Small Talk / Exhibits

A Dollhouse Fit For A Queen

Queen Mary's Dollhouse Dining Room

Three fine-scale commissions in the first half of the 20th century greatly influenced the wave of enthusiasm for miniatures in the 1970s and inspired collectors like T/m founder Barbara Marshall. We’ll take a look at all three commissions here on Small Talk, starting with Queen Mary’s Dollhouse at Windsor Castle. Created at the end of WWI as a token of appreciation to the Queen, the dollhouse is a memorial of the art and craft of the time, and helped revive British trade in the postwar depression.

Between 1921 and 1924 Sir Edwin Lutyens, the star architect of the day, organized 1,500 artists, craftsmen, and manufacturers to create the symmetrical building in a scale of one inch to one foot. The house has four elevations, forty rooms and vestibules, a grand marble staircase, and two elevators. The garage houses six perfectly functioning automobiles. Every room in the house is fully furnished with a working fireplace. No detail was forgotten… the house includes electricity and running water, even the toilets flush!

Toys with a Past

FAO Schwarz

Did you know Monopoly started as a game to teach people how terrible it was to have a money-gouging landlord? Or that the Etch-a-Sketch debuted in France as the Magic Screen? Or how about that the Slinky was originally supposed to cushion naval vessel instruments?!

Join Christopher Bensch, Vice President for Collections at The Strong, home of the National Toy Hall of Fame and National Museum of Play, as he explores the history of Hall of Fame inductees at FAO Schwarz. We’re guessing only Santa’s workshop has more toys than FAO Schwarz!

Pocket Portraiture: The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures

John Smart, English (1741/1742-1811). Portrait of General Keith MacAlister, 1810. Watercolor on ivory in copper mount, 3 3/8 x 2 ¾ inches (8.6 x 7 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Starr Foundation, Inc., F65-41/51. Photo: Robert Newcombe

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine not being able to text a photo to a friend, flip through the family scrapbook, or do a Google image search. Before the invention of photography, paintings were the best way (outside of taking a mental picture) to record a person’s image. But, paintings weren’t super portable. What if you wanted to lovingly gaze upon an image of your fiancée while sailing the high seas? Behold, miniature portraits!

The art form combining painting and jewelry making took off in the late 16th century. In fact, some of the earliest miniature portrait artists were trained as goldsmiths. The tiny portraits were painted on vellum until the early 18th century when artists began using ivory for a richer, more luminous look. The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is lucky to be just blocks away from the Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The collection contains over 250 paintings, with more than 50 by notable miniaturist John Smart. The miniatures are frequently rotated so you never know what tiny faces you’re going to see!

Photo: John Smart, English (1741/1742-1811). Portrait of General Keith MacAlister, 1810. Watercolor on ivory in copper mount, 3 3/8 x 2 ¾ inches (8.6 x 7 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Starr Foundation, Inc., F65-41/51. Photo: Robert Newcombe

Magnifying Glasses Needed

ScotlandMiniatureBookExhibit

Scotland is famous for kilts, bagpipes, and the Loch Ness monster, but did you know it has been an important center of miniature book production since the 19th century? Neither did we!

In the 1870s, Glasgow publishing firm David Bryce & Son found that poorly selling books flew off—or perhaps blew off—the shelf when reformatted in miniature. The National Library of Scotland is exhibiting their collection of Bryce’s tiny tomes and other minuscule masterpieces, which they define as less than 3 inches in height and width. Bryce sold his books with a locket and magnifying glass for ease and accessibility. Yes, that’s right; people actually read the tiny volumes!

The library’s collection includes the first miniature book on record at 2 inches high and 1.8 inches wide. The library used to have the world record holder for smallest book: an edition of Old King Cole, a children’s nursery rhyme at 0.035 inches. Tokoyo-based Toppan Printing holds the current record with a needle-eye sized 22 page-illustrated guide to Japanese flora created using nanotechnology printing techniques. We think that’ll require a microscope!

Photo: National Library of Scotland

And The Winner Is…

2013 National Toy Hall of Fame Finalists

The National Toy Hall of Fame announced the newest honorees on Thursday. Selected from a field of 12 finalists, the lucky winners are… drum roll please… chess and the rubber duck!

Chess is one of the world’s oldest games, originating from an Indian war game where pieces represented different types of fighting men. By 1475, the English were playing the version we know today with bishops, knights, and pawns. Some chess players don’t mess around; they can be found in the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri.

The first rubber duck was different too… it didn’t float! Originally designed as a chew toy, the rubber duck floated its way into pop culture history when Sesame Street’s Ernie first sang “Rubber Duckie” to his favorite tub toy in 1970. Ernie was right, we still think rubber duck is the one for bubble baths!

Photo: Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.

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