Discrepancy of size is a form
of distortion, and all forms of distortion shock
us into attention. --Steven
Millhauser, "The Fascination of the Miniature"
In the beginning, dollhouses
were playthings for adults--and
only extremely wealthy adults could afford the "baby
houses" of the late 17th and the 18th centuries.
These early dollhouses were usually elaborately
constructed to fit inside a cabinet. The house would
look like a regular piece of furniture, but when
it was opened up, inside a multi-room dollhouse
would be revealed. Inside, furniture of various
small scales but lovely craftsmanship could usually
be found. The dolls in these early houses were usually
crude wood, or wax.
By the 19th century, "baby houses" had
become "dolls' houses," and had found
their place among the playthings of children, in
nurseries. Still only the playthings of the wealthy,
the early dolls' houses had elaborate furnishings--needlepoint
rugs, furniture upholstered in silks, find wood
furniture. The dolls in early 19th century houses
were wood, but no longer crudely made. By the end
of the century, dolls' house dolls were made of
glazed china, and then bisque. The "scale"
of 19th century dolls' houses was not set to 1"
to 1" scale as most dollhouses are today, and
to the eye of the modern collector, these older
furnished houses (usually only seen in museums today)
look very informal, and somewhat "messy"
since the furnishings are so obviously out-of-scale.
Another popular type of "miniature' were the
elaborate miniature worlds that were created for
French fashion dolls, also known as poupees. These
dolls often had their own furniture, gloves, purses,
games, fans, sewing kits and more! It is a rare
modern miniaturist who is not captivated by the
amazing detail and quality of the tiny high couture
world of the poupees.
By the early 20th century, the development of the
scale of dollhouses in our present dollhouse 1"
to 1' scale can be seen in Queen Mary's Dollhouse--perfectly
scaled--built for Queen Mary in the early 1920s.
Also, by the early 20th century, dolls were close
to scale (although not quite scale) as can be seen
in the pictured dollhouse dolls in original wedding
clothing, which are 7" in height.
Surprisingly, the majority
of visitors to the doll museum are adults --
some looking to add to their collections, others
hoping to rekindle a little childlike wonder.
Everyone loves the Smithsonian Institution.
Other museums in Washington find themselves fading
into its shadow, waiting patiently for the trickle
of visitors to discover their unique collections
of American culture.
One such museum is tucked away in
the northwest corner of the city, a quaint house
with a modest sign announcing its intentions. Inside,
a lone clerk graciously dispenses tickets and, for
a small fee, visitors can pass through the portal
and into the past -- into the Washington Dolls'
House and Toy Museum, bursting at the seams with
a cornucopia of antique toys and miniature furnishings.
The museum was founded in 1975 by
Flora Gil Jacobs when the hundreds of thousands
of items she had collected over the years threatened
to overwhelm her home. Even so, not all of her collection
can be displayed; seasonal exhibits, of which Christmas
is a favorite, allow the curators to empty the attic
several times a year.
Dolls' houses, says Jacobs, provide
scholars and amateurs alike an opportunity to study
the architecture, decorative arts and social history.
"A very nice American woman who had lived in
Mexico wrote me about a wonderful house she had
seen in Pueblo and sent me some snapshots,"
she tells Insight. "There used to be houses
that were teaching toys in the Catholic schools
in Mexico and we theorize it was from one of those
schools, which they did away with in the 1920s."
Famous Doll Houses
One of the most famous and well planned
dollhouses is Queen Mary's Dolls' House which was
designed in 1924 by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Queen
Mary it is displayed at Windsor Castle.
One of the most opulent dollhouses in North America
is Colleen Moore's Fairy castle which has been housed
as an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry
in Chicago, Illinois since the early 1950s.
Also located in Chicago are the famous Thorne
Rooms, 68 miniature period rooms designed by
Mrs. James Ward Thorne, who commissioned master
craftsmen to create the furnishings for the rooms
during the 1930s and '40s. The rooms are housed
in the Art Institute of Chicago.
A lesser-known masterpiece is Tara's
Palace, housed in Malahide Castle, Dublin. Started
by Ron and Doreen McDonnell in 1980, it is based
on Sir Neville Wilkinson's celebrated Titania's
Palace, which he created in 1908. The house itself
is built in 1/12th scale and is influenced by Castletown
House, Leinster House, and Carton, the three prominent
18th century mansions in Ireland. The house has
25 rooms and was built to raise money for children's