Amy Mile's Dollhouse
The Belle of Europe
One of the best things about antique dollhouses is that they allow us to see what real houses looked like during the time period of a dollhouse. There are many instances when regular items have not survived and the only way we know about them is to see them in miniature in a historical dollhouse.
This dollhouse was built in 1890 for Amy Miles, a little girl from a local wealthy family. Her dollhouse features miniature furniture and items of the same time period of the house. In the dollhouse, there is a nursery, a schoolroom, one bedroom, a bathroom and a billiards room complete with a pool table, horse prints, and miniature versions of the both of the London newspapers of the time including the Illustrated London News, and the Graphic.
In the very feminine nursery there is ruffled crib, a tiny shadow box complete with teeny tiny furniture, a doll in a walker and another in an intricate highchair. The master bedroom walls are lined in pale pink silk, and the room is inhabited by very elegant and well dressed women. The Amy Miles Dollhouse was provided to the Victoria and Albert Museum for an exhibition in 1915. In 1921, the dollhouse was given to the museum for its permanent collection.
During World War II, the bombing of London damaged the dollhouse and destroyed the artist’s studio which was located next to the bathroom on the right hand side of the house. This dollhouse depicts what life would have been like for a wealthy family living in London during the late 1800’s. The house displays all of the kinds of items that a well to do family of the time would have possessed, including telephones, a carpet sweeper, a knife cleaner, bicycles, and a geyser for heating up the bath water. Amy’s Dollhouse can be seen at the Victoria &Albert Museum of Childhood
, in London, England.
A Fine Example of 17th Century European Dollhouse
In the seventeenth century in Europe, dollhouses in the homes of the well to do were actually pieces of furniture. The dollhouse would be part of a cupboard or armoire. Most had legs with cabinet doors to open to the dollhouse interior. These dollhouse cupboards were not for children, they were constructed for the woman of the home as part of an elegant home décor. Men had similar cabinets for their collections of objects d’art.
One of the most famous dollhouses and one that has survived through the ages was commissioned by an affluent woman in Amsterdam, Petronella Oortman. This particular dollhouse built in 1686, is a true one of a kind dollhouse with artists of the day contributing individuals works of art, and furniture makers making furniture with all the detail of full size furniture, all made exactly to scale. Oortman even commissioned the porcelain miniatures to be made in China. The cost of the dollhouse cabinet is estimated to be twenty to thirty thousand guilders, which at today’s exchange rate, would be the price of an actual home. The dollhouse is currently part of the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The cabinet measures 255X189.5X78 cm. The dollhouse has a linen room, maid’s rooms complete with box beds and chamber pots, foot warmers, firepan, and spinning wheel. The luxurious nursery has a gilt mirror, a ceiling painting, silk screens with parrot designs, a wicker baby chair, and cradle. The salon of the Oortman dollhouse which in the 17th century was the room where visitors were received features floor to ceiling wall murals done by Nicolaes Piemont. There are also paintings by the artist Willem van Royen, in place on the chimneypiece. The furniture in the elegant salon includes eleven Spanish chairs, a backgammon table and a tea table with a top that folds down.
The Oortman dollhouse also includes a hallway with a marble floor, and a ceiling painting of Aurora, the goddess of dawn and monochromatic paintings called grisailles. Opening off the hallway is the room for the master of the home called the comptoir, from which you could originally see a geometrically laid out garden with a working fountain. Any wealthy home in the 17th century would also have a room set aside for the women of the house to give birth called the lying in room. This dollhouse has a lying in room which contains a bed set in alcove, a folding screen, a cradle and a brazier to help dry baby diapers. We only know what lying in rooms looked like in Europe from dollhouses as few have survived in European homes. As in any fine home in the 17th century the Oortman dollhouse has both a best kitchen and a cookroom. The best kitchen was used for meals and storing utensils and tableware, while the cookroom was just for cooking meals. The best kitchen in the Oortman dollhouse contains dishes specially made in China and Japan, an exotic looking parrot cage. The cookroom or backroom in the dollhouse contains a sink with a copper pump which used to actually work, miniature food made from wax, and sterling silver forks and knives. The Tapestry room illustrates the types of tapestries that were common in 17th century homes but which have only survived in the dollhouses of the time. The painter Johannes Voorhut is responsible for the painted bible scene on the chimney, and points to the actual use of this room which was for mourning the dead.
German Nuremberg Dockenhaus
An Example of German Nuremberg Dockenhaus
Dollhouses built in the 17th century generally served two purposes. One a miniature dollhouse was a sign of wealth and would sit in the main room of a home where visitors would be received. A dollhouse’s second purpose would be as a visual for the children in the home so they could learn the skills they would need to run a household. Dollhouses built in this period for wealthy adults would have included items made by local craftsmen and the miniature furniture and household items would have been greatly prized. Probably several different guild of specialist craftsmen were commissioned in the building and decorating of the Nuremberg dollhouse. This dollhouse referred to as the Nuremberg Dollhouse was built in 1673 and is one of the few dollhouses that have survived from that period. The German dockenhaus or dollhouse has its date written right on the house’s chimney. Also of note are the stars on the house which were popular on real houses at the time, but were eventually banned because they tended to fly off in times of high wind and turn into dangerous flying weapons.
The size of dollhouse is small – only four rooms which make it much smaller than other surviving dollhouses from Nuremberg, Germany. It is also possible to know what kind of business the owners of the dollhouse were probably in as the Nuremberg dollhouse has a unicorn on the left side of the door which meant the house would have been owned by a chemist or apothecary, an early form of advertising. On the right door of the dollhouse there is a picture of Martin Luther, so we can also assume the owners of the dollhouse were religious in nature which conclusion is given further credence from the prayer books which are scattered around in the house.
The dollhouse which is made of pine wood is painted to resemble stone and has seven square front windows in the front of the house. The arched door leads directly into the kitchen which is an example of the ‘best kitchen’ which would have been where guests were first greeted. The master bedroom of the house contains a four poster bed with feather mattresses and an original doll with a face made from wax in a detailed high chair. The main bedroom appears to serve as both a bedroom and sitting room. The Nuremberg house features a large stove painted green with an outlet to the outside, which is representative of stoves of the period, plate rails, unusual wooden casks made out of chip wood, and fine copper and brassware pots and plates.
The Nuremberg dollhouse is the oldest dollhouse in the collection at the Victoria & Albert’s Museum of Childhood located in London, England.