Bodo Hennig’s dolls houses
My favourite company for dolls houses and accessories is the German firm of Bodo Hennig. He was born 1928 in Grünhainichen in the Erzgebirge (the Ore Mountains), a mountain range between Saxony in Germany and the Czech Republic, the famous "toy country“.
Bodo Hennig calls himself "a wooden toymaker“. When he was a boy he was fascinated by the colourfully decorated windows of the local small craft shops. He attended the "Staatliche Spielzeugfachschule“ – the national technical school for toy makers - and learnt the craft in the traditional way of the Ore Mountains. After WWII he and his father Walter left East-Germany for Bavaria where he learned to be a wood turner, too. In 1950 Walter founded a company with 6 employees "Drei Könige – Qualitätsspielwaren“ (Three kings – toys of quality) in Dietmannsried/Allgäu.
Bodo Hennig (from a Bodo Hennig catalogue)
1953 was also the year when Bodo Hennig graduated as a master of the wood turner craftsmanship and when the young company moved to Wildpoldried /Allgäu. In 1955 the first catalogue of “Walter Hennig” was published - only 4 pages, just drawings of the furniture pieces, a price list, no photos. A complete system of single furniture with a modern touch in form and painted with pastel colours. Apart from furniture there was one shop listed, as well as 3 types of room boxes to put together and only one dolls house. The dolls house was sold for the very high price of 33 DM – probably the reason for selling not many of them. And that is surely why I have never seen this house on any collector's page.
They were not very successful for the first 7 years, although they already presented their wooden toys and peasant style furniture for dolls at the International Toy Fair 1951 in Nuremberg. But after having altered their range of products as soon as in 1953 according to the prevailing taste, veneering and painting the wood now, and focusing only on modern style dolls houses with accessories they slowly got a reputation for their brilliant craftsmanship. Very often it is said that the idea of selling the pieces of furniture separately instead of putting them together in sets was another reason for the rise in sales in those first poor years after the war. Parents could just buy what was missing in their own old dolls houses and then give it to their daughters for Christmas a little bit modernized.
1955: the first dolls house: above, from an ebay auction many years ago;
below, from children’s magazine “Die Rasselbande”
Neither have I seen the catalogues of Bodo Hennig of the following years, just some ads in the national toy magazine “Das Spielzeug” (The Toy). They advertised for more dolls houses and bungalows but often without showing photos. This bungalow was advertised in 1958, “New dolls house with sun roof on the terrace, outdoor fireplace, flower beds and pool:”
The next documented dolls house is from the catalogue of about 1959 (no year on its 4 pages):
In 1959 the name of the firm changed in their advertisements from Walter to his son Bodo. Two years later Walter Hennig died.
In the virtual catalogue of the Toy Museum in Nuremberg I found a dolls house furnished entirely with pieces of Bodo Hennig and posable dolls of Erna Meyer. I thought the house to be by Bodo Hennig, too, and a famous collector in Germany – Swantje Köhler – who has much more reference material than I – confirmed that it is from 1963.
1963 (both photos shown with kind permission of the Toy Museum in Nuremberg.)
Although Hennig’s designs for dolls houses were ambitious regarding the contemporary style and the outstanding quality, he never forgot that children were to play with his toys and apart from leaving out a staircase from time to time to gain more space in a room, he wanted the houses and the furniture to be an exact copy of their real world. However, until 1963 he did not sell a doll’s bathroom. At the Toy Fair in Nuremberg a customer complained and not until then did he include a turquoise bath in his range of products. The Nuremberg dolls house shown above is from that year and you can see the added bathroom separately placed on the roof.
In Germany the sixties were the time of a national economic miracle and the small firm of Bodo Hennig was flourishing, too. They erected a set of factory buildings in Wildpoldried and proudly presented it in the toy magazine, stressing the perfect adaption to the lovely Bavarian landscape “Allgäu”.
The number of employees had risen to 60 and they exported 20 per cent of their sales. First to neighbour countries like Switzerland and the Netherlands but the United States would later become their best customer. Some product lines were especially produced for the American market and were never sold in Germany - I do realize that American collectors have items of Bodo Hennig that I do not even know of (e.g. Call of the Small who blogged on December 30, 2010 about a Bodo Hennig school room of the 60s which was only sold in the USA).
The next dolls house of 1966 features a front side with four rooms and a back side with two narrow rooms connected by a flight of stairs.
