Palladio Minimus: A Georgian dollhouse and the 18th century miniature world

David Clayton, a few years younger than Manjoy, was London’s most prolific silversmith specializing in miniature objects during the first half of the eighteenth century. He made the delicately wrought plate stand at the top left in Figure 11, complete with ten plates marked “DC,” and the elegantly simple chocolate pot (Fig. 11, top right) with a separate domed lid with a turned finial. Like the surfaces of the van Haeften house itself, the chocolate pot tells a story of use. Burn marks on the wooden handle and fire scale on the exterior suggest a good deal of use (or misuse), despite its small size. It might well have set a fashionable dollhouse breakfast table, although at 2 3⁄8 inches high, it is somewhat out of scale for the van Haeften house. It should be remembered, however, that silversmiths who specialized in miniatures worked in a range of sizes—from objects intended for children to ones intended for dolls or dollhouses—and that in actual use there was a fluidity of scale. Attractive objects, such as a kettle-and-stand in the kitchen of the Nostell Priory baby house, might be included in a room even if they were slightly out of proportion.20

Less exciting domestic objects were also produced in silver, such as a miniature bed warmer by Somerwil I (Figs. 9, 9a). A feat of delicate silversmithing, its twisted handle attaches to a hinged circular pan, and the lid is repoussé-decorated with a scene of a woman, a child, and a winged figure surrounded by a border of flower petals. Another less decorative, and far more utilitarian, object is a miniature dustpan made in Amsterdam (Fig. 8). Engraved on the back with the initials “W. V. S.” and the date 1752, it was perhaps a gift. Ironically, the person receiving it would have been unlikely to ever handle such an object in their full-scale life.

Ceramic manufacturers also produced versions of their wares for dollhouses.21 Whether to delight adults or to educate adolescents about fashion, Chinese, continental, and English factories all seized the opportunities presented by miniatures (see Figs. 12, 13). In Liverpool, James Pennington was producing miniature porcelain objects in the 1760s, and Caughley in Worcester was making them by the 1780s.22 In 1790 Enos Hitchcock (1744–1803), a New England clergyman, wrote in his Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family (1790) of the presence of ceramics in one young lady’s dollhouse. Explaining to her daughter that she should not steal toys from her brother, a mother asks, “how would you like to have [him] get the pieces of china out of your baby house?”23

Tiny Chinese export vases decorated in underglaze blue (see Fig. 13, top right) would have looked at home as a garniture over a dollhouse mantel, while a Dutch punch bowl with the date 1673 in cobalt in its interior (Fig. 13, bottom center) might readily have been placed on a table. A minute Imari barber’s bowl captures the craze for polychrome Asian ceramics at a scale meant to be appreciated by only the most fashionable dolls (Fig. 13, top center). Unlike silver miniatures, ceramic objects probably enjoyed a variety of uses depending on their contexts. A teacup in doll or child size might easily have made a dollhouse punch bowl.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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