Dollhouses are intriguing creations that have character, charm, and appeal that is often difficult to convey. These are only a few reasons why dollhouses are still very much in style with children and collectors. In fact, interest and appreciation in dollhouses and the world of miniatures is on the rise. According to the Atlantic, "the age of Dollhouse 2.0 is upon us."
Dollhouses weren’t always known as dollhouses. The earliest dollhouses were crafted in Northern Europe in places such as Germany and Holland. In Germany, dollhouses were known as “dockenhaus” or “miniature house.” In Holland, they were called “cabinet houses,” according to the Atlantic. Both types of dollhouses were hand-crafted showpieces with intricately detailed rooms, furnishings, and rare items.
When dollhouses made their way to England in the 1700s, they were called “baby houses.” According to the Atlantic, they were replicas of the owner’s house. No matter what they were called or where they were made, rich people used them to show off their great wealth as they could cost as much as a real house.
The dollhouse pictured above was made in the 20th Century; the model is an example of how intricate and expensive early dollhouses could be. It is more than three feet tall at 39 inches, 44 inches in length and three feet wide. It contains miniature period pieces such as a Murphy bed, grandfather clock, wind up piano and a roll top desk. It is based on the house pictured on the cover of the book, “The Remember When Dollhouse” by Phyllis Gift Jellison.
The house in which Jellison’s husband grew up was the inspiration for the dollhouse. That house cost $5,000 to build in 1919. In contrast, the dollhouse, which was built over a three year period from 1988 to 1991, cost $10,000.
Some dollhouses performed double-duty. This amazingly detailed dollhouse was originally a birdcage. The birdcage is of German origin. A former employee of Princess Margaret, the now deceased sister of Queen Elizabeth II, purchased the birdcage in England and brought it with her to the United States. Princess Margaret’s former employee converted the birdcage into a dollhouse that held dolls that looked like royalty.
During the Industrial Revolution, dollhouses made their first appearance on the assembly line. Automated production lowered the cost of dollhouses, but not enough that they were common in homes, according to the History of Dolls
Dollhouses didn’t make their way into many homes until the birth of the middle class following World War II. During this time period manufacturers started to use cheaper materials such as particle board, sheet metal and plastic to construct doll houses.
The average modern dollhouse is typically 1:18 in scale according to The History of Dolls. Collectible dollhouses are usually 1:12, but some are 1:24. These tiny dollhouses are known as “dollhouses for dollhouses.”
Dollhouses made before the 1900s weren’t uniform in scale. Dollhouses can come as kits, where the collector can act as an interior decorator and furnish things to his tastes. Other dollhouses come already decorated.