They don’t make ’em like that anymore…do they?

Published February 28, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Today was a bit different.  Most of my day–before the rest got cancelled due to snow–was gluing together broken dollhouse furniture at the museum.

What happened was that at some point in time, these individual miniature rooms had been donated to the museum.  The rooms were all assembled in the 1970s (the original owner wrote her initials and the date on many of the pieces) and I don’t know specifically when they were donated to the museum.  Possibly about 2004, given that was their accession number.  (LOL, yeah, that’s probably when it was, then huh?)  Aaaaaactually, I should have told this story differently.  (Yes, I would be horrible at telling long-winded jokes.)

So, to start over, some time ago, I made my first visit to the museum’s outside storage unit.  (I may have mentioned that at the time?)  One of the things we brought back from the storage unit was a bag of loose dollhouse furniture, because we’re putting up an exhibit of dollhouses.  But it wasn’t until yesterday that I started going through that bag of furniture.  The reason I started going through it was that I noticed a “glass” cabinet inside, with loose dishes rattling around between its shelves.  This made the toy collector in me (and former dollhouse enthusiast) just about die, so I had to rescue that cabinet pronto.  And as I did, I noticed a lot of other nice furniture in there in dire peril.

That just would not do.

So I asked for permission to start going through the bag and getting stuff out and ready for use in the display.  Since the display needs to be finished by the middle of next week, my request was enthusiastically granted.

There were a surprising number of pieces inside that didn’t need any work at all, despite having been thrown in a bag and left in the storage unit for possibly as much as ten years.  (I don’t have the precise details.)  As I was working, I noticed a number of them had accession numbers on them, so during my lunch break–or rather, in my “I’m stuck now so I’ll wait until lunch gets here break”–I looked some of those numbers up in the computer.  (Though it’s probably clear by context, I’ll just go ahead and explain–just in case–that an accession number is the catalog number used to identify an item in the catalog, whether on the analog card catalog or in the computer.  It always starts with a year, which is usually the year in which the item entered the museum’s collection.)

Most of the items had one of about half a dozen accession numbers, which had felt like a danger sign all along, but it did make looking things up easier.  What I came up with was those individual miniature rooms I mentioned at the beginning of the story.  Their status was listed as “de-accessioned” and the only notes I could find on them was a note from 2005 indicating that the glue that had been used on them was starting to give way, so the items would need periodic upkeep.  (I’m assuming that was the glue holding the individual pieces of furniture in place, but the note wasn’t terribly specific.)  I don’t know when the rooms were officially considered no longer part of the collection, or precisely why, and no one else did, either.  (Perhaps the director, who doesn’t work most weekends might know, but I suspect it pre-dates her time as director.  Seems the ship was not sailed very efficiently before she came on board.)

But apparently when they decided they didn’t want the rooms anymore, they decided to keep the furniture, and just bunged it all in that bag.  They even pulled the chandeliers out of the ceilings and threw them in the bag, too.  Even the one that was made entirely out of glass.

Of course, the worst part of all this is that when the dollhouse exhibit comes back down, then someone (probably me) will have to individually re-accession every single piece of that furniture, giving it a proper entry in the computer, with detailed description, measurements, photo, the whole works.

But that wasn’t what I actually wanted to talk about.  I wanted to talk about the furniture itself.

See, yesterday, I found the pieces that needed no improvement, and the ones that needed only tiny repairs.  Today, I started work on the things that needed a lot of work.

We’re talking chairs that had been reduced to a collection of spindly things.  That level of work.

Well, okay, actually, that’s the low point, and I didn’t do much of that today.  Mostly I was working on the mid-level stuff.  Tables that had lost two or three legs, dressers and shelving units missing a foot or two, chairs or sofas that had only lost one or two legs, that kind of thing.  (Probably the coolest thing I did was to glue the blades back on a pair of miniature ice skates.  That was all kinds of awesome.  Difficult, but awesome.)

But towards the end, I was working on reassembling chairs that had nearly entirely fallen apart.  (And I was using wood glue, which takes about half an hour to gain any decent hold, meaning that I had to try to find ways to prop things in position, because I couldn’t sit there just holding a single piece until the glue set.  I needed several dozen teeny tiny vices or clamps to put them in, really, but I have no idea where I’d get such things.  And they’d probably be expensive.)

The thing is, though, that these chairs and things for the most part hadn’t broken.  Their glue had come unglued, but the original pieces tended to be intact.  Trying to re-glue things that had been glued however many decades ago (at least 4, but who knows how many more it might have been for some of them?) really made me appreciate the work that must have gone into making them in the first place.

Especially when I tried to stand up one of the chairs I had re-constructed, and it turned out all wobbly because I’d gotten the back legs glued on wrong.

Now, admittedly, the people originally making them would have had the proper equipment, and probably had a better glue to use.  (Ordinary, every-day, run-of-the-mill wood glue glopped out onto a torn scrap of paper as a palette and then applied with a toothpick has to be wrong on pretty much every count.)

But it still made me think “Wow, whoever made this was really good; this is really hard to do.  Too bad they just don’t make ’em like this anymore.”

Of course, then it hit me that I have no idea if that’s actually true.

We used to have a dollhouse shop around here, a really first-rate one, but it was closed down back when I was in high school.  Something about someone selling counterfeit Rolexes in the back room, or stolen ones, or something.  I don’t know.  It was more than twenty years ago, and by the time the story reached me, it was only a rumor anyway.  It’s just that since then, there hasn’t really been a good place to go to get dollhouse furniture.  (Though I shouldn’t really say that.  I drive home past a store-in-a-former-house that has “Dollhouses” written in huge letters all over it, it’s just that I would feel awkward going in, because you know I’d be the only customer in there, and who knows what they sell and if it’s any good, but if I was the only there I’d feel compelled to buy something, and…yeah, it’s awkward.)

Anyway, my point is just that I don’t really know the current state of dollhouse furniture manufacture these days.  I kind of doubt that dollhouses get much play anymore.  Or rather, I think they’re primarily “miniature houses” for adult collectors now.  I think the ones for kids are more blocky, chunky things for the very small, or they’re plastic, factory made stuff for fashion dolls.  (Though as I do collect fashion dolls, I can honestly say that if I had more money and waaaaaaay more space, I would probably buy some of the Monster High…well, they’re not so much dollhouses as doll schools, but whatever.  They’re actually pretty cool, as far as I can tell.  Just huge and expensive, and I’m exceptionally short on space, and pretty short on money.)

Fair warning:  you may hear more in the future about trying to glue dollhouse chairs back together.  There were a lot of them left unfinished when I left today, and I’m not likely to give up on them.  In part because I feel badly for the donor–I’m sure she expected that her miniatures would be well taken care of in a museum’s collection–and in part because it’s just plain going to annoy me if I don’t re-assemble as many of them as I possibly can.  I’m a completionist in the weirdest ways sometimes.

Besides, if I don’t, then what used to be nice miniature chairs will instead forever more remain miniature firewood.

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