Antique Miniatures and Miniature Dolls
Many doll collectors are also miniaturists. Most doll collectors do not give a second thought to the apparant hodge-podge of scales that antque miniature dolls and miniatures represent. However, most modern miniaturists enjoy realistically crafting and collecting items to create scenes in perfect scale in their dollhouses, or doll scenes. Few doll collectors or miniaturists have given thought to what miniatures and miniature dolls were like in bygone eras, and the the history of the engrossed miniatures hobby.
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.
Dollhouses have grown in popularity throughout this century--a manufacturing industry grew up around plastic dollhouse furniture in the 1950s. In the 1960s, metal dollhouses were all the rage. And, since the 1970s, the miniatures industry has grown immensely as the sophistication and artistry of modern miniatures has grown exponentially. Membership in organizations such as N.A.M.E. (the National Association for Miniature Enthusiasts) runs in the tens of thousands--quite a change from the beginning of the miniatures hobby, which was only for a very privileged few.
Places to see Antique Dollhouses, Dollhouse Furniture, and Miniature Dolls:
--Angel's Attic, Los Angeles
--Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, London
--Pollack's Toy Museum, London
--Rosalie Whyel Museum of Doll Art, Bellevue, Washington
--Strong Museum, Rochester New York
Are you interested in miniature and small dolls? Lets talk about it in the Doll Forum!
Photos: Antique Dollhouse dolls, c. 1900,
Victorian style Bride and Groom. Original clothing; bride (marked) Simon and Halbig.
Glass-eyed antique dollhouse child doll (not exactly to scale! not marked with maker.
Photo and Article by Denise Van Patten. Copyright 1999, All Rights Reserved.