Little Treasures Museum
by Emily Inne
When I was a child, having my own dollshouse felt like an impossible dream. It was wartime and life was hard. But my resourceful mum helped me transform an old butter box into my very own dollshouse, complete with furniture we constructed together from empty matchboxes and paperclips. The crowning glory for me - strictly only if Mum was there! - was being allowed to carefully strike a match and light a real candle, pushed into a wooden cotton reel. As the candlelight flickered around the makeshift interior, it felt like a little bit of magic.
I never quite forgot that magic. Many years later, in 1990, I decided to convert part of a disused outbuilding on my Scottish croft to open a craft shop. By chance, or perhaps by fate, while planning this project, I visited a local lady who owned many dollshouses and was holding an open day displaying them in her home to raise funds for various charities. All the wonder and pleasure of dollshouses was reawakened in me, and I decided to incorporate a dollshouse section into my proposed craft shop. Researching, stocking, selling and advising on dollshouses and miniatures became a personal passion and I went on to initiate a local dollshouse club to share my growing knowledge and experience with other enthusiasts.
A few years later, my shop was doing well and I moved on to phase two of the development, which was to establish a dollshouse and toy museum. Being situated in a rural part of North East Scotland, in Kemnay, Aberdeenshire, in the days before the internet, it was quite a challenge at first to locate dollshouses to stock the museum. Historically, childhood in this part of the world tended to be quite short, with most youngsters working in the fields or on fishing boats to help their parents, rather than at home playing with toys. But gradually word spread around the area and further afield that my Toy Museum was seeking exhibits. Little by little, dollshouses started to trickle in. Mine is a very varied collection, largely because I find it so hard to turn anything away! I feel there is as much to admire and appreciate in a homemade one-room house as in the grandest miniature mansion. To date, the collection numbers 350 houses – some gifted, some on loan, some purchased. Ones I have bought range from local boot fair bargains for 50p, to rare specimens costing over £1000.
The first house that started my collection
The But & Ben - Pre 1940? Exact date unknown
Auctions have also been a great source of stock – but at the beginning, with no such thing as auction catalogues online, it was often a case of hit or miss. Often I would trek all the way to a sale in person, only to find there was nothing to buy. Once I travelled from Aberdeen to Edinburgh by train (130 miles!) only to find not a single lot of either dollshouses or furniture in the auction. Rather than have a wasted journey, I bid on – and went home with - several vintage dolls. Stocking a toy museum from scratch is like painting the Forth Road Bridge – a never-ending task! Four beautifully-boxed vintage train sets were the consolation prize of another dollshouse-seeking auction trip. These days my life has got much easier as I can browse catalogues, and even leave bids, from the comfort of my armchair.
A German exhibit, ca 1910
The oldest house in my collection (a box back) dates from 1865 and had no furniture when I bought it at auction. This is a common problem, that vintage houses are emptied of their furniture and contents before being sold – and one that is so disappointing. It has taken me many painstaking years to furnish this particular house to my satisfaction but I am finally pleased with it.
The oldest house in my collection - a box back ca 1865
All houses are suitably restored and furnished before being put on display in the museum. As far as possible, I resource the appropriate components from the correct period – and I am very lucky to have the whole stock of the shop to choose from to help me. Rare and vintage dollshouse furniture and accessories are also on display in glass cases in the museum for visitors to appreciate. I can often be found wandering the museum aisles with an interesting piece of furniture looking for the perfect place for it to call home among the 350 choices! Although I undertake many restoration projects myself, for any larger tasks that are beyond my capabilities, I enlist the help of a local carpenter.
The attic of the four storey house below
Visitors and friends often ask me which dollshouse is my favourite. My answer would always be, whichever one I am working on at the moment. Last winter I bought my biggest house yet – with 16 rooms. It was the rather ambitious project of a first-time dollshouse creator, and it got so unwieldy she felt overwhelmed by it and was glad to pass it on. This house has kept me very busy these past few months but it is a project that is extremely fulfilling.
A four storey mansion, and below, details of the bedroom and dining room.
When I began my collection, my knowledge of dollshouses was very limited, and I would like to give grateful thanks to Marion Osborne for her sterling research work and assistance. I used to send a photograph of my latest acquisition to Marion by post and straight back would come extensive information about the house and its history, plus where possible a picture of a similar model to enable me to carry out the necessary restoration work. Thank you Marion – I could not have done it without you!
The Nest by Triang, exterior and interior.
My museum is very full as I find it very hard to part with any house – even displaying three identical specimens! – and I do sometimes announce to friends and family I am going to stop collecting. They tend not to believe me – and I don’t really believe myself. Because there is always another fascinating, unique, beautifully made specimen out there that is too good not to go after.
My gallery shop and museum are open by appointment any day, any time – just telephone (01467 641 696) or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a suitable time. During the summer months June July and August, the museum and shop is open weekends from 10 – 4. All most welcome, including schools and coach groups.
Also see the website www.littletreasures.uk.com.
I thoroughly recommend anyone thinking of starting a dollshouse project to take the step as soon as possible. My only regret is I did not start my collection sooner.
Thanks for reading.