A dollhouse or dollhouse is a miniature homemade toy. Since the early 20th century, dollhouses have been primarily the domain of children, but their collection and making are also a pastime for many adults.
English speakers in North America commonly use the term dollhouse, but in the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries, the term is dollhouse (or, less typically, dollhouse ).
Today’s dollhouses trace their history back some four hundred years to the showcases of European baby houses, which featured idealized interiors. More miniature dollhouses with more realistic exteriors appeared in Europe in the eighteenth century. Early dollhouses were all handmade, but they were increasingly mass-produced after the Industrial Revolution and World War II and became more standardized and affordable. Dollhouses can range from simple boxes stacked together as playrooms, to multi-million dollar structures displayed in museums.
Contemporary children’s play dollhouses are primarily on the 1:18 (or 2/3 “) scale while the 1:12 (or 1”) scale is familiar for dollhouses made for adult collectors.
Miniature houses, furnished with household items and resident inhabitants, both people and animals, have been built for thousands of years. The earliest known examples were found in Egyptian tombs of the Old Kingdom, created nearly five thousand years ago. It is almost certain that these wooden models of servants, furniture, boats, livestock, and pets placed in the pyramids were made for religious purposes.
The earliest known European dollhouses were the 16th-century baby houses, which consisted of stained glass showcases made up of individual rooms. The term “baby” in the baby house was coined from the Old English word for the doll. Dollhouses of this period featured idealized interiors with detailed furniture and accessories. Cabinets were hand-built with architectural details, filled with miniature household items, and were intended exclusively for adults. The baby moniker referred to the scale of the houses rather than the target demographic. They were off-limits to children, not because of safety concerns for the child but for the dollhouse. These cabinet houses were trophy collections owned by the few matrons living in the cities of Holland, England, and Germany who were wealthy enough to afford them and, fully furnished, were worth the price of building a modest full-size house.
The oldest known baby house on record was commissioned between 1557 and 1558 by Albert V, Duke of Bavaria.
Smaller dollhouses, such as the Tate house, with more realistic exteriors, appeared in Europe in the 18th century. Nuremberg kitchens, a type of one-room dollhouse, date back to at least 1572, when one was given to Dorothea and Anna, the princesses of Saxony, daughters of Augustus, Elector of Saxony aged five and ten.
Early European dollhouses were one-of-a-kind, custom-built by individual craftsmen. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, factories began to mass-produce toys, including dollhouses and miniatures suitable for furnishing them. German firms noted for their dollhouses include Christian Hacker, Moritz Gottschalk, Elastolin, and Moritz Reichel. The list of important English firms includes Silber & Fleming, Evans & Cartwright, and Lines Brothers (which became Tri-ang). In the late 19th century, The Bliss Manufacturing Company was manufacturing American dollhouses in the United States.
Germany produced the most prized dollhouses and dollhouse miniatures until World War I. Dollhouses were produced in Nuremberg, Germany; which, since the 16th century, was coined as the toy city. Its baby houses were thought to be the origin of the basic standards of contemporary dollhouses. Among the notable German miniature companies were Märklin, Rock and Graner, and others. Their products were not only avidly collected in Central Europe, but were regularly exported to Great Britain and North America. Germany’s involvement in World War I severely hampered both production and export. New manufacturers emerged in other countries.
The TynieToy Company of Providence, Rhode Island, made authentic replicas of American antique houses and furniture on a uniform scale beginning about 1917. Other early 20th-century American companies included Roger Williams Toys, Tootsietoy, Schoenhut, and Wisconsin. Toy Co. Dollhouse dolls and miniatures were also produced in Japan, mainly copying original German designs.
After World War II, dollhouses were mass-produced in factories on a much larger scale with less detailed craftsmanship than before. In the 1950s, the typical dollhouse sold commercially was made of painted sheet metal filled with plastic furniture. These houses cost little enough that the vast majority of girls in developed Western countries who were not struggling with reconstruction after World War II could own one.
Baby houses of the 17th and 18th centuries and toy dollhouses of the 19th and early 20th centuries rarely had uniform scales, even for the features or contents of an individual house. Although several manufacturers made lines of miniature toy furniture in the 19th century, these products were not strictly scaled.
Children’s play dollhouses of most of the 20th and 21st centuries have a scale of 1:18 or two-thirds of an inch (where 1 foot is represented by 2/3 of an inch). Common brands include Lundby (Sweden), Renewal, Plasco, Marx, Petite Princess, and T. Cohn (all-American) and Caroline’s Home, Barton, Dol-Toi, and Tri-ang (English). Some brands use a 1:16 or 3/4″ scale.
