Dollhouses were invented in Germany in the 17th century. Who invented the very first dollhouse is unclear and the subject of much debate. However, one thing is certain: Dollhouses were extremely rare and expensive toys for the privileged children of aristocrats. The houses were painstakingly produced by hand out of wood, sometimes replicating the actual home in which the family lived, sometimes replicating a well-known building, and sometimes consisting of a brand new architectural design. The house was elaborately furnished with miniature versions of not only furniture but also paintings, tapestries and other wall hangings, all generally to scale. Even full kitchen furnishings were reproduced, from teakettles to china dishes.
Dollhouses quickly gained favor throughout Western Europe as a must-have item for the well-to-do. Although the dollhouse was considered a ?toy,? the definition of a toy was far different in those days than it is today. In an era when children were seen and not heard, the children of the aristocracy were taught from an extremely early age to treat their possessions with the utmost care and respect. The dollhouse occupied a place of honor within the home and children were expected to admire the dollhouse, touching it only rarely and quite carefully.
By the 19th century, the dollhouse had evolved into a more modern version of a toy. Mass production allowed dollhouses and their accompanying furnishings to be acquired at a much lower cost. Children in this era were allowed to be children rather than miniature adults and dollhouses were considered an actual plaything. What had once been the province of the extremely wealthy now became accessible to the emerging middle class.
In the 20th century, dollhouse production underwent many changes. New materials and methods of production created a larger than ever market of dollhouses in every price range. Some dollhouses mirrored contemporary homes while others recalled days gone by.
The invention of plastic changed the face of the dollhouse market in many ways. Nearly indestructible, low cost dollhouses were now available to the masses. Many children of the late 20th century received their first dollhouse as toddlers, the indestructible plastic pieces serving as great learning tools.
Nonetheless, the love of handmade antique or antique style dollhouses has not waned. No longer are playthings for wealthy children, handmade dollhouses are now commissioned by collectors at all levels of society. It is also possible to build your own dollhouse from a wide variety of materials, adding another level of personalization.
Dollhouses have undergone many changes throughout the centuries in terms of building materials, price range and accessibility to people at all levels of society. However, dollhouses continue to amaze and inspire just as they did when first invented. A dollhouse can teach lessons in history, architecture, interior design and decoration. It can also inspire imagination and fantasy play. From handcrafted wooden showpieces to mass-produced plastic houses and furnishings to DIY cardboard houses, the dollhouses of today are accessible to every family regardless of social status, disposable income and age of children. Dollhouses have truly become a part of the universal consciousness.