The Magical Miniature World of Antique Dollhouses

Welcome to the magical world of antique dollhouses.

Early dollhouses were elaborate European cabinet-style “baby house” display cases.

Doll's house from Petronella de la Court (Amsterdam 1670-1690) in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht - The Netherlands.
Doll’s house from Petronella de la Court (Amsterdam 1670-1690) in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht – The Netherlands.

The 17th-century dollhouse of wealthy Dutch widow Petronella Oortman is of such historical significance that it resides permanently in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Dolls’ House of Petronella Oortman, c. 1700
Dolls’ House of Petronella Oortman, c. 1700

Like other rich women in Amsterdam and the Hague, Petronella had a dollhouse built that she curated over many years, starting in 1686, and filling it with expensive decorative materials and miniatures.

The Comptoir (office) in the dollhouse of Petronella de la Court, Amsterdam 1670-1680
The Comptoir (office) in the dollhouse of Petronella de la Court, Amsterdam 1670-1680

Petronella’s dollhouse was also painted by Dutch artist Jacob Appel in 1710.

Dollhouse of Petronella Ortman by Jacob Appel, c. 1710
Dollhouse of Petronella Ortman by Jacob Appel, c. 1710

Popular among 17th-century German, Dutch, and English nobility, these dollhouses were less about play than they were ornamental conversation pieces—often filled with real miniature silver and porcelain objet d’art.

Dolls’ House of Petronella Oortman, c. 1700
Dolls’ House of Petronella Oortman, c. 1700

In fact, children were off-limits for these extravagant trophy collections for fear of them being damaged.

Incredible detail included tiny chandeliers, mirrors, and even portraits hung on walls. Doors had real hinges and connected adjoining rooms.

Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France. Credit Christina
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France. Credit Christina

Perfectly scaled replicas of bedspreads , wool rugs, upholstered chairs , and hardwood floors completed the interior décor.

Dollhouse of Sara Rothé (1699-1751, Amsterdam) now displayed in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem
Dollhouse of Sara Rothé (1699-1751, Amsterdam) now displayed in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem

Although initially handmade by individual craftsmen, following the industrial revolution, dollhouses were increasingly mass-produced, and as such, were more affordable.

Firms specializing in dollhouse manufacture began to spring up in Germany and England. German companies included Christian Hacker, Moritz Gottschalk, Elastolin, and Moritz Reichel.

Bäumler family doll house nuremberg, ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Bäumler family doll house nuremberg, ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Doll's house from Colmar, Alsace, eastern France (German territory from 1871 - 1918). Credit Esther Westerveld
Doll’s house from Colmar, Alsace, eastern France (German territory from 1871 – 1918). Credit Esther Westerveld
Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko

German firms were the leaders up until World War I, with their dollhouses regularly exported to the United States and Britain.

Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 - 1918). Credit Anca Pandrea
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 – 1918). Credit Anca Pandrea
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 - 1918). Credit Christina
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 – 1918). Credit Christina
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 - 1918). Credit Christina
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 – 1918). Credit Christina

English counterparts to the German firms were Silber & Fleming, Evans & Cartwright, and Lines Brothers.

Antique English Dollhouse. Credit Paul Keleher
Antique English Dollhouse. Credit Paul Keleher
Constance Dahl's 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl’s 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl's 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl’s 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl's 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl’s 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl's 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl’s 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter

Showcasing the very finest goods of the period, Queen Mary’s Doll’s House was built for Queen Mary, the wife of King George V in 1924.

At five feet tall, it contains an incredible collection of working miniatures: running water, toilets that flush, electric light switches, working elevators, and even a garage with cars that have running motors.

Writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book) contributed special books, written and bound in scale size.

Queen Mary's Dolls' House constructed for Queen Mary in 1924. Credit. Rob Sangster
Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House constructed for Queen Mary in 1924. Credit. Rob Sangster

American dollhouses were introduced by the Bliss Manufacturing Company towards the end of the 19th century. Firms like Roger Williams Toys, Tootsietoy, Schoenhut, and the Wisconsin Toy Co began to flourish in the early 20th century.

19th-century Dollhouse. Credit Joanbanjo2
19th-century Dollhouse. Credit Joanbanjo2
19th-century Dollhouse. Credit Joanbanjo
19th-century Dollhouse. Credit Joanbanjo
President Carter's daughter Amy poses with her dollhouse at the White House, 1978
President Carter’s daughter Amy poses with her dollhouse at the White House, 1978
Exterior of the Astolat Dollhouse Castle, built between 1976 and 1986 in USA. Credit Dr Michael and Lois Freeman
Exterior of the Astolat Dollhouse Castle, built between 1976 and 1986 in USA. Credit Dr Michael and Lois Freeman

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David James

David James

I'm an Englishman in Boston. History is a joy—it binds us, it connects us, it guides us. I'm interested in making history more accessible and more fun. Join me on this fantastic voyage through time.