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On view

Doll House

Date: 1856
Medium: Wood, glass, metal
Overall: 39 1/4 × 37 × 21in. (99.7 × 94 × 53.3cm)
Credit Line: Proctor Collection
Object number: PC. 543
Label Text
In America in the nineteenth-century, the production of miniature buildings of various styles with regional differences burgeoned. Rachel and Maria Williams, who grew up in Fountain Elms, received this dollhouse as a Christmas gift in 1856. On December 20 of that year, Charles P. Davis of the Utica Stained Glass Works billed James Williams, the girls' father, $2.00 (a day's wage for a working man) for making the "stained glass" windows of the dollhouse.

The family called this miniature building a playhouse or a baby house (a term used in England before dollhouse, which was first used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). The exterior paint colors, the four chimneys, and the mantels and fireplaces are generally related to details from the girls' home, but the dollhouse is not a model of Fountain Elms. The painted "tile" floor of the kitchen, however, was expressly reproduced from the original genuine tile pattern and colors of the Williams family's kitchen.

Rachel was six and Maria three years old when they received the dollhouse, which was considered by their mother to be not only for pleasure but also, perhaps primarily, for instruction in proper household organization. Her decrees to dismantle the rooms after playtime (not accepted agreeably by her daughters) forced them to place the objects in their proper locations each time they played with them. Nevertheless, the girls recount many happy hours spent with the baby house, including occasions for special decorating. On December 19, 1864, Maria wrote, "I cut greens to-day and made a little Christmas-tree for the Baby-house besides triming [sic] its parlor." Even in adulthood, Maria, especially, continued to equip the dollhouse.