Small Talk Tag: Victorian

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!

Spin the Wheel of Life

Zoetrope

During the Enlightenment, scientific discoveries and achievements abounded. Scholars explored everything from celestial bodies to microscopic organisms. In the 1820s, scientists came up with the theory of persistence of vision, which explains how the brain perceives separate images in motion as one cohesive image. What does this theory have to do with toys? Come spin the wheel of life with us…

It may not look like much at first glance, but this drum-shaped zoetrope (Greek for “wheel of life”) is one of the stars of our Optical Toys exhibit. An early animation toy, the zoetrope is comprised of a metal cylinder with cut out slots attached to a wooden pedestal. An interchangeable paper strip with printed illustrations sits inside the drum. To activate the animation, you simply spin the zoetrope, look through the slots, and voila! The magic of persistence of vision takes over and the printed strip appears to animate. In the decades that followed, this technology gave life to the famous Steamboat Willie and other early cartoons.

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!

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