Back Back

A Little Light

A warmly lit room evokes a sense of cozy belonging and safety. It’s staggering to think of how large an effect the discovery of artificial light has had on the development of our species. It allowed the activities of life to pass the boundaries the natural daylight, improved the ability to perform work indoors, and prompted technological developments that went on to broaden human possibilities in many other ways. The most ancient lamps were simple stone bowls that could burn vegetable or animal fats, these lamps progressed to clay lamps, metal, and eventually glass. Candles of natural waxes were developed and reflective sconces and chandeliers magnified the candle’s glow. The development of the electric light began in 1802 when Humphry Davy created the first electric light bulb. Thomas Alva Edison’s improvements in electric lighting with his incandescent light bulb pushed the world further into a new age of home and industrial lighting.

As collectors know, toys reflect and record the history of the world and dollhouses abound with a broad range of lighting fixtures both of the times in which they were created or of the past as miniature room settings look back to earlier times and styles. The cabinets and houses for adult collectors of miniatures of the 16th through 18th centuries included candlesticks and candle chandeliers to complete their room settings. By the 19th century dollhouses were moving more toward the nursery and many European toy companies began to offer specialized dollhouse furnishings. These items include candle holders of many designs.  German makers such as F.W. Gerlach which offered pewter miniature candle fixtures and Erhard & Söhne who made ormolu (metal gilded with gold-tone) fixtures in a wide range of styles both offered their products throughout the 19th  century and into the 20th. Many large companies and smaller artisan studios continued to offer candlesticks and other candle fixtures through the remainder of the 20th century and on to the present for miniature enthusiasts to employ in recreating dollhouses and room settings of any era.

German toy companies such as Gerlach, Erhard & Söhne and Märklin, among many others, made miniature chandeliers and lamps in virtually every style imaginable. Photos courtesy of Ruby Lane shops Lorna’s Dolls and Collectibles, Albion Manor, Karen’s Dollhouse Shop, and 2BethsDolls.

By the later years of the 19th century electric light was coming into real life and dollhouses were not far behind. In America Tynietoy of Providence RI, which began offering its line of dollhouses and furnishings in a limited way in the late 1910s (first appearing in the city business directory in 1920) offered its dollhouses in both electrified and non-electrified versions. The company also offered a range of floor and table lamps for their houses which again came electrified or non-electrified.

Toy companies such as Schoenhut of Philadelphia offered wooden furnishings including lamps, for their dollhouses from 1928 to 1934. These room sets included non-electrified lamps. Other makers of wooden dollhouse lamps through the 1940s and ’50s included Kage Company of Manchester, CT., Rapaport Bros. of Chicago’s Nancy Forbes line, and Strombeck-Becker Manufacturing of Moline, IL. Many of these products were sold through the catalogs of companies such as Sears, Montgomery Ward and Spiegel.  British and German-made dollhouse lamps and other lighting fixtures were available in the American market as well during this period.

The cottage industry Tynietoy offered floor and table lamps with turned wooden bases. These can be found with hand-painted or printed shades. The variety of methods for hanging the shades on the lamps can be seen here, the company also offered electrified versions of their lamps.
Dowst Manufacturing of Chicago, Illinois was the maker of the metal dollhouse furniture known to the world as Tootsie Toy. Many of the dollhouses on the market during the 1920s and 30s were a small scall and Tootsietoy’s ½” to 1′ pieces were a perfect match for these houses. The company updated its furniture styles periodically to keep up with changing trends in home décor and their lamps can be found in a variety of styles.
Wooden dollhouse furniture, including lamps were tremendously popular in the 1930s. Shown here (L to R) are a floor lamp by Schoenhut, German-made table lamps, and a Kage floor lamp (some Kage lamps used metal poles with wooden bases and shades). Photos courtesy of Ruby Lane Shops Curley Creek Antiques & Collectibles and A Home for Dolly.
19th and 20th century companies offered styles of candle holders that emulated the forms found in real-life. L to R: Elaborate pewter candelabras, probably German in origin (photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Fun City), wooden candlesticks by Tynietoy of RI, soft metal candlesticks from the 1920s/30s, illustration page from the 1925 Tootsie Toy catalog showing a variety of candle holders, a post-WWII soft metal wall-mounted candle-sconce marked Made In West Germany, and two metal candelabras, the one on the left is more deeply molded and much heavier in weight indicating it is probably of European manufacture ca. 1920s or 30s while the example on the right is much lighter and less sharply molded suggesting it is of the type sold by Shackman in the 1960s – ’80s.

