1890s German Dollhouse Pastry Shop
by Tracy H
I have a thing for antique dollhouse shops. One of the variations I've most longed for was a large-scale, ornate style German model, but when seen, these rare toys were usually priced far out of my price range.
But then I found this, a big 1890s-early 1900s German dollhouse pastry shop or confectioner's, measuring 23 inches wide and 13 inches tall. As is the case with many old German miniature shops, it had suffered poorly done but well intentioned updates and repairs over the course of its long life.
In her wonderful book, Doll Kitchens, German author Eva Stille explains that toy kitchens (and by extension their companion pieces, these shops) would be brought down from the attic each Christmastime by parents who would freshen them up with more grocery supplies, a new pie plate or two, and a bright new coat of paint. All winter, the shops and kitchens would entertain the family's children, until, with the warming spring weather, the toys, now depleted of provisions, temporarily lost their interest. They would be packed back up and returned to the attic, as the children moved their play outdoors, only to be brought back down once more, refreshened, and placed under the tree again the next Christmas.
These toys were usually passed down through several generations: Stille gives an example of an 1885 doll kitchen ordered by a wealthy family in Bregenz. The toy was passed down among girls in the family all the way to 1979, when it was bequeathed to the most recent descendant, who was still playing with it at the time of the book's publication in 1988. I've purchased three different antique German dollhouse shops, and each has had evidence of continuous play through at least two generations, with products dating from as early as the 1900s to as late as the 1950s.
This shop last went through a renovation sometime in the 1930s or early '40s. The original dark red stain, particular to many German dollhouse toys of the early 1900s, had been heavily painted over (sloppily) in green and cream kitchen paint, and the remains of the original paper "wood parquet" floor had been covered with linoleum. Bits of trim had broken off, and been reglued or lost. One decorative front pillar was gone, along with the counter. The lovely, handpainted wallpaper was brittle, stained, and torn, and a modern mirror had been installed along the back wall. An electrified Bakelite doorbell had been screwed in, and to finish off the list of indignities suffered by this once grand toy, an infestation of woodworm had occurred.
But large swathes of the original red stain were visible underneath the shelves, and much of the trim remained, as did the drawers with most of their porcelain nameplates, tiny handles, and the matching jars. I loved the idea that it appeared to be a pastry shop or something similar, as one of my most fanatical collecting categories is antique dollhouse cakes.
The price was (relatively) low, due to the condition, and my mother, even though she had never done a dollhouse restoration before, was sure she could handle it. And she did.
First, everything had to be pulled off and out. (My mother recommended I not watch this part, and I agreed. This step was pretty scary.)
Then, the paint had to be stripped, and all the old repairs disassembled.
At this point, we discovered a stamp and some writing on the underside of the shop, but have been unable to decipher them:
I found a replacement counter, and my mom fabricated the missing front pillar and bits of trim. Then she matched the original, heavily varnished red stain finish almost exactly and reassembled the shop shelves.
Finally, we deliberated over the replacement papers. We weren't able to find the same patterns, but when we saw this combination, it just seemed perfect. The papers are reproductions of antique originals, the closest we could get to the real thing.
Paper installation underway.
And here's the finished shop:
Loaded up with cakes, pies, baking accessories, and a shopkeeper, too:
Here's a closeup of the lovely shopkeeper. She carries a big spoon, all ready for customers who would like a sample of the many pudding cakes on display:
All but one of the drawers still have their original porcelain labels, in older German spelling: Cacao (today Kakao), cocoa; Chocolade (today Schokolade), chocolate; geh. Aepfel (today geh. Äpfel), chopped apple; Zucker, sugar, and Bonbons, bonbons, which still have the same spelling today. (Thanks to blog readers Rebecca and Marion for help with the translations and spellings.)
Here are closeups of some of the antique German made cakes, and the very old compote full of wax fruit:
This tiny cake has "Germany" stamped into one side.
Some of the little accessories include grocery boxes, a tin plate, a copper bowl, and a cake mold:
Here, one of my favorite miniature dollies tries to decide which treat to buy: