The History of The Dolls House & Miniatures
Firstly I would like to be clear to readers that when I refer to dolls houses and miniatures I am not talking about toys for children. The kind of dolls house miniatures I am describing are collectors items for people of 12 years old and upward. Whilst I acknowledge that, for over a century, dollsí houses have primarily been thought of as the domain of children, their collection and crafting began to fascinate adults long ago. I have no doubt that the type of dollsí house that appeals to collectors, also appeals to children. However, on a point of safety, the tiny objects within the majority of domestic replicas can present a choking hazard to very young, unsupervised children. On a point of value these very precious items can be damaged by small hands that donít quite know yet how to handle tiny objects delicately!
Today's dollís house traces its history directly back about four hundred years to what were generally referred to as "baby houses" in Europe. The baby houses were display cases or cabinets made up of rooms. These cabinets were built with architectural details and accuracy of scale, then filled with miniature household items. They were then, as now, solely the playthings of adults. They were off-limits to children, not because of safety concerns for the child but for the dolls house! These cabinet houses were prize collections, often owned by those enthusiasts living in the cities of Holland, England and Germany who were wealthy enough to afford them, and, fully furnished, were, and to some extent still can be now, worth the price of a modest full-size house!
As time went on, smaller dolls houses, with more realistic exteriors, became evident in Europe. The term dollhouse is more commonly used in the United States and Canada. Whilst in the UK the terms dolls' house or dollshouse are more usual.
Miniature homes, furnished with domestic items 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. The wooden models of servants, furnishings, boats, livestock and pets placed in the Pyramids almost certainly were made for religious purposes. The earliest known European dollshouses are from the Sixteenth Century. These baby or cabinet houses, as refered to earlier, showed idealised interiors complete with extremely detailed furnishings and accessories, which where mostly hand made.
The early European dollsí houses were each unique, generally custom built by individual craftsmen. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, factories began mass producing toys, including dollsí houses and miniatures suitable for furnishing them. German companies noted for their dollsí houses 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 dollsí houses were being made in the United States by The Bliss Manufacturing Company.
Germany was the producer of the most prized dollshouses and dollshouse miniatures up until The Great War. Notable German miniature companies included Marklin, Rock and Garner and others. Their products were not only widely collected in Central Europe, but exported to Britain and North America. However, Germany's involvement in WWI seriously impeded both production and export. As a result new manufacturers in other countries arose.
The TynieToy Company of Providence, Rhode Island, made authentic replicas of American antique houses and furniture in a uniform scale beginning in around 1917. Others noteable American companies of the early twentieth century were Roger Williams Toys, Tootsietoy, Schoenhut, and the Wisconsin Toy Co. Dollshouse dolls and miniatures also began to be produced in Japan, mostly from copies of original German designs.
After World War II, dollsí houses began to be produced in factories around the world on a much larger scale with less detailed craftsmanship than ever before. By the 1950s, the typical dollshouse sold commercially was made of painted sheet metal filled with plastic furniture. This made the ownership of a dollsí houses accessible to the great majority of girls from developed western countries that were not struggling with rebuilding after World War II.