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Toy Story: 1923

December 26, 1923. Washington, D.C. "Madame Prochnik, Christmas." Gretchen Prochnik, wife of the Austrian charge d'affaires, and children. View full size.

December 26, 1923. Washington, D.C. "Madame Prochnik, Christmas." Gretchen Prochnik, wife of the Austrian charge d'affaires, and children. View full size.


On Shorpy:
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More Prochnik, Please

See Mrs. Prochnik in her glory:

Me and My Drum

My uncle gave me a drum for Christmas when I was about this boy's age. My parents never forgave him.

Madame Prochnik's and her Ornaments

As I recall, several months ago we saw another picture of Madame Prochnik and her ornaments:

To me, both she and her children look quite different in the two photos.

The Brown Mansion

According to two New York Tribune articles, the Prochnik family lived in the Embassy, which in after 1922 was at 1851 Wyoming Avenue, just around the corner from Columbia Road. The fortress-like Promenade apartment building now occupies the area. It was described the previous decade as the Brown Mansion, when it was the home of President Wilson's Secretary of the Navy (Josephus Daniels) and his wife Addie. The room in the photo matches the Nov. 14, 1915 Washington Post description of a fourth-floor ballroom, which it said had been "converted some time ago into a theater suitable for amateur theatricals." Although it changed hands in 1915 for $35,000, an display ad in the Post during the first week of the Harding Administration offered it for $15,000 in cash. Before Austria could acquire it, Prochnik needed to sell off the former Austro-Hungarian embassy and divide the proceeds between Hungary and Austria.


The accordion-like musical instrument in the foreground is very similar or identical to the one held by Margaret, the little girl in another photo (Deck the Halls: 1920.) The little girl on the left is holding a Patsy doll: I know it well, having named my Boston terrier after the googly eyed, square-faced little dear.

Many Thanks

I'm very grateful to Shorpy commenter jsmakbkr for the link to Life Magazine. What you delivered was a treasure trove of 1939 ads that I found much more interesting than the Prochniks.

Unexpected design

Nice sans serif typeface on the blocks.


This is all well and good but where is Krampus?

The oldest girl (seated)

is thinking: "Look at all the loot they got, and all I got was this dumb book!

Antiques Roadshow

A toy car exactly like the large one in this photo was on Antiques Roadshow once. I don't recall what the auction estimate was, but I think it was in the 2 to 3 thousand range. I do remember that the steering wheel moves the tires and the doors open and close. The woman - a younger woman and not the original owner - said when she was a kid she would sit on it and ride it down the sidewalk. The thing is heavy and built to last. I bet the Jungle Adventure Petting Zoo would sell for a pretty penny today if you could find a complete set.


The silhouette-embellished curtains cleverly match the wall decorations, but they're ugly as sin. They look like bath towels with a silly little valance between them.

Deb in the making

The table manners that Madame Prochnik was teaching the youngest pair (two-year old Patricia and Edgar Jr., seated at the table) would ultimately help Patricia become Washington's top debutante of the 1939-40 season, and the subject of a major profile in Life Magazine ( The mother of jazz vocalist Stephanie Nakasian, Patricia passed away in 1996.

If she knew then...

One wonders where those adorable children were, 20 years hence.

Mannequin stare

Mom is thinking about the next performance her little girls will have on that stage behind her.

A small fortune...

is represented by the collectables in this image! Dad must have been in the Austrian Navy to outfit the kids with those neat uniforms. Twins in the middle, I presume from the haircuts. The children have their own theater built in to the room's wall as well. Cool! Mom? She looks a bit peeved at something that can only be guessed. Any idea who the photographer was? Pro, or Daddy?

What's behind the curtain?

Is that a small stage behind the curtain? It's interesting to see what the upper-class were buying their children at that time. I like that metal toy car, too. I bet they were sorry about that drum after a couple of weeks, though.

Yes she has the mannequin pose down very well

Little boy looks like he'd much rather be playing with his new drum or toy car than posing with sister and her tea set!

My Favorite Things

They look like the von Trapp family, pre-Maria.

Expensive toys

I'd like to see that toy car on Antiques Roadshow to see what its worth today. And tinsel. Nobody really does tinsel anymore. I guess its too much work and you would find it in the house months later. But our Christmas trees always looked super loaded with tinsel when I was a young boy.

A little child shall lead them

Ah, the lead tinsel has arrived! Yay! We were only allowed to hang -- never sling -- the tinsel one strand at a time. The best part, then, was taking down the tree and getting to wad up the tinsel into great, heavy balls of lead (slung at fellow siblings).

I find it unfortunate that Madame Prochnik's tunic is so very unflattering. It just hangs on her. But that was the style at the moment. I'd choose the sailor suit over that frock any day.


Shouldn't Captain von Trapp be blowing his whistle???


I guess it was fashionable in 1923 to bunch your hair up into a wad and balance it on your forehead. (See also: Is Your Child Healthy?)

Love this Room

I love this tree. I like the style of long limbs with a lot of space in between with garland strung across. If I had a tree it would look like this.

I also love the stencils on the wall that are also on the curtains.. What a fantastic room!


How are these youngsters possibly going to keep themselves occupied and happy for very long? Not one of their toys plugs into the wall or runs on a battery! Such deprivation our forebears endured! (By the way, what on earth is that backdrop behind the tree? It looked at first to be a stage and a proscenium arch, but it appears on closer inspection to be only two-dimensional.)


The kids look real and alive, and awash in toys, but Madame Prochnik looks like a figure from a wax museum. This is a fascinating photograph. What is that behind her? Looks like a small stage, although the roll-down curtain appears to be unfortunately water-stained. I love the stenciled nymphs near the top of the wall, and the fact they are repeated on the curtain bottoms. Ms. P was big on nymphs, evidently. And, we have seen a number of real Christmas trees in recent Shorpy photos. Today's cultivated, pruned, fertilized, and pesticided "real" trees are just too phony perfect. Looks like a good Christmas, if only Gretchen would lighten up.

Are the arms movable?

Madame Prochnik looks like a real doll, as it were. Another ratty tree, but a great toy car.

Worlds apart

Such fortunate little children. They're just worlds away from our memorable Shorpy, aren't they? I bet that room is very colourful and the tree is beautiful!

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