Are Dollhouses Toys?

By: Madison Petrella

This dollhouse was recently found in the Deyo House’s attic, having previously lived in the previous interpretation’s toy room. Unlike the typical lavish dollhouse that comes to mind, this one was fashioned out of a crate and is rather small, consisting of four “rooms”. Although a bit worn down, small details are still present, like the design of the wallpaper and the kitchen tiles. This was clearly a dollhouse that was meant for play, not dissimilar from dollhouses nowadays, yet a far cry from the original intention for these tiny houses that have come to be thought of as toys.

ootw-dollhouse-2

Dollhouses are not an invention of recent history. The most popular span for the dollhouse was between 1700 to 1900.1 However, they were popular before then and clearly have remained so. Centuries ago, the toy was not referred to as “dollhouse” and although they had a few different purposes, they were not meant as toys. Typically dollhouses, called baby houses, were designed as exact replicas of the owner’s estate and were intended to be a representation of that person’s wealth. Dozens of highly skilled artisans would work on these tiny homes costing thousands of dollars and would include the smallest details found in the real home. Some dollhouses had wine cellars with bottles of real wine; others were equipped with running water and electricity.2 Sometimes dollhouses were used as a way for young girls to learn how to run a household, like 17th century Nuremburg Kitchens.3 Dutch dollhouses beginning in the 17th century, called cabinet houses, were designed to mirror the homes of brides to be given to her by her new husband to help alleviate homesickness.4 And Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist, believes that women, restricted to their homes and societal expectations, used dollhouses as a way to escape into a dream world much like young girls today.5 Mass production and cheaper costs in the 19th century contributed to the dollhouse’s evolution into a toy.6

ootw-dollhouse

There seems to always have been a fascination with the idea of a tiny world, whether it was reflected in these houses or in stories like Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina in 1835 or recent movies like 20th Century Fox’s Epic in 2013. In the past, the creations of these tiny homes with their exquisite detail were works of art created by highly skilled craftsmen. Nowadays, although many dollhouses can be found in toy stores, made of plastic and mass-produced, there are many shops around the world keeping alive the tradition of adult dollhouses and the skilled artistry their creation requires.

Sources:

1“The history of doll houses.” Boomini. Accessed January 17, 2017.

2Ibid.

3Cooley, Nicole. “Dollhouses Weren’t Invented for Play.” The Atlantic. July 22, 2016.

Accessed January 17, 2017.

4“The history of doll houses.” Boomini. Accessed January 17, 2017.

5Burton, Jessie. “The miraculous healing power of a doll’s house.” The Independent.

December 10, 2014. Accessed January 17, 2017.

6Cooley, Nicole.

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