Small Talk Tag: Dollhouse

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!

Nettie’s Dollhouse Quilts

Dollhouse Quilts

Hands-on experience is one of the best ways to learn something new, and it’s all the better when it’s fun! For children, particularly girls in the nineteenth century like Nettie Wells, sewing was an important skill to learn in preparation for running a household later in life. Sadly, Nettie had to put her homemaking skills to work at an early age when her mother became ill.

Examples of Nettie’s sewing can be found among the accessories in her dollhouse including two doll-sized crazy quilts. The larger quilt showcases her aptitude creating different stitches among a variety of materials including silk, velvet, and cotton. Just like its , the smaller crazy quilt includes tiny embroidered figures, although you might have to use your imagination to figure out what they are. Can you spot a teacup, a key, and a face?

Nettie’s Dollhouse Classroom

Dollhouse classroom

When young Nettie Wells packed up her dollhouse for safe keeping, she probably never imagined it would end up in a museum someday. The contents include some really fun accessories that give us a look into how she played with the small house and her doll Gracie in the late nineteenth century.

One of our favorite accessories kept inside is this make-believe class attendance roster indicating Nettie played school with her doll Gracie. The cover of the little booklet reads, “Mrs. N. M. Wells” in perfect teacherly cursive. Inside, the names of Nettie’s pretend pupils are listed. Gracie of course had perfect attendance, which is pretty predictable when your mother is also your teacher!

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.

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