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Dolls' Houses
Past & Present

A website and ezine about dolls' houses: antique, vintage and modern.
Plus furniture and accessories.

Issue 32 (March 2020)

A chronology of dolls house furniture by Hermann Rülke, part 1: 1938 to circa 1950

by diePuppenstubensammlerin, edited by Rebecca Green

The firm of Hermann Rülke has made dolls house furniture for over 130 years. It is unusual among German makers in that it is still active today. My interest, as always, focuses on the mid-century styles, but I will begin with a brief history of the early period.

In 1887, Carl Hermann Rülke (born 1865, died 1937) founded a doll’s furniture factory in Kleinhartmannsdorf, in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains), Saxony, in eastern Germany. Rülke had worked in the Flath doll’s furniture factory in nearby Eppendorf from the age of ten. Although he was only the son of a day labourer, and had 13 siblings, in 1887 he purchased land for his factory which is still the company headquarters today.

Black and white postcard with three views of Kleinhartmannsdorf in 1979

Initially, the doll’s furniture was made by hand, with the only technology being a sewing machine, which was converted into a circular saw. Rülke fetched the wood himself from the Borstendorf forest. He transported his finished doll’s furniture to the dealers in Grünhainichen (11km away) and Olbernhau (about 25km away) on hand carts pulled by dogs. In 1896, less than ten years after founding his factory, he showed his doll’s furniture at the Leipzig toy fair.

By 1912, 18 workers were employed. In 1930, a fire that burned for three days destroyed large parts of the factory. Carl Hermann died in 1937, after which his son Kurt headed the firm, and George, his other son, was production manager.

I have never actually seen a catalogue of this firm - apart from some proof copies from the year 1950 which a very kind blog reader gave to me. As usual, I have learned a lot from ads and some named boxed sets. Similarities have led to this rough chronology, but there are still many questions left to be answered.

An ad in my favourite magazine Das Spielzeug (The Toy) in 1938 shows two sets of dolls house furniture made by the firm of Rülke, a living room set and a kitchen set.

Rülke ad in Das Spielzeug 1938 showing living room furniture

I have part of the living room set:

Set of wooden veneered living room furniture

A reader sent me this photo of a very similar set:

Set of wooden veneered living room furniture with lamp

The kitchen set shown in this 1938 ad appears to be lacquered in a light colour:

Kitchen set in the Rülke ad in Das Spielzeug 1938

In 1939, the firm of Rülke had 100 employees. Swantje Köhler's book Lexikon der Puppenstuben und Puppenhäuser shows some catalogue images of Rülke furniture from 1939, in a rather different style:

Sepia catalogue picture of a sideboard and tea trolley from 1939

Wood and tubular steel living room set with red upholstery

This miniature furniture made by Hermann Rülke catches very well the spirit of the pre-war tubular steel furniture by its most famous designer, Marcel Breuer, who worked for the firm of Thonet. This photograph from 1930 shows dining room and living room furniture created by Breuer:

Marcel Breuer tubular steel living and dining room furniture, 1930

Back view of sideboard and closeup of trolley showing details of tubular steel construction

The furniture in the catalogue images above appears to be veneered, rather than painted as this set is. Some veneered pieces have also survived:

Tubular steel and veneered wood cupboard and desk

Tubular steel and veneered wood bedroom set

Another 1939 catalogue image in the Lexikon shows a couch with tubular steel frame. Here also are some examples:

Tubular steel framed couches, catalogue pic and two examples

The small catalogue photo below is an ad from 1942, a year when they must have still produced toys, despite being in the middle of the war.

1942 ad for Rülke kitchen furniture

I have a very similar kitchen, which is hardly lacquered. Did it wear off or was it meant to be painted later on by the buyer himself?

Rülke lacquered bare wood kitchen very similar to 1942 ad with painted bedroom furniture

The bedroom came with the kitchen and I assume it is Rülke, too. The knobs/nails are the same.

