Doll houses are unabashadly charming and whimsical. They hold the attention of children and adults, offering a material realm which is part of our world, yet is a separate fantasy place for our imagination to dwell.
Miniature houses, like dolls, have been part of the human experience for thousands of years, with the earliest known examples found in Egyptian tombs and having religious purposes. Baby houses, which were handmade valuable and expensive collections for adults, became popular in Europe beginning in the 16th century, followed by childrens’ toy houses in the 19th century. These early dollhouses did not use a standardized scale.
Although there is now a range of scales for toy dollhouses, we will focus on scales that are useful for creating a doll space for antique dolls and miniatures. Only a small math lesson is required to figure out the scale perspective, and there are two ways that the perspectives are commonly represented. Let’s start with the common hobby dollhouse size of 1/12th scale. In this size, 1 inch of the miniature equals 1 foot, or 12 inches of the full size article it represents; therefore, it is 1/12th of full size. Sometimes this is written as 1:12. 1/8th size was a common size for 19th century play dollhouses. So in this size, 1 inch of miniature represents 8 inches of full size, or 1:8.
The size of miniature that is our focus for antique dolls such as Izannah Walker and lady china dolls is 1/4th scale, or 1 inch of miniature equals 4 inches of full size. If you consider that an adult person is generally around 5’6″ to 6′, and divide that by 4, then you get to the doll size of 16.5″ to 18″ which fits nicely into the 1:4 size room.
Okay! Our math lesson is over! Knowing about miniature scales is a good foundation for putting together a miniature display or dollhouse. But as we can see, it is only a guideline when bringing together little antiques and small found treasures.
Here is a progression of antique dollhouse china dolls for perspective. Hazel, the largest doll on the left, is 6 1/2″ tall. She is too large for 1:12 scale furniture, and looks better with items that are closer to 1:8 scale. Next, in the blue dress, is a child doll, 5″ tall. She also does not work with 1:12 scale because her childish stature is out of proportion even though she is the right height. She works well as a child for Hazel, and both being Hertwig dolls of the late 19th century, they look appropriate together.
The middle doll above, in the pink dress, is a wee covered wagon style from about 1850. She was a very special purchase from Sara Bernstein, who’s fabulous selection of antique dolls for sale can be found on Ruby Lane. This doll is also 5″ tall, and with her slender lady body, she is quite the 1:12 scale dollhouse lady. The1860’s flat top lady in the striped dress is 4 5/8″ tall, also fitting well with 1:12 scale. Her baby, a 1 1/2″ Frozen Charlotte has a covered wagon hair style, and her left arm is broken off. These three dolls work well together in both size and era, or age.
Not only do these small mid-19th century dolls work for a small dollhouse, they also are perfect as little dollies for the girls like Ruby who inhabit the 1:4 scale rooms. Once more, size is a factor here, but also the era of the dolls. Several same size 5″ bisque dolls in my collection do not blend well with Ruby. They need contemporary early 20th century surroundings, while Ruby and the lady chinas appreciate older, more modest surroundings.
Accessories in the doll room can be evaluated for size and era appropriateness too. In the above photo, with the exception of the smallest white cup and saucer on the left, these are all examples of English Staffordshire wares, which we will enjoy in more detail in the upcoming post on Staffordshire toy pottery. The antique Staffordshire childrens’ dishes typically came in three basic size ranges, though they were not specifically “to scale.” There were child-size sets for children to learn and entertain; there were toy-size sets for doll play; and there were miniature sets for use in doll’s houses. Shown above on the right is a full size English cobalt blue teapot with a blue transfereware cup and saucer. The middle set is a child size set from the turn of the 20th century. The smallest teapot on the left is a doll sized one from around 1830. Both the size and the era of these teapots are factors to consider when choosing their best setting.
While scale is an important guideline when creating doll and small antique settings, it is not a hard and fast rule. In the “real world,” we don’t live by “scale.” The objects that make up our household come in all sizes, and most likely come from different decades and centuries as well. That is part of the fluidity–the comming and going–of our possessions. A doll’s space is fluid as well. Some things in this space may be intended for a scale dollhouse, and some will be wee objects that we like, and add to the setting. Some may be treasured antiques, some may be little natural objects, and some may be new items that carry whimsical charm. The doll setting will likely change as we remove some things, add others, and rearrange, just as we do in our homes. Ultimately, the goal is to exercise your own creativity in imagining your whimiscal setting for your enjoyment.
May you always find comfort in your home, be it large or small. ~Jennie