Small Talk Tag: Dollhouse

Let’s Play House

dollhouse exhibit

The dollhouse is one of the most popular and enduring toys of all time. Why you ask? Because it fulfills so many needs: creativity, invention, psychological exploration, and self-discovery. Let’s Play House explores the collection’s dollhouses and the little girls that played with them, including Mamie Burt and Josephine Bird. These nineteenth-century homes are from the great age of dollhouses. During this period, affluent parents commissioned the houses as a training tool for their daughters’ future roles as wives, mothers, and household managers. That’s some big shoes to fill!

By the twentieth century, dollhouse play focused more on imagination than household management (thank goodness!). The museum’s Tynietoy dollhouse is now on display with recent acquisitions to the collection, including a 1974 Fisher-Price Play Family “A” Frame and a 1950s Louis Marx and Company “L” Shaped Ranch Dollhouse complete with a swimming pool!

A Primo Premium Dollhouse

Dunham Cocoanut Dollhouse

Remember digging through cereal boxes for the prize inside, or sending in proofs of purchase in exchange for a special premium toy? If so, you will not be surprised to learn that toys and advertising have been intertwined for a very long time. Since the 19th century, companies like Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, and Texaco have teamed up with toy companies to promote their goods.

One of the earliest examples of premium toys is this 1892 dollhouse made by Dunham Manufacturing Company. Don’t let the fancy lithographed Victorian interior fool you though: this dollhouse was actually a packing crate for Dunham’s brand of shredded coconut confections. Complete with four rooms that include a lithographed fish tank and a moose head, the house and its cardboard furniture were likely available to children who collected and redeemed enough Dunham’s box tops. Just think of all the kids in the 1890s asking their mom if they could eat coconut for every meal!

At Home With the Museum of Miniature Houses

museum of miniature houses

The Museum of Miniature Houses & Other Collections located in Carmel, Indiana (it’s pronounced CAR-mel, unlike the town in California) is home to a large assortment of all things small. Despite the museum’s name, you won’t find any of the trendy garden shed-sized “tiny homes,” but you will find a wide variety of small structures including fine-scale miniatures and antique dollhouses.

Founded in 1993, the museum’s collection is as varied as it is wondrous. Seasonal rotating exhibits display everything from model Ford Mustangs to whimsical winter wonderlands. The Museum of Miniature Houses is located in the same town as the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts (NAME), a non-profit organization that promotes the hobby of miniature making and collecting. You might say the town of Carmel is the place to be for all things small (maybe there’s something in the water!).
Photo: Courtesy of The Museum of Miniature Houses and Other Collections.

Finely Furnished: The Tynietoy Town House

tynietoy mansion

During the 1920s and 1930s, the United States fell in love with its roots: the colonial era. The Tynietoy company’s founders Marion Perkins and Amey Vernon reimagined a wide variety of historically-inspired wooden dollhouse furniture based on the full-size furnishings of America’s earliest years. It probably comes as no surprise that in addition to Tynietoy’s furniture offerings, matching Georgian colonial mansions were also produced.

One of the most popular and stately models was the New England Town House, seen here. The Tynietoy mansion has two floors connected by a grand staircase, a smaller wing, and a long attic with a hinged roof. The removable façade of the house has nine celluloid windows, green shutters, and a painted neoclassical doorway complete with a door knocker. If you are thinking this description sounds like a real estate listing rather than a dollhouse, you’re not too far off. According to a 1930 catalog, the New England Town House sold for $270 completely furnished- that’s about 40% of the price of a new car at that time!

The World Made Small

Colonial Williamsburg Dollhouse

Generations of visitors to Colonial Williamsburg have witnessed history come alive before their eyes. Historical reenactors interpret everyday life in the revolutionary city, from famous patriots to tradespeople and shopkeepers. One of the best ways (and of course our favorite) to see how children lived in America’s earliest years is through the toys they played with.

The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg has stepped out several of their dollhouses for an exhibit called The World Made Small. More than just playthings, dollhouses provided a way for girls to learn the importance of keeping house. Among the dollhouses on display is an 1820 cabinet-style house filled with over a century’s worth of family heirlooms, including a tiny chest-on-chest made from a cigar box. A massive fifteen-foot-long dollhouse from 1900 steals the show with Victorian furnishings that emulate full-scale homes of the time. Colonial Williamsburg staff and volunteers actually re-created several paintings from the permanent collection on a small scale to adorn the walls! Not to be outdone by the “girlish” dollhouses, the exhibit also features toy structures for boys including a fort, soldier’s campsite, and a farm.
Photo: Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.

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