Small Talk Tag: Victorian

What’s the story, wishbones?

Victorian fancies

The superstition of wishing upon a wishbone can be traced back centuries to England, Rome and even ancient times. Anyone with siblings, cousins or even a surly aunt or uncle knows it’s always a race to see who gets the honor of pulling the wishbone apart. This set of wishbone furniture must have taken some of the drama out of family holidays!

A lot of turkeys and hens were were cooked up in order to collect enough wishbones to create this unique set of dollhouse furniture. In the 19th century, it became very fashionable for women to save up everyday scrap items like bones, feathers, and quills and turn them into spectacular crafts known as Victorian fancies. Sets of furniture like this one were some of the most popular Victorian fancies to make. After all, your dollhouse family needs tables and chairs for their Thanksgiving feast too!

I’m So Fancy

Victorian Fancies

We’ve got to hand it to the Victorians: they were recycling and reusing a century before the country had heard of Al Gore or Earth Day! Everyday objects like wishbones, spools and nut shells were all given a new life as fanciful, yet functional art objects. All the rage in the 19th century, this crafty trend of turning trash into tiny treasures resulted in Victorian fancies.

While T/m’s  Victorian fancy doll isn’t exactly winning the beauty contest amongst the dolls in our collection, she certainly gets high marks for functionality and being “green.” Her body consists of a wishbone wrapped in muslin and plaid fabric scraps; and her head is painted cork. Her dress is actually intended to be used as a pen wipe, a desktop necessity in the days of the dip or nib ink pens. The tag pinned to her reads, “Once I was a wishbone, And grew upon a hen. Now I am a ‘Spinster,’ Made to wipe your pen.”

Josephine’s Mini Museum

dollhouse attic

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!

Pint-Sized “Painted Ladies”

bliss dollhouse

Queen Anne Style is one of the most recognizable styles of Victorian architecture in America. With castle-like turrets, colorful “painted lady” details, and grand porches, they’re hard to miss. These stately homes often required teams of skilled builders, carpenters and craftsmen to construct, which of course came at a high cost. Often the style of choice for the lumber barons and railroad tycoons of the day, these romantic mansions captured the hearts of Americans coast to coast— and still do today!

Not surprisingly, the popular, late 19th century style also appeared in dollhouses. But how did toy manufacturers shrink the intricate Queen Anne Victorian details for mass dollhouse production? Toy makers at the R. Bliss Manufacturing Company had the perfect solution. Instead of hand carving and applying all of the spindles, lattice work, and shingles (just think of the choking hazards!), the dollhouse’s ornate details were printed on chromolithographed paper facades. These colorful details applied to the sturdy Bliss dollhouse structure made for a perfectly playable and mass-producible Queen Anne dollhouse. After all, what little girl wouldn’t want a dollhouse fit for a queen?

Josephine’s Story

josephine bird dollhouse

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!

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