Small Talk Tag: Dollhouse

Nettie’s Dollhouse Dolls

dollhouse doll

The contents stored inside the Nettie Wells dollhouse give us a special look at the playtime of a Victorian girl. Among them is a small bisque porcelain doll, who is unfortunately missing a few of her appendages. We learned from Nettie’s writings kept within the house that this doll’s name was Gracie and that Nettie considered herself Gracie’s mama.

It’s still unclear how Gracie may have suffered some bodily losses (we’ve ruled out the possibility of an older brother!), but we can tell from evidence on her muslin underwear that someone tried to repair her with glue. Gracie even had a smaller doll of her own. Nettie and Gracie must have had many imaginative adventures (or misadventures) together, judging from her many accessories, which we’ll peek into next time.

Nettie’s Dollhouse

Nettie Wells Dollhouse

Many of the nineteenth century dollhouses in T/m’s collection reflect the wealth and grandeur of the Gilded Age. One of our most treasured dollhouses from this time, however, isn’t grand at all—in fact, it’s fairly humble!

The smartly built Nettie Wells dollhouse was made for a middle class Kansas City girl by her father in the 1880s. Although it only has a couple rooms, the small wooden house has beautiful details like scalloped trim, starburst motifs, and a hinged roof in the back of the house allowing for play and easy storage. Like the larger dollhouses in our collection, Nettie’s dollhouse was a teaching tool for her adult life. Sadly, Nettie had to assume that role at the age of just twelve when her mother fell ill. It was at that time that she packed up her dollhouse and its contents, never to be played with by anyone again. Nettie’s granddaughter donated the dollhouse and its contents to the museum in 1994, giving us a rare glimpse into Nettie’s childhood over a century ago.

Annie Horatia’s Dollhouse Dolls

London Dollhouse

While we at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures own Annie Horatia Jones’s dollhouse, another important aspect of her childhood play lives in her city of origin at the London Metropolitan Archives. In 1886, Annie’s aunt Tamazine Billings gave her ten dolls for her dollhouse. Each doll represented a member of her family and household. Lucky for us, Aunt Tamazine sewed handwritten cloth labels with each family member’s name onto the doll that represented them.

As you would probably guess, the tallest doll is Annie’s father, Sir Horace Jones. However, the fact that the doll is a full two inches taller than the other dolls in the group says more about Victorian attitudes towards personal status within the family then Jones’s height. The Victorian father was the head of the household, thus the extra two inches. The dolls’ clothing is another interesting look back at 19th-century London!

Annie Horatia’s Dollhouse Details

Annie Horatia Jones

While toy furniture could be purchased, little girls like Annie Horatia Jones also enjoyed adding some DIY charm to their dollhouses with a touch of imagination and a pinch of sewing skills. Annie’s finesse with a needle is undeniable in the geometric rugs she made for her rooms. And we love the decoupage paper on the red nursery walls!

Although there are no doors from the hallway to the rooms, that didn’t stop Annie from getting a baby walker, a bed (affectionately coined the “broken heart bed” by T/m staff), a sewing basket, and a water cistern into her house’s rooms.

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.

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