Small Talk / Toys

Inside a Dollhouse Like No Other

Coleman Dollhouse

When the massive Coleman Dollhouse was discovered in the Coleman family estate, it did not have its original contents. As a result, we can only guess how the six Coleman children must have played with this playhouse-like structure. When the dollhouse came to T/m, it was set up according to the style of the 1880s, using appropriately-sized furnishings and dolls.

Coleman House’s outer façade is covered in a textured finish comprised of paint and sand, a technique called rustication. The front of the house has two large hinged doors that close and lock with a skeleton key. The basement level sides also have hinged doors that reveal a billiards room and a kitchen. One of the most astonishing facts about Coleman House (other than, well, its size) is the evidence of metal pipes indicating it once had gas lighting!

A Dollhouse Like No Other

Coleman Dollhouse

At first glance inside T/m’s dollhouse exhibit, Let’s Play House, the gigantic Coleman Dollhouse might appear to be one of the trendy “tiny houses.” We love superlatives around here at the museum (smallest, oldest, biggest) and Coleman Dollhouse tops the dollhouse chart at over nine feet tall, eight feet wide, and four feet deep. Although it wasn’t meant to be lived in by people, it was the playtime home for some lucky children in the nineteenth century.

The grand dollhouse was originally owned by the Coleman family, who lived in a 39-room mansion in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, called The Homestead. In 1935, the Coleman family gifted The Homestead to the city. By 1961, the home had fallen into disrepair and was slated for demolition. Luckily, a salvage crew discovered the disassembled dollhouse before razing the estate. We’ll take a peek inside Coleman House next time!

Don’t Cry, Tiny Tears

Tiny Tears

Introduced by the American Character Doll Company in 1950, Tiny Tears hit toy store shelves at the beginning of the Baby Boom. In the years to follow, Tiny Tears became one of America’s most popular dolls. Aside from her cute looks and features, the doll owed much of her success to the power of marketing. New York-based American Character Doll Company was quick to adapt to new television technology and advertised on popular shows like Ding Dong School and The Shari Lewis Show. A young Patty Duke was even a Tiny Tears spokesman (spokes-kid?) for a short time.

Of course the doll’s popularity also had a lot to do with how fun she was! Equipped with a rubber body and plastic head, Tiny Tears could drink from a bottle, wet her diaper, and, of course, cry liquid tears. The baby doll’s durability was popular with kids and parents alike and gave many little girls their practice shot at motherhood.

Ann’s Tiny Tears

Tiny Tears

The personal playtime accounts from childhoods gone by are part of what makes our permanent exhibit Toys from the Attic: Stories of American Childhood so special. While each and every plaything in the collection must have some sort of story to tell, they often get lost in the shuffle of adulthood. You can probably imagine how many times we hear visitors say they wished they’d held onto that one special toy!

Local historian and longtime T/m volunteer docent Ann Smiley luckily held onto one of her most cherished toys, a small Tiny Tears doll. In the exhibit, Ann recounts playing with Tiny Tears in the early 1950s. Since she didn’t ever babysit or have children as an adult, she fondly thinks of her playtime with the doll as her sole motherhood experience. We’ll take a look at Tiny Tear’s unique features next time.

Spin the Wheel of Life

Zoetrope

During the Enlightenment, scientific discoveries and achievements abounded. Scholars explored everything from celestial bodies to microscopic organisms. In the 1820s, scientists came up with the theory of persistence of vision, which explains how the brain perceives separate images in motion as one cohesive image. What does this theory have to do with toys? Come spin the wheel of life with us…

It may not look like much at first glance, but this drum-shaped zoetrope (Greek for “wheel of life”) is one of the stars of our Optical Toys exhibit. An early animation toy, the zoetrope is comprised of a metal cylinder with cut out slots attached to a wooden pedestal. An interchangeable paper strip with printed illustrations sits inside the drum. To activate the animation, you simply spin the zoetrope, look through the slots, and voila! The magic of persistence of vision takes over and the printed strip appears to animate. In the decades that followed, this technology gave life to the famous Steamboat Willie and other early cartoons.

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