October Tip of the Month: Collecting Dolls Houses and Miniatures


Well here we are in October and it’s time for another Tip of the Month. How did that happen so fast?

This month I want to talk about all things miniature. If you had a dolls house as a child or just love tiny things you may want to collect dolls houses.

First of all, decide what you would like to collect. This decision may impact on how much room you have for display. Not all dolls houses are small and once you get the bug you may find you need a whole room just for them. Naomi and I have several dolls houses between us. The largest is Naomi’s Beacon Hill but our vintage wooden dolls houses also take up a bit of space and even some of the tin litho ones can be pretty large like Marxie Mansion or the Marx Ranch House. Of course, if you are like us you will just buy them anyway and figure out how you can fit them in later. That’s not a tip by the way just an observation. The first law of collecting is still “Buy what you love.”

So what will you collect?

  • Vintage or modern dolls houses designed for play.
  • Dolls houses designed for collectors which you can decorate and furnish to suit your own taste.
  • Dolls houses that come as a kit that you build.
  • Room boxes, forget the house and just create a scene in a box or any sort of item you might find around the house.
Rosewood Manor a tin litho dolls house by Today’s Kids 1986

Vintage

Collectors of dolls and toys enjoy finding an old childhood favourite or maybe a house they wish they had as a child. Materials can be wood, tin, cardboard or for more modern one’s plastic like the Fisher-Price or Sylvanian Families houses. They might be made by a well-known company like Triang, Amersham, Lundby or Marx or they might be “Dad built”.

Buying dolls houses from overseas is difficult, many sellers don’t want the bother of packing bulky dolls houses and the price can be horrific. Naomi has paid around $A100 to get a wooden dolls house shipped from England to Australia but has been quoted as much as $300. This is one hobby where it really pays to see what is around locally at flea markets, estate sales and so on and bring it home yourself. We have had some lovely eBay sellers though who have gone to a lot of trouble to package a house carefully to take up the least amount of space and still be safe to save postage. I think one that Naomi dealt with repackaged the house several times each time reducing the price a little bit and keeping in touch with a series of emails. Now that is customer service but you won’t find that sort of consideration everywhere.

As with any collecting hobby, research is not only vital to make sure you are getting what you think you are but it can be a lot of fun looking up old advertisements and photographs. In an earlier post, Naomi talked about how some dolls houses are misrepresented by sellers as being older than they really are. Rosewood Manor, the house pictured above is one that is sometimes mistaken for a much older dolls house.

An illustration from the 1937 Triang catalogue

You may want to restore your old dolls house to original condition and there are now some companies that produce replacement parts or you can make your own. Alternatively, if the house is very far gone it is a blank canvas to create something different. Perhaps you could furnish it like your childhood home or just experiment with a different style. Just please don’t paint it grey, or if you do don’t tell me.

We enjoy learning more about the companies that made our dolls houses and furniture and we try to furnish them appropriately either with the furniture that they would have had or just with similar furniture to the pieces we remember having ourselves. Our childhood dolls houses were a mish-mash of different materials and scales but we like trying to recreate our early memories so we don’t care.

Some reasons to collect vintage dolls houses

  • Artistic value – We love the graphics on our tin lithographed dolls houses.
  • Architectural style and Decor- Dolls houses and furniture usually reflect popular styles of the decade they were made in.
  • Recreate childhood memories.
  • Fun to play with.

A word of warning, tin litho dolls houses, in particular, are susceptible to fading so make sure that they are stored in a room that doesn’t get too much sun. These toys were designed to be played with though so I think it’s absolutely fine to encourage children and grandchildren to play with them, providing they treat them with respect.

Ready-Made and Kits

Beacon Hill

Playline dolls houses are not sticklers for scale though so if size matters you might fall into the second category. 1:12 and 1:24 are popular scales and you can buy ready-made houses in these scales and furniture to fit them very easily. These days you can even light them up without the use of wires and transformers by obtaining battery operated light fittings. There is a huge variety of houses from simple ones which could be given to a child to very elaborate ones like those we see at the Dolls House and Miniatures Show. The houses can be pricey but you can save by buying them in kit form which brings me to the DIY miniaturists.

DIY

A group of miniature cottages.

These are probably the most fun for creative or crafty people. You can start with a kit house or a room box and build everything from scratch or buy some items and create others from household items. If you don’t have a lot of space or are not sure if this is the hobby for you a room box can be a good way to start off. You could even create a whole home that way although you would need the “Big Hand from the Sky” to move your dolls house folk from one room to another. Miniaturists will use all sorts of items to create a tiny scene and it involves skills like painting, sewing, knitting and crochet as well as building skills. This could be a fun hobby for a couple. If you have a partner or friend who enjoys model railways many of the same skills are used by scratch builders.

Resources

We have written a few posts about our vintage dolls houses and furniture and you might find these of interest if you haven’t read them before. There are also various clubs and websites where you can learn about vintage dolls houses or about making and decorating a dolls house or creating a miniature scene. I have included some here.

The wonderful Dolls Houses Past and Present will soon be back with a brand new site but I will include the link to the old one for now.

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3 comments

  1. I would like to add that for those who would like to build their own vintage house be on the lookout for old hobby books and magazines because they often have plans in them for nice houses and even furnishings. Some people sell old plans for these and other vintage toys on eBay. I’ve seen them on CDs for quite good prices. Anyway search the Internet and look through old book stores and markets and see what you can turn up because you just never know.

    Liked by 1 person

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