The most common standard for adult collectors is the 1:12 scale, also called 1″ or one-inch scale (where 1 foot is represented by 1 inch). Among adult collectors, there are also smaller scales that are much more common in the United States than in Great Britain. The 1:24 or half-inch scale (1 foot is 1/2 “) was popular in Marx dollhouses in the 1950s, but only became widely available in collectible houses after 2002, about the same time that even smaller scales became more popular, such as 1:48 or quarter-inch scale (1 foot is 1/4 “) and 1: 144 scale or” dollhouse for a dollhouse “. Dollhouses in 1/24 scale, and those in smaller scales, can be considered as a single species of miniature houses of this size. 1/24 (or the almost indistinguishable 1/25) is used for a variety of models, including display models and what are known as ‘house portraits’. These typically focus on exterior details rather than interior rooms, although there is no reason why a dollhouse should not have an exterior c exterior or a house portrait include interior details.
In Germany, during the mid-20th century, the 1:10 scale became popular based on the metric system. Dollhouses coming out of Germany today are kept closer in scale to 1:10 than 1:12.
The largest common size for dollhouses is 1: 6, which is proportional for Barbie, Ken, Blythe, and other dolls 11 to 12 inches tall, and furniture and accessories such as Re-Ment.
In the United States, most houses have an open back and a sleek facade, while British houses are more likely to have a hinged front that opens to reveal rooms.
Children’s dollhouses during the 20th century were made of a variety of materials, including metal ( lithographic tin ), fiberboard, plastic, and wood. With the exception of Lundby, 1:18 scale furniture for children’s dollhouses has most often been made of plastic.
Contemporary kits and fully constructed houses are generally made of plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Tongue and groove kits use thinner plywood and are held together by a tongue and groove system (plus glue). These houses are usually lightweight and lower cost but often require siding, shingles, or other exterior treatments to look realistic. Kits made of heavier plywood or MDF are held together with nails and glue.
As a hobby
The dollhouse hobby has two main focuses: the construction and/or purchase of dollhouses made by or for adult enthusiasts, and the collection of contemporary, antique, or vintage dollhouses that were often originally made for children.
Dollhouses made by or for adult enthusiasts
Dollhouses for hobbyists and collectors are available in different forms. From ready-made and decorated houses to kits and custom-built houses to the customer’s design. Some design and build their own dollhouse. The simplest designs may consist of boxes stacked together and used as rooms. Miniature objects used for decoration inside dollhouses include furniture, interior decorations, dolls, and items such as books, sofas, furniture, wallpaper, and even clocks. Some of these are available ready to use, some are kits, but they can also be homemade.
There are dozens of miniature fairs organized throughout the year by various organizations and miniature enthusiasts, where craftsmen and dealers display and sell miniatures. Often, seminars and hands-on workshops are part of the program features. Miniature stores also offer classes. Enthusiasts share images online and use Internet forums, blogs, and other online social networks to share information about dollhouses and miniatures.
Collecting antique or vintage dollhouses
Recognition of the value and enjoyment of collecting antique and vintage dollhouses as a hobby is largely due to the publications of two experts, Vivien Greene (1904-2003) in the United Kingdom and Flora Gill Jacobs (1918-2006) in the United States. Vivien Greene’s first book, The English Dollhouses of the 18th and 19th Centuries, was published in 1955; in the same year, an exhibition of period dollhouses from various countries was held in London. Flora Gill Jacobs’ first book, A History of Dolls’ Houses, was published in 1953. Both collectors opened museums devoted to dollhouses, The Rotunda (1962-1998) in Oxford, England, and Washington Dolls. ‘House & Toy Museum (1975-2004), in Washington DC, USA.
Through print publications such as International Dolls ‘House News (c 1969-2002) American Miniaturist and Dolls House and Miniature Scene, collectors around the world shared photos, tips, queries, and information; Today, websites, blogs, social networks, and online forums allow even more collectors to share their hobby.
Queen Mary’s Doll’s House built for Queen Mary in 1924
Queen Mary’s dollhouse was designed for Queen Mary in 1924 by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a leading architect of the time, and is on display at Windsor Castle. When it was first exhibited, it was visited by 1.6 million people in seven months. It is approximately 5′ tall, contains 16 rooms, and required 4 years to build. The dollhouse has working plumbing and lights and is filled with miniature items of the finest and most modern products of the time. Writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling contributed special books that were written and bound to scale.
