The rooms were not wallpapered and the floors were unfinished except for one room downstairs that had a loud, garish, orange decorated diamond motif floor.
She was told that the house belonged to the Harvey family, who had come from England in the late 1800’s to start a chain of restaurants located along the Kansas railroad. At that time I did not understand the value of “provenance” so I did not attempt to have this information authenticated.
It was 40 years later that I learned this house was a “Silber and Fleming” dolls’ house that originated in England in about 1880. The reason that these houses were labeled “Silber and Fleming” was that In 1856 a British wholesale firm named “ Silber and Fleming” was born, and they were the first British company to feature this type of house in their 1879 catalogue. Their warehouses were located in London. They were importers and exporters of many fancy items including jewelry, silver, china and glass.
My Silber and Fleming house and contents were in incredible original condition, however all the glue had dried and caused the furniture to come apart. I had never seen any “antique” dolls’ houses or “antique” miniatures. I thought the house and contents were just magical. The house was missing some outside pieces, mainly the pierced metal balconies and glass for the windows. The furniture was German-made for the most part. A lot of the furniture was made from soft metal with an asphaltium wash applied to the finish. These soft metal pieces included 3 fireplaces, fireplace tools,a “what not” hanging shelf, a piano, a piano stool, a towel rack, a music stand a marble topped round table with a soft metal base, and a cooking stove/range.
The pieces made from wood were tables with hand decorated tops (resembling a scrolled pen and ink design) and leather tufted dining room chairs. There was also a group of coordinated items which consisted of a hall tree, an armoire, a table, four matching chairs and a settee that were decorated with this same pen and ink scrolling decoration. The tiny wooden legs on the chairs were hand turned and so very delicate.
There were two mirrors, a framed lithograph of a child, a few kitchen accessories, a wooden piano, 2 soft metal bird cages, a tin bath tub, shaving mirror and stand, a tall shelf that I used in the kitchen to display kitchen items, a set of three wooden tubs (one was a butter churn) that I used in the kitchen and a small sack of pieces that I could not figure out what they would make.
There was one small grouping of soft metal pieces I kept in a very special place. I did not know what they were originally but after 40 years of saving them I learned they were originally a soft metal asphaltium wash towel rack. I kept the house with me for the rest of my childhood and when I married, the house and contents went with me.
It was only about five years ago when I began to understand how to use the computer and found the Dolls House Past and Present group that I had a renewed interest for renovation of this house. The house and all of it’s lovely contents were constantly on my mind all through my early adulthood but I did not have any idea what to do with it. I would find items at local flea markets that I thought would go along with the house and made several purchases along the way of bits and parts and pieces to use in the restoration process. It was about 20 years ago that I spotted a net curtain fragment at a flea market. I had a vivid vision of this material making perfect curtains for my dolls’ house.
The front of the house had three balconies that were made from some sort of a rusted metal pierced work material. Only one balcony had survived and I knew that I had to find this exact metal mesh for the other two balconies. The balconies were also adorned with a porcelain head tack on either side of the metal mesh. I searched for years for this porcelain headed tack. I finally found that these tacks were used on the old Victorian accordion type folding coat racks and purchased the rack from a local antique store which netted me several of these porcelain head tacks. I found some matching metal mesh at a local antique shop that was originally used on outdoor metal shelving. I purchased these shelves and cut the balconies from these shelves and submerged the small pieces of metal in our swimming pool for a whole year to get it to rust and age enough to blend with the balcony on the original house.
I found some extra thin glass at a local hobby shop and had a local stained glass artist cut the pieces of glass. I think that at this point I was falling in love with the process more than the actual restoration of the house!!! I was still at this point just collecting materials for the eventual restoration of the house. Finally in about 2010 I began communicating with some of the DHPP members and reading all of the wonderful information that was being shared on this site. I finally found a source for antique dolls house wallpaper.
I then began to use all of my collected materials to finally complete the restoration of this lovely Silber and Fleming house. I made antique light fixtures from old materials and installed lighting throughout the house so that onlookers could see the details in each room.
The only piece of furniture that was missing was a bed for the bedroom. I recently purchased an appropriately scaled period Kestner bed with original bed clothes from a dolls house dealer here in the USA. After adding a few rugs to the rooms, fabricating curtains from my 20 year old remnant, and installing wallpaper, I had a complete dolls’ house. In the kitchen, hanging on a tall shelving unit, I have framed a small picture of my now deceased mother as a thank you for thinking of me when bidding on this house.
I still have a soft spot in my heart for soft metal asphaltium pieces of antique doll furniture. I have since fallen in love with all the different types of Silber and Flelming houses. I purchased a large Silber and Fleming house several years ago at an auction in Maine and have also purchased two very small Silber and Fleming houses from antique shops, and think they are my favorite types of houses. The colors, the architecture and the use of so many different materials in the construction of these houses warms my heart. After the restoration of this charm I began to repair and revive a large group of other antiques ranging from large pieces of furniture in my home to antique berlin needlework pieces. I also restore other dolls houses from time to time and restore miniature items for my other dolls’ houses with a special interest in peg wooden dolls.
About the author:
56 year old working Certified Public Accountant, married, mother of one son and 2 dogs. Living in Oklahoma, USA.