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Living Room of Dollhouse. Maine, USA

A dollhouse is a toy home, made in miniature. For the last century, dollhouses have primarily been the domain of children, although their collection and crafting have also fascinated a large number of adults. The same dollhouses often appeal to both groups, but because of choking hazards, very young children (age 3 years and under) should be restricted from access to the great majority of these domestic replicas.

Today's doll's house traces its history directly back about four hundred years to the "baby houses" of Europe. The baby houses were cabinet display cases made up of rooms. The cabinets were built with architectural details and filled with miniature household items. These dollhouses were solely the playthings of adults, and off-limits to children, not because of safety concerns for the child, but for the dollhouse. Such cabinet houses [1] were trophy collections owned by the few matrons living in the cities of Holland, England and Germany who were wealthy enough to afford them, and, fully furnished, were worth the price of a modest full-size house's construction.

As time went on, smaller doll houses with more realistic exteriors became evident in Europe([Example: Tate House)[2]].

The term dollhouse is common in the United States and Canada. In UK usage, doll's house or dollshouse is usual.


Miniature homes, furnished with domestic articles and resident inhabitants (both people and animals), have been made for thousands of years. The earliest known examples were found in the Egyptian tombs of the Old Kingdom, created nearly five thousand years ago. These wooden models of servants, furnishings, boats, livestock and pets placed in the Pyramids almost certainly were made for religious purposes. The earliest known European dollhouses are from the sixteenth century. These baby or cabinet houses showed idealized interiors complete with extremely detailed furnishings and accessories (mostly handmade).

The early European dollhouses were each unique, constructed on a custom basis by individual craftsmen. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, factories began mass producing toys, including dollhouses and miniatures suitable for furnishing them. German companies noted for their dollhouses included Christian Hacker, Moritz Gottschalk, Elastolin, and Moritz Reichel. The list of important English companies includes Siber & Fleming, Evans & Cartwright, and Lines Brothers (which became Tri-ang). By the end of the nineteenth century, American dollhouses were being made in the United States by The Bliss Manufacturing Company.

Germany was the producer of the most prized dollhouses and miniatures up until World War I. Notable German miniature companies included Marklin, Rock and Garner and others. Their products were not only avidly collected in central Europe, but regularly exported to Britain and North America. Germany's involvement in WWI seriously impeded both production and export. New manufacturers in other countries arose.

The Toy Furniture Shop of Providence, Rhode Island (The TynieToy Company) made authentic replicas of American antique houses and furniture in a uniform scale beginning in about 1917 [3]. Other American companies of the early twentieth century were Roger Williams Toys, Tootsietoy, Schoenhut, and the Wisconsin Toy Co. Dollhouse dolls and miniatures were also produced in Japan, mostly by copying original German designs.

After WW II dollshouses became mass-produced in factories on a much larger scale, and with less detailed craftsmanship, than ever before. By the 1950s the typical dollhouse sold commercially was made of painted sheet metal and filled with plastic furniture. The cost of these houses was low enough to allow the great majority of girls from the developed western countries that were not struggling with rebuilding after WWII to own dollhouses.

Early European dollhouses

Several magnificent antique dollhouses are on exhibit in museums around the world. Although these houses were not constructed to capture an era, activities of daily living are shown in such great detail in some of them that the viewer gains some insight into domestic life of the times.

  • Dutch - The doll's house of Petronella Oortman c. 1686-1705. The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam estimates that P. Oortman spent twenty to thirty thousand guilders on her “model house”, the price of a real house along one of Amsterdam’s canals at that time. This doll’s house shows the linen room (laundry room), kitchen, and bedrooms in great detail, which serve to illustrate the workings of the household of that era [4] [5].
  • English - The Tate House (1760), on exhibit in The Museum of Childhood in London.
  • Austrian
  • German

Standard scales

The baby houses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the toy dollhouses of the nineteenth and early twentieth century rarely had uniform scales, even for the features or contents of any one individual house. Although a number of manufacturers made lines of miniature toy furniture in the nineteenth century, these products were not to a strict scale.

