Small Talk Tag: Victorian

An Optical Spectacle

Magic Lantern

For those old enough to remember a teacher using an overhead projector as a visual aid for class lessons, isn’t it hard to imagine that device being used for entertainment? Projection technology in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, brought a sense of wonder and enjoyment to the age-old art of storytelling. Invented in 1658 by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, the magic lantern earned its name due to projections seeming supernatural.

The contraption uses a candle or oil lamp to project a variety of glass slide images through a lens onto the wall. During magic lantern shows, a lively orator or “lanternist” would use a series of slides while telling an amazing tale to audiences in a dimly lit room. Eventually, smaller toy versions like this Magic Lantern were developed for use at home. Ultimately, the projection technology used in magic lanterns and other optical toys was adapted for early “moving pictures” at the movie theater.

A Grand Grocery

Christian Hacker

Where and how we buy our food has changed a lot over the last 150 years. Today’s big box stores, drive-through windows, vending machines, and mail-order meals are a far cry from the simple grocery shops of the nineteenth century. Although they didn’t have to choose between paper or plastic, children, particularly girls, in the Victorian era were expected to learn how to buy groceries in preparation for running a household of their own.

This ornately decorated toy grocery (accessorized here as a bakery shop) was made by the acclaimed Christian Hacker company of Nuremberg, Germany. Details like hand painted paneling, colorful lithographed wallpaper, and mirrored alcoves made this an expensive high-end toy. The blue banners that mark the contents of the store’s drawers are in English, indicating this toy was made for export to England or America. The drawers are demarcated with familiar goods like lentils, raisins, and limes, but also some stranger ones like chocolade and greuts, which seem to be mistranslated!

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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