A dollhouse is a toy home, made in miniature. For the last century, dollhouses have primarily been the domain of children but their collection and crafting have also fascinated a large number of adults. The very same dollhouses often appeal to both groups but very young children (age 3 years and under) should be restricted from access to the great majority of these domestic replicas because of choking hazards.
Today's doll's house traces its history directly back about four hundred years to the "baby houses" of Europe. The baby houses were cabinet display cases made up of rooms. The cabinets were built with architectural details and filled with miniature household items and were solely the playthings of adults. They were off-limits to children, not because of safety concerns for the child but for the dollhouse. Such cabinet houses were trophy collections owned by the few matrons living in the cities of Holland, England and Germany who were wealthy enough to afford them, and, fully furnished, were worth the price of a modest full-size house's construction.
As time went on, smaller doll houses such as the Tate house, with more realistic exteriors, became evident in Europe. The term dollhouse is common in the United States and Canada. In UK usage, dolls' house or dollshouse is usual.
Miniature homes, furnished with domestic articles and resident inhabitants (both people and animals), have been made for thousands of years. The earliest known examples were found in the Egyptian Tombs of the Old Kingdom, created nearly five thousand years ago. These wooden models of servants, furnishings, boats, livestock and pets placed in the Pyramids almost certainly were made for religious purposes. The earliest known European dollhouses are from the Sixteenth Century. These baby or cabinet houses showed idealized interiors complete with extremely detailed furnishings and accessories (mostly hand made).
The early European dollhouses were each unique, constructed on a custom basis by individual craftsmen. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, factories began mass producing toys, including dollhouses and miniatures suitable for furnishing them. German companies noted for their dollhouses included Christian Hacker, Moritz Gottschalk, Elastolin, and Moritz Reichel. The list of important English companies includes Siber & Fleming, Evans & Cartwright, and Lines Brothers (which became Tri-ang). By the end of the Nineteenth Century American dollhouses were being made in the United States by The Bliss Manufacturing Company.
Germany was the producer of the most prized dollhouses and doll house miniatures up until The Great War. Notable German miniature companies included Marklin, Rock and Garner and others. Their products were not only avidly collected in Central Europe, but regularly exported to Britain and North America. Germany's involvement in WWI seriously impeded both production and export. New manufacturers in other countries arose.
The TynieToy Company of Providence, Rhode Island, made authentic replicas of American antique houses and furniture in a uniform scale beginning in about 1917. Other American companies of the early Twentieth Century were Roger Williams Toys, Tootsietoy, Schoenhut, and the Wisconsin Toy Co. Dollhouse dolls and miniatures were also produced in Japan, mostly by copying original German designs.
After World War II, dollshouses became mass produced in factories on a much larger scale with less detailed craftsmanship than ever before. By the 1950s, the typical dollhouse sold commercially was painted sheet metal filled with plastic furniture. The cost of these houses was low enough to allow the great majority of girls from the developed western countries that were not struggling with rebuilding after World War II to own a dollhouse.
Dutch - The Doll's House of Petronella Oortman c. 1686-1705. The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam estimates that P. Oortman spent twenty to thirty thousand guilders on her “model house”, the price of a real house along one of Amsterdam’s canals at that time. This doll’s house shows the linen room (laundry room), kitchen, and bedrooms in great detail – which serve to illustrate the workings of the household of that era.
English-The Tate House (1760), on Exhibit in The Museum of Childhood in London.
Germana very nice German Doll House from the 1700s is on display at the Denver Museum of Miniatures Dolls and Toys on loan from the Denver Art Museum. In addition the Denver Museum of Miniatures,Dolls and Toys has two European shops from the 1800s on display
There have been several standard scales in dollhouses over the years. Children's toy houses during most of the 20th century were two third scale (where 1 foot is represented by 2/3 of an inch), also known as 1:18 (1" equals 18"). Popular brands included Lundby (Sweden) (established in 1947), Renwal, Plasco, Marx, Petite Princess, and T. Cohn (all American) and Caroline's Home, Barton, Dol-Toi and Triang (English). A few brands use 3/4-scale or 1:16 scale, which is also used for scale III model trains. With the exception of Lundby, 2/3-scale furniture was most often made from plastic. Houses were made from a variety of materials, including metal (tin litho), fibreboard, plastic, and wood.
In Germany during the middle part of the 20th century 1/10th scale became popular (based on a metric system where 10 inches is represented by 1 inch). Toy-like houses coming out of Germany today remain closer in scale to 1:10 than to 1:12.
In the 1970s, the standard for adult collectors became 1/12 (also called 1" or one inch scale, represented in the United States as 1:12). There is also half inch scale or 1/24th (1 foot is represented by 1/2 an inch), quarter inch scale or 1/48 (1 foot is represented by 1/4 of an inch), and "dollhouse for a dollhouse" (1:144). Half-inch scale was popular in Marx dollhouses in the 1950s but only became widely available in "collector" houses after 2002, about the same time that even smaller scales became more popular. These smaller scales are much more common in the United States than in Britain.
Contemporary kit and fully built houses are typically made of plywood or medium density fibreboard. Tab-and-slot kits use a thinner plywood and are held together by a system of tabs and slots (plus glue). These houses are usually light-weight and lower cost but often require siding, shingles, or other exterior treatments to look their best. Kits made from heavier plywood or MDF are held together with nails and glue. In the United States, most houses have an open back and a fancy front facade, while British houses are more likely to have a hinged front that opens to reveal the rooms. The great majority of contemporary dollhouses are built in one inch scale.
The same principle applies to miniature objects to go inside dollhouses, such as books and clocks, items of furniture, interior decorations, and dolls. Although shop-bought items are generally of a higher quality, they tend to be more expensive. Homemade items are often cheaper and more rewarding to make as almost any material can be used.
If there are no dollhouse shops in your area, an easy alternative is to use the internet. In the United States, 1/12th scale dollhouses start at around $50 for a simple kit but can run much higher for a large, elaborate, or one-of-a-kind house. There are also dozens of miniature trade shows held throughout the year by various miniature organizations, where artisans and dealers display and sell miniatures. Often, how-to seminars are part of the show features.