June 01, 2015
It's a Small (and Expensive) World
Playing with a dollhouse is an activity we associate with childhood. However in 18th-century Holland, it was the fad hobby of grown up society women.
Aristocrats and wealthy merchants' wives would attempt to outdo each other to create the most fabulously outfitted and obsessively accurate dollhouses, spending incredible sums in the process. Particularly in the miniscule kitchens and dining rooms where metal smiths, ceramistists and other artisans were commissioned to reproduce, on a teeny tiny scale, the life-size dinner and silverware collections of their patrons. In the famous case of one Petronella Oortman, the woman spent her entire fortune on this life long passion, and by the time she died of old age her dollhouse was worth more than her actual mansion.
Several museums in the Netherlands, such as the Amsterdam Museum and the Rijksmuseum, have these toy houses in their collections, and they are highly valued for the accurate portraits they provide of what household life was like in past times.
Antique sellers in Amsterdam will also tell you that a market for these small furnishings still exists - and today it is no less an extravagant indulgence. In the photo above, showing the kitchen section of a doll house belonging to an art dealer, the sterling silver wine jug set on the table, circa 1740 and no larger than a kidney bean, is priced at 2,000 euros.