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Dolls' Houses
Past & Present

A website and ezine about dolls' houses: antique, vintage and modern.
Plus furniture and accessories.

Issue 1 (May 2009)

A Brief History

by Wendy Gater

It has been a matter of different opinions as to the actual country of origin where the first Dolls House was created, some believe Italy, Holland, Germany, some believe other countries, it is hard to conclude as a lot of early history is unrecorded.

One of the earliest recorded furnished Dolls Houses was owned by Albert V. Duke of Bavaria in the mid-sixteenth century. The house was a large building, four storeys high, on the lower floor there was a yard with a fountain, a garden with a silver well, a stable, a cow barn and other domestic rooms. The house also included a bathroom, an orchard, a ballroom, a chapel and many other rooms. The Dolls House was for his daughter but it is improbable that she was ever actually allowed to play with it as once it was completed he had it put into his museum. Ten years after his first venture he commissioned Jacob Sandtner to create scale models of his five official residences which were also displayed in his museum in Munich. Sadly all of these houses were destroyed by fire in 1674.

Many wealthy people began to follow his example and commissioned Dolls Houses and Miniature pieces. These were made by true craftsmen using only the finest materials, they were not children's play toys but were a display of social standing and wealth.

Many of these houses are still preserved today, several of the highly treasured early Dolls Houses can be seen at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nurnberg.

In England at the beginning of the 18th century Queen Anne presented her god-daughter Ann Sharp with a Dolls cabinet which was intended as a child's plaything, it is one of the earliest known English Doll's houses and still exists today.

There are many early Dolls Houses at the V & A Museum of childhood (Bethnal Green, London) including the 1673 Nuremberg House and the Tate Baby House 0f 1760 and also later houses are on display.

Houses were often elaborately made on the outside but had less detail inside lacking staircases and doors.

In the 19th century Dolls Houses were created to be as replica's of real houses for the purpose to help little girls learn good house-keeping skills. This trend continued until around the mid nineteenth century when the Dolls House began to be recognised as a children's plaything, generally by children of wealthy families.

From the mid 19th century onwards Dolls Houses were mass produced by Britain, Germany and the United States. The two main firms in Britain were Silber & Fleming, as distributors ( it is believed that it is unlikely they manufactured houses) and G. & J. Lines, as makers, both based in London. Christian Hacker and Moritz Gottschalk are amongst the most famous German manufacturers and Rufus Bliss and Converse are probably the most well known American makers.

Around this time there was quite a large cottage industry in place, small business's, often family business's were supplying larger company's with houses. Some designs sold by different companies could have very similar features.

Many Dolls Houses were manufactured during this period that can not be identified , these also remain collectible although their origin is unknown.

Old Dolls Houses show us a glimpse of history in a 3D form, they inform us of how people used to furnish their houses in days gone by and give us an insight into their domestic lives and social pastimes. They show us how life has changed over the generations, often highlighting to us aspects of life that have now vanished or are rarely seen.

It is of no wonder to me how people are captivated by the Dolls House and it's contents.