PHILADELPHIA — Bernard Paul claims to sell more houses than anybody else in the world. Actually, more than 250,000 a year.
"It's true, absolutely," he said, a smile wrinkling his face as he sat behind a cluttered desk, surrounded by authentic models of his houses.
What the 57-year-old Paul sells are look-alike models--"true to every minute detail, down to the individual brick and stone work" he insists--of some of America's most famous buildings.
All come in kit form, exquisitely detailed and painted, ready to be assembled on the lot of the purchaser's choosing, usually around a model train layout, on a living room mantel or a knickknack shelf on the etagere.
New Brownstone Houses
Paul is president of International Hobby Corp., and his newest real estate includes a series of brownstone houses like the ones that were the rage in the early 1900s.
Paul's buildings come in sizes ranging from 2 1/2 inches to 10 inches high, and up to 5 inches wide. He can't believe how popular these miniatures have grown.
"They are made of high-impact styrene, which is a top quality plastic, and have intricately detailed doors, windows, balconies, fire escapes, chimneys, whatever goes on the outside of a home," he said.
"It is a rapidly growing hobby, not only for men and boys who have long been into railroading, but now for women and girls.
Place on Trees
"We've uncovered a market which we didn't know existed when we started designing and manufacturing the homes nearly a decade ago. Enthusiasm in 1986 was so great when it became a big fad to hang them on, or put them under, Christmas trees, that we believe we will sell over a million homes this year."
Prices run between $5 to $12 for each house.
"Hey, where can you buy a prime piece of real estate for that kind of dough?" Paul joked, picking up a house sitting on his desk and proudly pointing out its authentic American features. Many of the houses can be hooked together to make a complete street.
Among the buildings he's peddling are:
Secondhand Rose: a used clothing store and residence with awnings, outdoor signs, a side display bay window, stairs, railings, mail boxes, skylight and even a fireplug in front.
Grant Cary's Apothecary: Colonial style with a diagonal corner for the store doors, roof shed, pigeon coop and detailed interior painting.
Model Smoke Shop
South Street Smoke Shop: complete with a miniature wooden Indian.
Also, a Colonial church, an old gas station, Luigi's Italian restaurant, a courthouse, Society Hill town house, barn with silo, lumber mill, windmill pumping station, and firehouse with engines.
Besides buildings, Paul is one of America's major suppliers of model railroads.