Close up of sliding glass door in ca 1942 kitchen cabinet

Above, a close-up of the sliding glass doors of the ca 1942 kitchen cupboard, and its decorative wood details.

From circa 1950, I have several photos of furniture sets from Rülke catalogue proofs. They include several living rooms and two kitchens. Luckily, I am able to show the actual furniture, or very similar, from my own collection and from fellow collectors.

Circa 1950 catalogue photo of boxed Rülke living room set 1

The dining room set in the photo above is very similar to the dark wood set in the roombox below (from the collection of Anna Setz). Most significant are the round knobs on the cabinet, above, and the cabinets at the back and right side, below.

Living room set as in the catalogue photo above, in a roombox in the Anna Setz collection

The knobs can be seen more clearly in this photo of the cabinet against the back wall, as can the wooden balls which serve as the front legs of the cabinet. The clock is made by Crailsheimer, by the way.

Close up of 1950 dark wood cabinet by Rülke

The two living room sets below have the same distinctive knobs on the cabinets.

Greyscale catalogue photo of Rülke living room set ca 1950

Set of furniture shown in catalogue furniture above

The photo below shows the knobs in detail, as well as delicate carving on either side of the sliding glass doors, and the finger holds in those doors.

Close up of cabinet with details of woodwork, knobs and sliding glass doors

The next living room set shows another Rülke characteristic, turned wooden vases which are painted with a sponged or marbleized design, and are glued to a piece of furniture.

Greyscale catalogue photo of living room set by Rülke, ca 1950

Set of furniture shown in catalogue photo above

Detail of the side table and drawers with the vase of flowers:

Detail of side table and drawers with attached vase of flowers

Detail of the knobs on the cabinet, both the distinctive knobs we have already seen, and smaller ones on the drawers of this cabinet and the side table above:

Detail of cabinet with two kinds of knobs

The relationship between these two living room sets is eye-catching:

Close up of chairs from two living room sets showing similar construction

Here is another living room set, with many of the details seen in the catalogued sets above:

Another living room set with Rülke features

The small set of drawers has the typical Rülke features of an attached vase and the distinctive knobs. The cabinet has different handles, and is perhaps an economy version, as it has no glass doors.

Detail of small drawers with vase and cabinet

The radio also has the distinctive knobs, used as the tuning knobs:

Close up of radio and clock

The chairs have very delicate woodwork in the middle - not intended for clumsy hands.

Close up of chair made with dark and light wood and delicate design in the middle of back struts

Another living room cabinet from the ca 1950 catalogue photos:

1950 catalogue living room cabinet

As well as regular sofas, in the post-war period chaise longues were also produced. Only one side had a cushion as an armrest or headrest when you wanted to sleep on it, for example as a bed, which fits well with the post-war period housing shortage. Sometimes there is a narrow end on the right, sometimes not.

Composite of photos of 9 post-war chaise longues in different styles and fabric designs

Two kitchen sets appear in these catalogue photos from around 1950. The first has a stove, an icebox and a double sink, as well as two-toned varnished wood dresser, table and chairs:

1950 greyscale catalogue pic of Rülke kitchen set

The set shown in the catalogue photo, from Uta's collection. Note the typical Rülke knobs on the dresser and on the stove. The the kitchen cupboard has a pull-out board. The chairs have curved backrests and the table also has interesting legs. The fittings on the sink are also made of wood.

Kitchen shown in catalogue pic above

Detail of the double sink and the fridge in kitchen set

The second kitchen in these catalogue photos is simpler, with a table and chairs, dresser and sink, all in enamelled wood:

1950 greyscale catalogue pic of another Rülke kitchen

And a photo of the set, from the Bruchsal collection. The paint looks cream - it is actually a very light green. We can recognise the Rülke door knobs on the kitchen dresser, and the design and careful construction of the chairs is also typical of Rülke.

Kitchen set shown in previous catalogue photo

Some more kitchen dressers from the ca 1950 catalogue photos:

Two 1950 black & white catalogue photos of kitchen dressers

Kitchen dressers - 3 catalogue photos and 3 actual dressers