Moving into the late 1940s and on to the ’50s and ’60s some wooden dollhouse lamps continued to be offered but metal dollhouses filled with hard plastic (and later soft plastic or vinyl) furnishing became the popular toys of their time. Companies such as Louis Marx & Co. (NYC), Ideal (NY), the Superior line by T Cohn Inc (Brooklyn, NY), Renwal Manufacturing Co. (Mineloa, LI, NY), and the Wolverine Supply and Manufacturing Company (Pittsburgh, PA, later known as Wolverine Toy Company) are just a few of the entries into that market. The lamp styles used in these metal houses of time capsules of mid-20th century design.

Strombeck Becker Manufacturing Company added dollhouse furniture to its line of wooden toys in 1931. Their pieces were simply made but effective representations of the full-scale household goods they were inspired by. Painted wooden candle sets such as those on the left would fit into many styles of dollhouse décor. The Modern Sunroom lamps are very cool and were available in the late 1940s to early ’50s.Strombecker made various lines of dollhouse items in scales of 1″ to 1′ and ¾” to 1′. From the early 1950s on the company moved into making wooden furniture in larger scales to accommodate the popular 8″ and 10.5 – 11″ dolls that came along. Lamps courtesy of Ruby Lane shop A Home for Dolly.
Many 20th century European manufacturers included dollhouse lighting in their lines. Frank & Kahlert of Brenz, West Germany was established in 1947. They offered battery- powered lights in a variety of styles through the remainder of the 20th century and are still in business today. Their mid-century modern designs are especially sought by today’s collectors. Photos courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Choses Necessaires Antiques.
 In the late 1940s plastic dollhouse furnishings came into prominence. Sets such as the Renwal Jolly Twins living room included well-molded table and floor lamps (photo courtesy of Ruby Lane Shop Fourty Fifty Sixty), other companies such as Louis Marx & Co. would include lamps in their sets throughout the 1950s and into the early ’60s.

In the 1970s interest in collecting miniatures and building dollhouses experienced a resurgence in popularity. Adult collectors clamored for lighting details to complete dollhouses and room boxes of all periods imaginable. Everything from candles to working electric lighting poured onto the market from both established companies such as the import firm of Shackman of NY which offered recreations of many dollhouse candelabras, oil lamps and other furnishing from the 19th century.  Miniature artisans established organizations such as the International Guild of Miniature Artisans (IGMA) and the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts (NAME) to bring their highly detailed miniature lighting pieces to a broad market and to further promote the hobby of miniature collecting.

 In the mid-1970s adult connoisseurs, following in the footsteps of the collectors of earlier centuries, were once again pursuing an interest in miniatures. Dollhouse shops sprang up nationwide, miniatures organizations flourished and miniature shows took off. Many companies offered light fixtures in a wide range of styles. Seen here are a few of the types of lamps offered by Handley House/Miniature House, based in Fort Worth, TX. 
Clare-Bell Brass Works began making high quality brass miniatures in 1975. Their line included many types of dollhouse lighting fixtures ranging from simple candlesticks to electrified hanging fixtures and lamps in a range of styles. This company has changed hands over the years and the current owner is on the verge of retirement. The candlesticks seen here were based on life-sized pieces found in Colonial Williamsburg.
Beginning in 1979 Lew and Barbara Kummerow began offering their high-quality 1″ to 1′ scale recreations of antique lamps (and other products) to collectors. Their electric lamps inspired by the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany are still highly prized. Photo courtesy of Ron Rhoads Auctions.
Many cottage industries and individual artisans made wonderful dollhouse lamps in both electrified and non-electrified versions. Ni-Glo Lamps by Nicole, of Hamburg, NY, sold lovely porcelain and brass lamps with 12-volt grain-of-wheat bulbs. The company owner Nicole Minnick made her pieces well into the 21st century, company catalog images shown are from 1988.  

Dollhouses for child play and for collectors continue to be of great interest a quarter of the way into the 21st century and the miniature candles, chandeliers, and lamps of the past 2 centuries are the perfect way to add a little light to any miniature setting.

Author – Linda Edward


Patty Cooper & George Mundorf  Kage Dollhouse Furniture1938 – 1948., 2016

Flora Gill Jacobs A History of Dolls‘ Houses. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953

Vivien Greene Family Dolls’ Houses. Newton: Charles T Branford Co, 1975

Schoenhut Collectors Club 1930 Schoenhut Catalog Reprint, 1996

Dee Snyder, various articles for her column the Collectibles in Nutshell News magazine, 1987 thru 1990

Dian Zillner American Dollhouses and Furniture. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing,1995

Dian Zillner & Patty Cooper Antique & Collectible Dollhouses and Their Furnishings. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing,1998

Dian Zillner Dollhouse & Furniture Advertising 1880s – 1980s. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2004