Small Talk / Toys

Annie Horatia’s Dollhouse History

Annie Horatia Jones

In the 19th century, affluent parents commissioned dollhouses for their daughters (I mean, they couldn’t exactly go to the closest Toys ‘R Us). This circa 1860 dollhouse was the centerpiece of the privileged childhood of Annie Horatia Jones (1876-1969). Annie was the daughter of Sir Horace Jones, a notable 19th century English architect who served as architect and surveyor for the city of London (he is responsible for the design of the iconic Tower Bridge).

Think Annie’s dollhouse resembles a piece of furniture in your home? If you said a cabinet or bookcase, you would be correct! Part of this stately cabinet-style dollhouse originally belonged to Annie’s mother, Lady Ann Jones. When it was Annie’s turn to learn adult roles through play, an additional wing and wheeled base were added to the dollhouse (see the line between old and new to the left of the center of the house). Stay tuned to learn how Annie added her own personal touches.

A New Frontier for Toymaking

Yoshiya Flying Saucer

The mid-twentieth century saw technological advances in everything from nuclear power to televisions and kitchen appliances. Toys too came with all kinds of new features that allowed imaginations to run wild. One of the biggest influences on toys of the 50s and 60s was the addition of a built-in battery power supply. Indeed, this was the dawn of “batteries not included!”

Post-World War II Japan produced some of the earliest examples of battery operated toys on the world market. With an internal power source, toys achieved new capabilities previously unavailable for wind-up toys including extended movement, sounds, and lights. This circa 1960 Yoshiya “Flying Saucer with Space Pilot” is equipped with bump and go action, space noise, and a rotating color wheel—all of which, of course, are very important for space travel!

A New Frontier for Fun

Vintage Space Toys

In the 1930s, science fiction captivated the American imagination with the fantastical outer space adventures of Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon… and we’ve been hooked ever since. After World War II, the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union turned the public’s attention to the very real possibility of traveling to the moon and beyond. So, not surprisingly, toymakers both at home and abroad capitalized on the “final frontier” of imaginative play.

Space toys during the mid-twentieth century came in a variety of forms. Some were more realistic like molded plastic NASA playsets, while others seemed to be ripped from the pages of a sci-fi comic book like flying saucers and outer space robots. The period also witnessed a shift from domestic toy production to imported Japanese-made toys. For example, T/m’s tin “Flying Saucer with Space Pilot” was made by Japanese firm Yoshiya, but bears the name of its American importer, Cragston. We’ll explore some of the intergalactic features of this toy soon, so set your phasors to be stunned!

A Closer Look at Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

French Fashion Doll

Eleanor Crocker’s beautiful doll Nellie represents a snapshot in the latest Victorian fashions. In the nineteenth century, women kept up to date on the season’s hottest looks by perusing periodicals filled with fashion plates or printed illustrations of dress designs. Some of these designs were made in doll sizes to demonstrate the fits, frills, and lacy details of the full-size gowns. Nellie’s “princess cut” windowpane plaid dress Nellie just wouldn’t be as fabulous in a picture.

French doll makers like E. Barrois and Jumeau capitalized on this trend by manufacturing bisque heads, arms and feet for these fashionable companions. Often, toy shops and department stores purchased the porcelain limbs from these doll makers, sewed them to leather or cloth bodies in-house, and outfitted them according to the mode du jour. Fully assembled dolls were then marketed under the name of a specific retail establishment. It’s likely that this is where Eleanor’s uncle found Nellie back in the 1860s.

Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

French Fashion Doll.

In addition to teaching children necessary grown-up skills, dolls and toys have imagination-fueled stories all their own. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to hear toys’ playtime stories and special adventures toys had from the grown-ups who loved them. Other times, we have to do a little digging. This bisque fashion doll, for example, came to T/m with a few clues from her Victorian past.

With the help of previous her owners’ records, we know that this circa-1860 doll was owned by a girl in Buffalo, New York, named Eleanor Crocker. Nicknamed “Nellie,” the doll was passed down through several generations of Eleanor’s descendants before she became part of the museum’s collection. According to family lore, Nellie was brought back from France by Eleanor’s uncle Dexter as a gift. Through the magic of modern technology, we’ve been able to track down the family’s historical records including Dexter’s passport applications dating to the 1860s! While we may never know the exact playtime parties Nellie attended, we do know that Eleanor took excellent care of her.

Page 2 of 1812345...10...Last »