The Stettheimer Dollhouse was built in New York City by Carrie Walter Stettheimer between 1916 and 1935. Many contemporary artists made miniatures of their art for the dollhouse, including Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Archipenko, George Bellows, Gaston Lachaise, and Marguerite Zorach. It is 28″ high and contains 12 rooms, and is now housed in the Museum of the City of New York. The 68 miniature Thorne Rooms room boxes, each with a different theme, were designed by Narcissa Niblack Thorne, and the furniture for them was created by craftsmen in the 1930s and 1940s. They are now housed at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Knoxville Museum of Art in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The exterior of the Astolat dollhouse castle was built between 1976 and 1986 in the USA. American silent film actress Colleen Moore’s dollhouse is called Fairy Castle. It is 7 feet tall, has twelve rooms, and required 7 years to build, starting in 1928. In 2012 dollars, the fairy castle would cost $7 million and when it was first put on tour it generated $9 million in revenue over a four-year period. It has been on display since the 1950s at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois, and is visited by approximately 1.5 million people each year.
Astolat’s dollhouse castle was inspired by Alfred Tennyson’s poetry about the Lady of the Lake and was built between 1974 and 1987 by miniaturist Elaine Diehl. It was valued at over $1 million in 2006 and $8.5 million in 2015 primarily due to updated interiors and parts. It is 9′ tall, has 29 rooms, and is on display at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Long Island, New York. Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle Dollhouse and Astolat Dollhouse Castle were designed with fixed adjoining exterior walls to create a three-dimensional display effect.
Titania’s Palace is displayed at Egeskov Castle in Denmark, a miniature castle that was hand-built by James Hicks & Sons, Irish cabinet makers commissioned by Sir Neville Wilkinson from 1907 to 1922. The palace measures 4′ 1″ high, contains 18 rooms, and required 15 years to build. It was built in Ireland but was won by Denmark in a bidding war in 1978 at Sotheby’s London auction house. Tara’s Palace is located at the Tara’s Palace Museum of Childhood on the grounds of the Powerscourt Estate near Enniskerry, Ireland. It took 10 years to build, stands 4’6″ tall, contains 22 rooms, and was built by Ron McDonnell in 1978 after he was unable to secure the return of Titania’s Palace to Ireland. It is furnished with miniature antiques.
One of Sara Rothé’s 18th-century Dutch Dollhouses
Other notable older dollhouses include Sara Rothé’s 18th-century dollhouses in Amsterdam, Netherlands; one is in the Frans Hals Museum and another in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag; and Petronella Oortman’s dollhouse in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum estimates that P. Oortman spent twenty to thirty thousand guilders on her miniature house, which was almost the price of a real house along one of Amsterdam’s canals at the time. The three dollhouses show the clothes room (laundry room), kitchen, and bedrooms in great detail. In the United Kingdom, Uppark Baby-house (ca. 1730) is on display at Uppark, West Sussex, owned by The National Trust. Nostell Priory Baby-house (ca. 1730) is on display at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, also owned by The National Trust. The Tate House (1760) is on display at the Museum of Childhood in London, England. In Tampere, Finland, the Moomin Museum displays the Mumin House, a dollhouse created around Tove Jansson’s Moomin characters. The house was built by Jansson, Tuulikki Pietilä, and Pentti Eistola and then donated to the city of Tampere. The museum also contains dozens of Moomin character room boxes, all made by Tuulikki Pietilä. The Dollhouse Museum (German: Puppenhausmuseum ) in Basel, Switzerland, is the largest museum of its kind in Europe.
Anna Köferlin’s dollhouse in Nuremberg, which was commissioned in 1631, was exhibited and publicly advertised by Köferlin in the form of original verses composed on a sheet.
In Russia, the most famous doll’s house [ ru ] was one made for Pavel Naschekin [ ru ] (the 1830s, now in the collection of the National Pushkin Museum ).
Women and Dollhouses
As interest in dollhouses expanded during the 17th century, there was also a shift in the gender-oriented organization of miniature houses toward a more feminine approach. There is a shift from viewing dollhouses as a “male-oriented collectible artifact to a female-organized model of domesticity.” Dutch dollhouses resembled closets with separate compartments of fully furnished rooms than the actual houses, which represented the domestic household, “through the inclusion of clothing rooms and well-stocked kitchens.”