From left: half inch scale, three quarter inch scale, 1 inch scale, 1/6th scale

There have been several standard scales in dolls' houses over the years. Children's toy houses during most of the 20th century were three quarter scale (where 1 foot is represented by 3/4 of an inch), also known as 1:18 (1" equals 18"). Popular brands included Lundby (Sweden) (established in 1947 and still going strong), Renwal, Plasco, Marx, Petite Princess, and T. Cohn (all American) and Caroline's Home, Barton, Dol-Toi and Triang (English). A few nominally 3/4-scale brands may run closer to 1:16 scale. With the exception of Lundby, 3/4-scale furniture was most often made from plastic. Houses were made from a variety of materials, including metal (tin litho), fibreboard, plastic, and wood.

In Germany during the middle part of the 20th century 1/10th scale became popular (based on a metric system where 10 inches is represented by 1 inch). Toylike houses coming out of Germany today remain closer in scale to 1:10 than to 1:12.

In the 1970s, the standard for adult collectors became 1/12th (also called 1" or one inch scale, represented in the U.S. as 1:12). There is also half inch scale or 1/24th (1 foot is represented by 1/2 an inch), quarter inch scale or 1/48th (1 foot is represented by 1/4 of an inch), and "dollhouse for a dollhouse" (1:144). Half-inch scale was popular in Marx dollhouses in the 1950s but only became widely available in "collector" houses after 2002, about the same time that even smaller scales became more popular. These smaller scales are much more common in the U.S. than in Britain.

Finally, there is "Play Scale" or 1/6th which is proportionate for Barbie and other similar dolls.

Contemporay kit and fully-built houses are typically made of plywood or medium density fibreboard. Tab-and-slot kits use a thinner plywood and are held together by a system of tabs and slots (plus glue). These houses are usually light-weight and lower cost but often require siding, shingles, or other exterior treatments to look their best. Kits made from heavier plywood or MDF are held together with nails and glue. In the U.S., most houses have an open back and a fancy front facade, while British houses are more likely to have a hinged front that opens to reveal the rooms. The great majority of contemporary dollhouses are built in one inch scale.

Getting started in the hobby

There are several ways to acquire a dollhouse. One of the more expensive (and less creative) ways is the purchase of a ready-made and decorated house. There are many commercial kits available that contain all the parts and instructions to build a doll's house. Some craftspeople design and make their own house, and these range from simple boxes stacked together to detailed scale-model replicas of houses complete with electric wiring, shingled roofs, and interior moldings. Just as a full-sized house can be custom designed and built, there are doll house owners who commission custom-made dollhouses.

The same principle applies to miniature objects to go inside dollhouses, such as books and clocks, items of furniture, interior decorations, and dolls. Although shop-bought items are generally of a higher quality, they tend to be more expensive. Homemade items are often cheaper and more rewarding to make, as almost any material can be used.

If there are no dollhouse shops in one's area, an alternative is to use mail order. This is popular in both Britain and America, but more so in the United States. 1/12th scale dollhouses start at around $50 for a simple kit but can run much higher for a large, elaborate, or one-of-a-kind house. There are also dozens of miniature trade shows held throughout the year by various miniature organizations, where artisans and dealers display and sell miniatures. Often, how-to seminars are part of the show features.

Famous dollhouses

  • Also located in Chicago are the famous Thorne Rooms, 68 miniature period rooms designed by Mrs. James Ward Thorne, who commissioned master craftsmen to create the furnishings for the rooms during the 1930s and '40s. The rooms are housed in the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • A lesser-known masterpiece is Tara's Palace, housed in Malahide Castle, Dublin. Started by Ron and Doreen McDonnell in 1980, it is based on Sir Neville Wilkinson's celebrated Titania's Palace, which he created in 1908. The house itself is built in 1/12th scale and is influenced by Castletown House, Leinster House, and Carton, the three prominent 18th century mansions in Ireland. The house has 25 rooms and was built to raise money for children's charities.
  • In Tampere in Finland, the Moomin Museum displays the Moomin house, a dollhouse created around the Moomin characters of Tove Jansson. The house was built by Jansson and some of her close friends and was later donated to the town of Tampere.
  • Mott's Miniatures Museum was on display at Knott's Berry Farm for over 34 years. This depicted the history of America in miniature. Seen by millions of people each year from 1958 to 1992, the Mott's Miniatures Museum helped to further the miniatures hobby and may have inspired millions to create their own miniature dollhouse.

Related articles

External links

  • Kruger Collection Collection of dollhouse miniatures on display at the University of Nebraska