Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Flora Gill Jacobs, Serendipity and A Prepared Mind

Serendipity: Accidentally finding something wonderful while not looking for it.  Adriana Law

One of my first encounters with an expert in collectible dolls' houses and miniatures was Flora Gill Jacobs. I purchased her first book early on in my miniature collecting days, back in the early 80's.  And although her books focus on antique dolls' houses, skimming the book was certainly an education in the history of miniatures.

In fact, I was delighted to discover the existence of a primitive doll house made in the 1700's right here in the Bronx via Flora's book. The house was adorable in the photo so I made my way to the  Van Cortlandt Mansion Museum where the doll house was stored in the house's attic at that time. The guard let me behind the rope to measure the house and see all sides and I recreated the house in miniature. That would never happen today. The house has been moved into the children's room since the trust spruced up the place some time since I saw it. The day I went the place was empty and no one seemed to care much, probably because NYC was in financial trouble. Come to think of it, back then most museums were empty because the city was considered a dangerous one. Now they are mobbed, so I guess I miss those dangerous days.
This is a shot of the house taken from the museum's website video. 
So that was my relationship with Flora. I knew she owned a museum, The Washington Dolls' House and Toy Museum,  dedicated to antique toys, dolls and dolls' houses and unfortunately I never went to visit.  I was not really interested in antique miniatures and had seen plenty here and in the UK.  But of course, I met Flora at miniature shows and purchased one of her children's books for my daughter.

I managed to purchase several lots from the Adell Venus Estate auction (which btw, had one of the van Cortlandt miniature doll houses of mine) and in among the lots I wanted were quite a few antique pieces which I did not want, so on eBay they went. Clueless as to what they were I was shocked at the prices the pieces garnered. Shocked. And happy.

So while everyone was in Chicago at the big miniature show in April this year, I was sitting at my computer or on an iPad watching the Flora Gill Jacobs Auction of her personal collection presented by Noel Barrett. The stuff I recognized as desirable went for out of my budget  prices as I was buying for resale so did not want to overspend.  I knew that those who know were watching that auction and buying. And some affordable lots slipped way because my internet bid did not go through.

Nevertheless, I managed to secure a few lots and will certainly keep a few things since they came out of such an historic collection. Below are some photos of my wins.

Early Kitchen with ceramic and pewter accessories - late 19th early 20th Century
Early German Bathroom Set

Cleaning Brush Holder

This is a bin for onions, so says the lettering in German
The above items are from a German tin kitchen possibly made by the Marklin company.
These are much larger than the usual 1:12 scale items we are used to today and I think the kitchens came in a variety of sizes. After awhile the charm of these very old miniatures, made to be playthings start to grow on you. While I will resist with all my might, I would not mind having an antique doll house filled with these captivating miniatures.  I do love antiques because there is so much wonder in imagining who used them and what their lives were like and that certainly applies to dolls' houses.

"In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind." Louis Pasteur.

While luck was not always with me I was aware of those pieces I discovered to be desirable by collectors and did catch a few. While not hysterically profitable, those early porcelain pieces do fairly well possibly because they got lost over time. They are kind of clunky and crude but again, charming.

Below is an actual working oil lamp. Imagine giving that to a child today? You'd be arrested for child endangerment. (And I'll bet not a few doll houses caught on fire.)

Ernst Plank Painted Tin Wash Stand C. 1890

Tobacco Rug - Cigarette Premium c. 1900
 I know those tobacco rugs are very easy to come by but the several I got are the first I have ever handled. They are actually quite nice.

My favorite lot of all is the desk set below. This one is definitely 1:12 scale and reminds me of the set found in Queen Mary's Doll House in Windsor Castle. I know nothing about it except its wonderful and hopefully from that time period. The calendar is not part of the set, but at one time lived its life as a key chain. It works, too.

I would appreciate any information about these items. While Flora wrote extensively about the antique dolls' houses she discovered she left very little information regarding the furnishings and accessories.


  1. Patricia, although I do not really care for antique dolls houses-like viewing them, but certainly not collecting, not to mention they would be way out of my budget :) - , one of the reasons I do love dolls houses is that I am simply happy to play with them ! My favourite houses (among my own ones, that is) are the Cat Ladies' house and my infamous robbers' pub, called the highwaymen.

    I think,,btw, several of the German minis could be roughly 1/10, as would be more suitable in a country using the metric system ?


    1. I don't collect them either, Elly. But there is something about them that is compelling.

  2. Hello Patricia,
    You purchased some great items. they are so rich with character.
    Big hug,

    1. Thanks for commenting, Giac. Btw, I am just reading the article about your magnificent house in Miniature Collector. You are amazing taking that on to that level right out of the gate.

    2. Beautiful collection! I love the tobacco rug---

  3. i love most of the pieces you got. one of a kind for sure on some