Q: I am wondering what you could tell me about this set of ivory miniature furniture. I think my grandmother might have received it from a San Francisco family she worked for as a nanny around World War I. The family may have given it away because it had the name of a German town on the little easel. A few of the pieces are broken because they have been through a few earthquakes. Any information would be appreciated.
A: Your pieces are not made from any kind of ivory. Instead, these pieces were carved from bone — probably good old bovine bones of some nature.
How do we know this? Close inspection revealed telltale dark specks on the lid and inside divisions of the miniature sewing table. This is really all we needed to see to know the pieces of dollhouse furniture are bone, probably carved in India during the time of the British Raj (1858-1947). We believe this particular set is circa 1900.
The set appears to consist of the aforementioned easel and sewing table complete with tiny sewing implements inside, plus a bookcase/cabinet filled with books and whatnots, a sofa, two side chairs, a table and a piano with sheet music. We do see damage and losses, but we also see the bookcase/cabinet contains several of the small lopped-off appendages and we hope this means that repair would not be all that difficult for a professional.
To us, one of the more interesting of the pieces is the easel with a photograph (not shown above), which appears to be of the German spa town of Bad Neuenahr (now Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler). Specifically, we think the picture may be of the Thermal Badehaus und Kurhaus, a building in Bad Neuenahr that dates to 1900.
The picture we have of the easel is fuzzy, but we think we see the distinctive fountain out front of the Thermal Badehaus. But we could be mistaken. In any event, the photograph appears to be a small single panel from a stereo view of Bad Neuenahr and suggests the set might have been a souvenir from the famous spa town.
This type of Anglo/Indian bone furniture with its filigree components is not unique and pieces do turn up from time to time. But the added element of the photograph on the easel makes the set somewhat more interesting and desirable to collectors. You should value your set for retail purposes in the range of $800 to $1,000.
Q: I have enclosed photos of a doll that was my mother’s as a child. She was born in 1918, so I think this doll would have been purchased in the early 1920s. It has a trademark on its hip that informs me this is a Chase doll. It is 14 inches tall and has clothes consisting of pantaloons, chemise, dress, socks, shoes and a crocheted sweater. I do not know how many of these items are original. Any information would be appreciated.
A: This is indeed a Martha Jenks Chase doll, and we agree it was probably made in the 1920s. Chase was a doctor’s wife living in Pawtucket, R.I., and a competent seamstress. She had some progressive ideas and felt the dolls available to children during the late 19th century were too fragile and too heavy.
Chase also disliked the mechanical dolls of the time because she thought they diminished children’s use of their innate imagination. She also disliked the popular “fashion” dolls because it was Chase’s opinion that they imparted a materialistic point of view.
In 1889 (some sources say 1899) Chase started a doll-making “factory” in a building in her backyard that became known as the “Dolls’ House.” Chase’s dolls were made from stockinette (a cotton knit material usually used to make undergarments). The material was stiffened with sizing and then hand painted with insoluble paint so the dolls could be washed when they got dirty.
The dolls were stuffed with soft cotton (instead of sawdust), and she reportedly had molds made from bisque doll heads that could be used to form her doll’s heads. The dolls could be purchased either dressed or undressed. They were soft, lightweight and perfect for doll play that would exercise a child’s imagination.
Around 1905, Chase introduced character dolls meant to represent such characters as George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, various characters from Dickens and “Alice in Wonderland.” Chase died in 1925, but her family continued making dolls into the 1970s.
Your doll is a typical Chase baby and is appropriately dressed. It appears to be in very good condition and should be valued at retail in the $250 to $350 range. Word of warning: Beware of Chase reproductions made in China.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.