Doctor's keen eye for dollhouses built exquisite collection


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Whether she bought an intricately carved, mirrored oak sideboard for her dining room or a Moritz Gottschalk dollhouse, Dr. Danna Clack demonstrated a consistently keen eye for quality.

A West Virginia native who began visiting antiques shops and thrift stores while still in college, Dr. Clack had a passion that blossomed in the 1990s for collecting dollhouses, circuses, theaters, forts and castles. After a while, her collection occupied so much space that she could not host Thanksgiving dinner.

During the past two decades, the Squirrel Hill woman amassed "an encyclopedic collection of examples of every major dollhouse producer from the 19th century through the 1970s," said Matthew Roper, who researches and writes catalogs for Dargate Auction Galleries in Point Breeze.

Dr. Clack died in September at age 67, and her collection will be auctioned Saturday at Dargate. Among the 300 lots are more than 50 dollhouses, 10 doll schools, 10 theaters, and another 10 forts or castles. In addition to dollhouse accessories, there are miniature German theaters with cut-out characters and a miniature Spanish and British theater. Some include the printed text of plays.

"The German one has Shakespeare printed in German. Thank God I studied German," Mr. Roper said.

The auction begins at 10 a.m., but the dollhouses will come up for sale between noon and 1 p.m.

Meliza Jackson, a neighbor and fellow collector who accompanied Dr. Clack to many auctions, said the physician was "intellectually curious, creative and a terrific synthesizer of knowledge."

Her friend, Mrs. Jackson added, "was interested in Punch and Judy, the still popular British Victorian puppet show featuring Mr. Punch and his wife. The day she bought the vintage puppet set was like a reunion. It was almost as if she had brought home some long-lost relatives that happened to be a foot tall."

Early in her career, Dr. Clack worked as a research physician at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In the 1970s, she returned to the United States, where she taught ambulatory medicine for 10 years at West Virginia University. In 1981, she and her family moved to Pittsburgh.

Between 1981 and June of 1995, she served as the physician for the city of Pittsburgh, evaluating the health of firefighters and police officers, as well as running drug tests on employees of other government agencies and utilities.

When she was not working, Dr. Clack attended sales at Royal York Auction Gallery, Constantine & Mayer and also bought many treasures over the Internet.

One item sure to attract interest is a Moritz Gottschalk dollhouse made in 1910 with lace-curtained windows and ornamental grillework. The front of the home opens to reveal wallpapered rooms.

This particular dollhouse appears in a 2000 catalog of the Gottschalk production company's work, Mr. Roper said. There's even a Gottschalk stable for sale, made in 1898, that features decorative finials.

A national toy company called McLoughlin Bros. made a folding dollhouse in the 1880s with four rooms.

"Each of the four rooms folds down into a 12-by-12[-inch] square. It's in amazingly good condition," Mr. Roper said of Lot 1419.

A lifelong learner, Dr. Clack wanted to know the history of the items she acquired.

"She had a deep love for the toys in particular," said her youngest son, Andrew Clack, 31, a doctoral student studying molecular biology at the University of McMaster in Hamilton, Ontario.

Dr. Clack was ethical and unpretentious, he said, recalling that his mother once responded to a newspaper ad placed by a woman who clearly did not know the value of what she was selling. Dr. Clack met with the woman and educated her about the value of those goods, which fetched several hundred dollars.

Of course, dollhouses must be furnished. So, the auction includes whole tray lots of miniature toilets and sinks, cast-iron stoves, crystal chandeliers, German tin kitchens, upright and grand pianos, cloisonne vases, pots and pans, Jell-O molds, tea sets, cuckoo clocks, mantel clocks, lacquered Japanese bowls, Limoges platters and books.

Dr. Clack met her Australian husband, Lindsay, in Scotland at a Thanksgiving dinner. He called her Swan, her maiden name, and she called him Clack. The couple met while both attended the University of Edinburgh.

In public, Lindsay Clack, former director of the Pittsburgh (now National) Aviary, often rolled his eyes at his wife's devotion to dollhouses, Andy Clack said.

But behind closed doors, on several occasions, Lindsay Clack told his son, "No one on this Earth works harder and is more deserving of her 'fun time' than your mother."

Dr. Clack's collection includes dollhouses and a circus made by Schoenhut, a Philadelphia company.

"Their circuses are very valuable," Mr. Roper said. "This circus, with its figures and animals and canvas tent, with the original lid, will probably sell for between $2,000 and $3,000."

There's also a fine example of a Tootsietoy dollhouse -- a Spanish mansion from the 1930s with its original box, instructions and all of the furniture for its five rooms. It was silk-screened on cardboard.

"One sold several years ago for $2,700," Mr. Roper said.

To see the dollhouse collection, go to www.dargate.com.


Marylynne Pitz may be reached at 412-263-1648 or mpitz@post-gazette.com .


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