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Dollhouses Weren't Invented for Play


In the beginning, dollhouses had only two purposes: display and pedagogy. First built in the 17th century in northern Europe, primarily in Germany, Holland, and England, dollhouses were designed for adults. They were closely associated with wealth and served as markers of social class and status. As Faith Eaton explains in The Ultimate Dolls House Book, the German word dockenhaus meant not dollhouse but miniature house." And a miniature doll house was not a house to play with. In Holland, these exhibits of wealth were called cabinet houses." The front of the dollhouse opens like a china cabinet on hinges that can be closed and locked. Inside cabinet houses, people could both show off and conceal their collections of expensive miniature objects.

Eginning in the 17th century, Nuremberg kitchens" might contain a hearth, cooking pots, a straw broom. These all-metal houses were designed without ornament, for purely utilitarian purposes. Used as teaching tools for girls, Nuremberg kitchens allowed mothers to show daughters how to set up and control a house. All about learning rules, a Nuremberg kitchen was the opposite of a dollhouse as a dream world of fantasy. It was a place where girls learned to manage not only the objects of the house but also its servants, where girls would learn to become the lady of the house.

By 18th-century England, the Baby House" emerged. The dollhouse kits was an exact copy of the owner`s home, a replica designed to showcase the owner`s wealth-a small, baby" version of a real-life house. Unlike the Dutch Cabinet House, which might have miniature Dollhouse Furniture but tended to be full of expensive or rare objects, the Baby House was full of furniture in tiny versions of the owner`s rooms.

Changing definitions of childhood in the beginning of the 19th century shifted ideas about play. But it took the industrial revolution and the increase in mass-produced objects to make dollhouses and miniatures begin to be construed as toys. And it took until after World War II, when the U.S. stopped importing goods from Europe, for dollhouses to become mass-produced and affordable. Miniatures began to take on a second, different life.


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