Small Talk Tag: William R. Robertson

Toy or Miniature?

toy vs miniature

So, what is the difference between a toy and a fine-scale miniature? This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions we hear at the museum. Let’s take a quick look at a few pieces from the collection to illustrate the answer!

William Robertson’s miniature Hewitt “gentleman’s” chest and the American Manufacturing Concern’s (AMC) Elite Tool Chest for Boys are similar tool chests featuring dovetail joints. The most apparent difference is probably their size; the Elite Tool Chest measures a child-size 17 5/8” long, while Robertson’s 1-inch scale miniature measures a just a wee 2” long. Both chests are “real” tool chests in that they feature a full set of functioning tools which could be used to complete any number of carpentry projects. In fact, Robertson’s miniature includes all the same tools as the full-size Hewitt chest currently located at Colonial Williamsburg—the saw even has 160 teeth to the inch!

It probably goes without saying that these two tool chests are meant for two very different audiences. AMC mass produced the Elite Tool Chest to offer children— well, apparently only boys— size-appropriate tools for practicing their carpentry skills. Robertson’s Hewitt chest was created with no intention to actually use the tools, but rather to understand and study the skills traditional craftsmen used to handcraft everyday objects. You could probably say that both pieces were created to educate, but as very different teaching tools—pun intended!

When a House is Not a Home

frank matter miniatures

Even the Lilliputians from Gulliver’s Travels would have a difficult time trying to live in this tiny masterpiece. Created in the quarter scale (that’s 1 inch for every 48 inches, or 4 feet!) by miniature artist Frank Matter, the Boston Beacon Hill House was a collaborative effort between Matter and Claire Bagley Hammons, who commissioned the piece. Hammons enlisted Matter’s talents to bring to life her vision: a house featuring the outstanding architecture of beautiful old New England mansions. Completed in 1958, the forty-eighth scale model, stands at a stately 13 inches high, 12 inches across, and 9 inches deep!

The house was added to the T/m collection in 2008, but like all old homes, it needed a renovation before going on exhibit. Miniature artist William R. Robertson completed the renovation, uncovering more astonishing craftsmanship then we thought a house smaller than a microwave could hold! The house is fully furnished with functioning pieces right down to the china in the breakfront and the reading material in the magazine rack. And like a real home of that era, Robertson even found himself treating for asbestos during the renovation! Robertson also uncovered some mind-boggling, functioning pieces that we’ll explore in future posts. Stay tuned!

Mini Mirror on the Wall

Constructed with rich materials in fine detail, this miniature needlepoint mirror looks like it could play a part in a tiny version of Snow White. The mirror’s stitched frame by miniaturist Annelle Ferguson is based on traditional 17th century design and depicts a king and queen, flowers, vines, and a fawn. The tortoiseshell and boxwood outer frame was painstakingly constructed by William R. Robertson. We personally think this mirror is definitely in the running for “fairest of them all.”

How can miniature artists like Ferguson achieve such tiny needlepoint? Well, it’s simple mathematics (ok, plus a lot of talent). Miniature needlepoint or petit point takes the art form to a smaller level by using finer canvases with higher thread counts and by using specialized needles made for working on a fine scale. Sounds easy enough to start your own needlepoint project, right? Whatever you do, just be sure to finish it! Then again, maybe we should leave the stitchery up to the pros for now.

All About Scale

At The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, the little “m” in our logo stands for fine-scale miniatures. So, what is a fine-scale miniature? It’s a high quality, functioning object that is built to scale. Scale is the defined size ratio between the full size object and the miniature object. Most of the miniatures in T/m’s collection are 1:12 scale (or 1/12 scale) where one inch in the miniature equals one foot in the full-scale object.

The spinning wheel on the right is in the 1:12 scale. The one on the left is in the 1:6 scale where two inches in the miniature equals one foot in the full-scale object. Not only are we super impressed by the craftsmanship, but also by all the tricky math involved in creating these perfectly scaled masterpieces!

A Tisket, A Tasket, A 17th C. Sewing Casket

This 1/12 scale sewing casket was inspired by a full-size sewing casket at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London that dates to 1671. The original was made by an embroiderer named Martha Edlin—at the age of 11 no less—and was passed down through her family for over 300 years. Cases like this one were often used by wealthy women of the time to store jewelry, sewing implements, and personal belongings, sort of like a 17th century Caboodle (remember those?).

Our miniature version was constructed by William R. Robertson from pearwood and has steel hinges and a mirror on the inside of the lid. Esther Robertson and Annelle Ferguson (both a few years older than 11) meticulously stitched the 26 petit point panels that cover the wooden structure. The miniature contents include a tortoiseshell needle case, a thimble, and various other ivory and mother-of-pearl accoutrements.

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