Small Talk Tag: Dollhouse

A Dollhouse Mystery

Much of T/m’s collection of over 46,000 toys was amassed by co-founder Mary Harris Francis. With an affinity for play, she began collecting dollhouses in the 1970s, starting with the New Rochelle Mystery House. Little did she know that within a few years she would have enough dollhouses and toys to open a museum!

This stately 12 room dollhouse gets its name from its place of origin- New Rochelle, New York. What exactly is so “mysterious” about it? The term mystery house was coined by dollhouse historian Flora Gill Jacobs to describe dollhouses with unknown origins, many of which were handmade. That’s exactly the case with the New Rochelle Mystery House. While similar dollhouses have been spotted in late 19th century F.A.O. Schwarz catalogs, the painted number “1074” above the door suggests that it was custom made for a little girl who lived at that same address number. Stay tuned for more mysterious dollhouse details…

Josephine’s Repurposed Play

Josephine Bird decorated her dollhouse with the finest, traditional ormolu furnishings alongside objects she re-appropriated from everyday life. Dolls visiting the residents of the house may have rested their feet on some particularly cushy chairs. That’s because the chairs were originally meant for pins, similar to the tomato design that is believed to have originated in the 15th century, but gained popularity, along with other shapes (fans, dolls, shoes, fruits, and vegetables), in the Victorian era!

The guitar that the dolls jammed on probably didn’t make the greatest music. The guitar can be pulled apart and was likely a candy case or Christmas ornament sold at her father’s Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store. Josephine’s repurposing is like the Victorian version of using those plastic pizza box saver thingies as tables for your Barbies or Calico Critters!

Josephine’s Dollhouse Treasure Trove

This stately Victorian bookcase-style dollhouse stood silent on the third floor of a grand Kansas City home, forgotten for a generation. When Mrs. Joseph Hall first unpacked the family heirloom, she discovered dozens of antique candy boxes containing the dollhouse’s original, intricate furnishings. Good thing the candy was gone… there’s nothing worse than finding last year’s Halloween candy melted to the pillowcase you used as a bag. Yuck!

The elaborate dollhouse belonged to Josephine Bird, the mother-in-law of Mrs. Hall. Josephine was born in 1889 to Joseph Taylor Bird Sr., an investor in the Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store. The department store, located here in Kansas City, was once heralded as “The Southwest’s Greatest Merchandisers.” Josephine’s dollhouse is filled with items repurposed from the store and gathered on her world travels. Stay tuned as we rediscover all the treasures Mrs. Hall found!

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