1966 (photo from “Das Spielzeug”)
Colour photos of a similar dolls house - with a roof terrace instead of a roof and two flight of stairs instead of one - come from a well known German collector maintaining a wonderful website: www.puppenhausmuseum.de/
The 1970s saw a few highly advanced dolls houses which nowadays reach high prices at online auctions whenever they are offered. That is very seldom and even more seldom they are in an unchanged condition. Also many sellers are not willing to ship them because of their dimensions.
This modern looking dolls house was produced from 1969 to 1970 only.
1969 (photo from "Das Spielzeug“)
1969 (photo from my collection)
1969 (photo from “Das Spielzeug”)
In the last photo you see it displayed in a German toy shop in the same year. The photo gives an impression of its size. The official scale of Hennig announced in 1974 was 1:10 and in this toy shop it is placed on an extra table – topping all the other houses by its largeness. In the background you can glimpse a Lundby house.
1972 to 1973 – again for only two years – a similar house with a different arrangement of rooms and staircases was sold. As the houses came in assembly sets and some families had them stored disassembled over the years the correct appearance of these houses on eBay auctions is sometimes a matter of luck! I needed a long time to find out that there were actually two different kind of houses.
1972 (photo from a 1970s children’s card game “Das Puppenhaus”)
The house on this photo is furnished with items of Hennig, Modella and Lundby.
1971 saw a quite small and not very spectacular new house with two rooms, as usual one in front and one on the back. It was produced until 1973 but I never saw it on an auction or in a collection.
1971 (photo from a 1970s children’s card game “Das Puppenhaus”)
The next house, “Haus Susi”, was longer on sale: 1973 -1978, perhaps because of its conventional style, the ground floor with living room, dining room and kitchen, upstairs bath and bed rooms and on the attic the nursery.
"Haus Susi" 1975 (photo from a German toy catalogue “VEDES”)
In 1974 the firm exported 15% of their products, now mainly to the USA, but also to the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Italy and France. The owner Bodo Hennig himself designed the dolls houses and the accessories, inspired by magazines and furniture brochures. Especially his furniture is evidence of a quick reaction to changing interior design.
1974 – 1980 this large classical house with swimming pool could be obtained by everyone who had a big enough playroom. Like many houses of Hennig it could be played with from two sides.
1974 (photo from my collection)
1974 (photocopy from a Bodo Hennig catalogue – courtesy of a catalogue copy given to me by www.puppenhausmuseum.de)
The company’s logo was changed again in 1976
(photo from a Bodo Hennig catalogue):
An equally large house was introduced in 1981: “Bodensee”. Rebecca already posted beautiful pictures of it.
1981 "Bodensee" (photo Rebecca Green)
In later years there were also some strikingly unusual models of dolls houses.
For example 1990 a very modern one:
1990 Villa Ambiente catalogue photo and description
and a classical one:
1990 Villa Classic (all 1990 photos from a Bodo Hennig catalogue)
By then the majority of their products was intended for collectors.
In 2001 the “Villa Jugendstil” (Villa Art Nouveau) was a success of craftsmanship – but economically a disaster and could well have been the reason for the end of the firm.
2001 "Villa Jugendstil" : above, closed; below, open
(photos from a Bodo Hennig catalogue)
It was modelled on a real house in Dresden and was realised in 1:12, including a two-part front which could be removed while playing, and a hand-operated elevator. A painter was entrusted with designing a most exact picture of the front and although some colours and the position of the entrance were altered it is an impressively perfect copy of the original. As usual it is high, 116 cm, and when closed it measures 34 x 90 cm. A children’s dream, a collector’s heaven – and a manufacturer’s nightmare! Too expensive for children but not exclusive enough for collectors. Only 300 houses were sold, an economic disaster.
In 2005 there was a simplified version so that the furniture of very high quality and of even higher prices - designed especially for the Art Nouveau Villa - could be placed in another dolls house.
"Villa Bellevue", 2005 (photo from a Bodo Hennig catalogue)
In 2002 the company went bankrupt after decreasing sales since the end of the 1990s. It seems that today only very young children play with wooden dolls houses, but older girls had stopped playing with wooden toy houses and had entered the more colourful plastic world of Barbie & Co.
The end came in 2004 when the firm was bought by Nic Spiel & Art which produced also high quality wooden toys and is still selling a very reduced product line of Bodo Hennig.
Bodo Hennig (photo from a Bodo Hennig catalogue)