Small Talk Tag: Josephine Bird

Josephine’s Mini Museum

JosephineMuseum

Today, some of our favorite souvenirs come in the form of photographs. Facebook or Instagram albums full of exotic photos illustrate the story of a trip to a far-off place. But, this wasn’t always the case. In the 19th century, photography was still new and handheld cameras weren’t yet synonymous with Hawaiian shirt-clad tourists. Instead, the fashionable things to bring home were artfully crafted souvenirs such as miniature mosaics, diminutive copies of landmarks, and pocket-sized paintings.

We can safely presume that when Josephine Bird was completing finishing school in Florence, Italy, she amassed quite the collection of these souvenirs, many of which found a place in her large dollhouse’s attic (where else do you keep your nicest things!?). Some of the highlights include a soapstone Leaning Tower of Pisa, a print of a Renaissance angel in the style of Fra Angelico with a micromosaic frame, and an alabaster sculpture of the three graces. It’s quite the mini art museum!

Josephine’s Story

Josephine Bird Dollhouse Attic

The Josephine Bird Dollhouse is one of the most intact, antique dollhouses in the T/m collection. In previous blog posts, we’ve explored the bookcase-style dollhouse and some of its contents, which were originally owned and played with by young Josephine Bird in 1890s Kansas City. One of the many reasons why we love dollhouses is because they are time capsules that have a lot to tell about their original owners. So, what did this time capsule (with a little research to fill in the blanks) tell us about Josephine?

Born in 1889, Josephine was the daughter of one of the founders of the Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store (E.B.T.) in Kansas City. As a child, she repurposed several pieces of E.B.T. merchandise in her dollhouse. As a young lady, she went to finishing school in Florence, Italy. Some of the treasures in the dollhouse’s attic are almost certainly souvenirs she collected on her travels. As a finishing touch, several feathered friends perch atop this stately dollhouse, reflecting Josephine’s last name!

Josephine’s Repurposed Play

Pincushion Chair and Guitar from Josephine Bird's Dollhouse

Josephine Bird decorated her dollhouse with the finest, traditional ormolu furnishings alongside objects she re-appropriated from everyday life. Dolls visiting the residents of the house may have rested their feet on some particularly cushy chairs. That’s because the chairs were originally meant for pins, similar to the tomato design that is believed to have originated in the 15th century, but gained popularity, along with other shapes (fans, dolls, shoes, fruits, and vegetables), in the Victorian era!

The guitar that the dolls jammed on probably didn’t make the greatest music. The guitar can be pulled apart and was likely a candy case or Christmas ornament sold at her father’s Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store. Josephine’s repurposing is like the Victorian version of using those plastic pizza box saver thingies as tables for your Barbies or Calico Critters!

Josephine’s Dollhouse Treasure Trove

Josephine Bird Dollhouse

This stately Victorian bookcase-style dollhouse stood silent on the third floor of a grand Kansas City home, forgotten for a generation. When Mrs. Joseph Hall first unpacked the family heirloom, she discovered dozens of antique candy boxes containing the dollhouse’s original, intricate furnishings. Good thing the candy was gone… there’s nothing worse than finding last year’s Halloween candy melted to the pillowcase you used as a bag. Yuck!

The elaborate dollhouse belonged to Josephine Bird, the mother-in-law of Mrs. Hall. Josephine was born in 1889 to Joseph Taylor Bird Sr., an investor in the Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store. The department store, located here in Kansas City, was once heralded as “The Southwest’s Greatest Merchandisers.” Josephine’s dollhouse is filled with items repurposed from the store and gathered on her world travels. Stay tuned as we rediscover all the treasures Mrs. Hall found!