One of the most popular and sought after antique dollhouses today are TynieToy dollhouses. The story of how these dollhouses came to be is a story of perseverance, ingenuity, talent and a love of miniatures and fine craftsmanship. In the 1900s creating handicrafts such as embroidery, quilting, and other textile arts and handcrafts were a part of most women's daily activities. Working on handicrafts together also provided a social outlet for women and led to the founding of clubs such as the Handicraft Club in 1904 in Providence, Rhode Island. The club provided classes in crafts for members in jewelry making, weaving, photograhy, bookbinding, basketry and pottery. The Handicraft Club with its mission of “craft and congeniality” grew to 250 members by 1925 and purchased a home to hold its meetings – the Truman Beckwith House now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
One of the members of the Handicraft Club was Marion Perkins, a professional interior decorator and furniture designer, who in 1917 was dealing with a fall off in demand for her decorating services as the United States entered World War I. In her interior decorating design business, Perkins had created and utilized miniature furniture samples to demonstrate styles for her potential customers. Noting that the war had cut off many of the European imports of toys such as dollhouses and miniature furniture, Marion Perkins took a chance and turned her professional attention to miniatures. She started her business by putting her period minature furniture on display at the Handicraft Club where it drew the notice of the Metropolitan Museum of Art curator who began to purchase miniatures for the museum's permanent collection. In addition, the display intrigued fellow club member Amey Vernon, who partnered with Marion Perkins and began to sell the miniatures in a early version of Tupperware style parties.
The two women eventually decided to form the TynieToy business in 1920, creating dollhouses based on famous New England homes, complete with a collection of appropriately styled miniature furniture including more than 120 individual items. TynieToy eventually outgrew the space at the club's Truman Beckwith House and moved to a new location on Eddy Street in Providence. The company sold the exquisite dollhouses in stores such as Marshall Field's in Chicago and FAO Schwartz in New York. The miniatures were featured in popular publications including the Ladies Home Journal with prices for the dollhouses typically around $200 - $250, a major investment in the 1920s and 1930s.
During its hayday, TynieToy employed more than 40 people, and is believed to have been a major employer of World War I veterans. Some of the more popular dollhouses included the “Nantucket Cottage” and the “Colonial Mansion”. The TynieToy company was considered a preeminent manufacturer of fine miniature dollhouses and dollhouse furnishings all scale reproductions of American period design. The company stayed in existence from World War I through World War II. Collectors now highly value both the dollhouses and furnishings created by the TynieToy company with dollhouses going for as high as $30,000 at auction.
The Handicraft Club which was the inspiration for the toy company is still in existence with a growing membership. Recently, the Club has decided to recognize their connection to the TynieToy company and have obtained one of the original Colonial Mansion dollhouses created by the miniatures company. Margaret Lederer, Club member, is co-chair of a committee which has been funded to find original TynieToy dollhouse furniture to decorate the house. According to Lederer, the history of the TynieToy company and its connection to the Handicraft Club, is something to celebrate. In a recent interview for East Side Monthly, Lederer said, 'What appeals to me is the aspect of women's history and women in business it brings forward. The two founders had the courage to step outside the more common and accepted roles of women of their social status at the time.” As part of renewed interest in TynieToy, the Club has purchased additional dollhouses and is offering classes in creating miniature works of art. The Club is also looking at expanding this interest out to the community with possible future projects involving the Girl Scouts or the Athenaeum's Children's Program. For more information on the Handicraft Club visit http://www.handicraftclub.org. To view a restoration of a TynieToy house being done by miniatures expert Susan Grimshaw visit http://tynietoy.org/id4.html.