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~ Dollhouse History ~
Part One
by Dolores Hurtt


Continued from the home page ...

In the 17th century records show there were doll shops, but shopping was not as we know it. Shoppers did not go into the store and purchase items.  Peddlers brought a variety from house to house and sold to the people in the homes.

A very detailed "Nurnberg Kitchen" was built in the 17th century.  It is thought it was designed as a learning tool to teach young girls how to manage a kitchen.  These kitchens were made to be very accurate replicas of real kitchens.  They were filled with kitchen tools and cookware and some of the ovens even were working models.  One of them is on display at "The Museum of Children" in Edinburgh.  That one was made in America and imported to England. Pieces made during that time were not toys to be played with by children.


Bedroom and drawing rooms were made to show the work of fine craftsmen. Some displays included small figurines .The detailed rooms were for the pleasure of adult viewers.  They were very costly and owned by the wealthy.


By the 18th century, the wealthy people had beautiful cabinets, custom made to display the treasured pieces. They were arranged to resemble a house.  These were known as "baby houses".  One is known to date back to the 17th century in Yorkshire.  It was built to replicate a house on the estate.  It was designed by James Paine. The carpenter who built this house was Thomas Chippendale. He also made the furniture.  He made furniture pieces for other wealthy customers, but much of it did not survive the years.


Early "baby houses" were considered valuable pieces of art. The wealthy owners kept them in their drawing rooms and showed them with pride to their admiring guests.  The cabinet doors were built with sturdy locks and they were kept locked when not on display.  Some of the cabinets were made with legs and others were displayed on tables. The doors were sometimes made to looks like houses, with doors and windows.


One of the oldest surviving "baby houses" was a gift from Queen Anne to her goddaughter, Ann Sharp.  The original owner was Sarah Lethieullier, who received it as a child. When she married, she took the house with her to her new home.  That house is now on display at "Stranger's Hall Museum" in Norwich.


Children were allowed to be included in the decorating and furnishing of the homes, under supervision, during the 18th century.  Later, some of these homes were considered a toy to be played with.


Mary Edgeworth wrote "Practical Education" in 1801. It was her belief dollhouses should be unfinished to inspire children to do carpentry and needlework to decorate them.  She felt a finished dollhouse would be boring for children. Mary did not take into consideration the imagination and creativity children would use while playing.


The way people thought about children changed by the 19th century. They were treated better and allowed to be included in family time.


Houses began to become more realistic, in their structure and decor, both inside and outside.  They were smaller and lighter, with roofs and stairways.  Drawing rooms were replaced by nurseries.



The next article will take us into the 19th century ......
Stay tuned.




Source: Dolls and Dollhouses" by Constance Eileen King


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