Room boxes of Modella in Germany 1968 - 1978
“A Doll Mum’s Dream” was the title of a 1960s’ article about the doll furniture of Paul Kerkmann in West-Germany. He founded the factory in 1955 in Düsseldorf to produce modern and high quality doll furniture made of plastic. His small team of form designers, mold makers, die-casting technicians, clerks and workers proved to be very successful and in 1960, when more space for the expanding firm was required, they moved to Wesel on the Lower Rhine.
1968: Constant development
Die-cast machines delivered the moulding blanks, home workers painted them colourfully, and on the assembly line they were arranged in doll furniture sets. Then they were shipped not only to German toy shops, no, they were known all over Europe and went by ship to all parts of the world.
All carried a small red logo with the letters “Modella”.
The furniture was offered in two scales: 1:10 and 1:20. This will be the subject of another article.
In 1967 they had a toy school room on offer which was sold in a carton printed with photos of the school.
In 1968 about 50 different doll furniture sets were permanently on sale and also many special sets which were continuously adapted to the prevailing style. Over 1500 square metres 80 employees worked, with an additionally large number of homeworkers.
The look was modern and elegant. Further reasons for the success were the functionality – even the smallest drawer fitted perfectly –, the enclosed small accessories which added to the fun and last but not least the low prices.
1968 was also the year of a revolutionary idea:
4 doll’s rooms in a full-sight-box – apartments ready for sale. The furniture was not stored in a box with a see-through lid like before but shown in the way it would find its place in a room. In an attractively printed box, with a transparent cover it was hoped that the article would sell single-handedly. The box would be a toy in itself.
The drawing included in the 1968 patent application form shows the newly invented box. Unlike other boxes it is robust and stackable.
1968: German Patent Office database
1968: Assembly lines: a stack of completed bedroom boxes can be seen in the foreground
At first the rooms were papered with plain coloured wallpaper but just one year later the wallpapers of all 4 rooms had a fashionable pattern.
In this dining room of the same year you can see that the walls are decorated individually, with doors, windows and paintings. The furniture was attached with metal clips and so the pieces could not fall over during transport.
1969: Dining room
Next, a small post office was designed, with counter and functioning scales, telephone booth, letter box plus envelopes, postcards, stamps and rubber stamp.
1969: Above: Illustration on the box of the Post office
Below: Detail of the Post Office
New room boxes for 1971 (bathroom, hairdressing salon and bedroom) were shown on the cover of the July issue of “Das Spielzeug”:
L: Photo from ebay R: The outside illustration of the hairdresser’s box
Above and below: details of a hairdressing salon from 1971
By 1972 they offered a wide range of dolls rooms still in scale 1:10 and 1:20. Each came complete with plastic furniture and accessories. All cupboard doors and drawers were functional.
Several of the rooms pictured in this ad are shown here:
A kitchen from 1972
Details of the 1972 kitchen: above, the side of the box showing a view from the window; below, the combination of printed and plastic utensils
Blue dining room from 1972, with details of the wall decorations below
A bedroom from 1972
A 1972 bathroom
The 1972 "Washerette" and ironing room:
Also from 1972: the new “Pop Series”:
Junior's room from 1972 was a typical teenager's room, with a TV, record player and posters on the walls:
Several TVs were available:
The list on the side of this box shows that the outdoors was not only seen through windows. Two outside "rooms" were produced too, a playground for children and a garden with a barbeque:
In 1974 the "combibox system“ was launched on the market. With a few basic elements the children could create countless new combinations of furniture.
Here are the bedroom and bathroom, but the kitchen or living room cupboard elements differed only by colour.
Red, a fashionable colour in the 1970s
The mid-seventies were economically difficult for the German toy industry because of low-prized imports from the Far East. Modella developed many new interesting room boxes like a supermarket, a cafeteria, a surgery, a hospital room which are all very rare by now.
1975 Caféteria (49 x 16 x 16 cm) (Photo: VEDES catalogue 1975)
The price list hanging on the right wall (Photo: eBay)
Surgery (Photo: VEDES catalogue 1975)
Hospital (above), and below, detail of the hospital instruments
But all innovative efforts were in vain. In 1976 the firm was sold because of financial difficulties and by 1978 another German firm for plastic toys, Hermann Wader in Radevormwald, was producing the room boxes with the old Modella logo and under the name of Paul Kerkmann. I do not know when production definitely ended.
However, some of the die-casting machines, molds and/or the patents must have been sold to Spain because around 1970 Modella dolls furniture and room boxes were made in Barcelona under the trademark “Modisa”. They introduced an additional dolls family – called “The Hogarins” - with a modern dolls house – “Villa Hogarin” - that went fine with the Modella furniture. But at the end of the 1970s the production in Spain also ended.
Sources: When not indicated otherwise the photos are from the German Toy journal “Das Spielzeug” and from my collection. © diepuppenstubensammlerin April 2011