When we think of a dollhouse, we immediately associate it with a toy or pastime for children. Now-a-days, there are all sorts of affordable dollhouses sold in stores. From life-size plastic playhouses, to very small and miniature Barbie-Doll houses.
But what do you know about some of the most extravagant and expensive dollhouses built years ago? Dating back to the 1500s, dollhouses were representations of royal courts, palaces and manors of Europe, eloquently displayed in cabinet cases. So lavishly decorated with valuable materials such as porcelain, silver and ivory, “cabinet houses” showed idealized interiors of the rich. Women of wealth created them as a display of fashion trends and interior decor. They were representative pieces- replicas of real life rooms of wealthy families. Definitely not a toy.
Dollhouses were originally intended for adults and only children of privilege, serving as an educational and social role. Children could observe what their obligations were in the home. To own a dollhouse gave one status and prestige. Only royalty and rich aristocracies could afford to own such beautiful pieces of art. Read on to enjoy this list of 10 of the most expensive dollhouses in history.
10. Sara Rothe Dollhouse – $12,000
This Dutch dollhouse, now displayed in the Netherlands, was owned by Sara Rothe- 18th century art collector and wife to a wealthy merchant. Its cabinet doors are doubled- the first pair are of the cabinet and the second pair are decorated to represent the windows of the house. The dining room is stocked with knives, forks and plates, all in pure silver. The library is stacked with miniature-sized books, and on the walls of the house, hang actual miniature paintings done by real artists. This twelve-room dollhouse is on display at the Netherlands Frans Hals Museum in Harleem.
9. Petronella Oortman’s Dollhouse – $18,000
In 1686, this dollhouse was gifted to Petronella Oortman, wife of wealthy merchant trader, Johaness Brandt. She had every item fit to scale and commissioned cabinetmakers, glassblowers, silversmiths, basket-weavers and artists to furnish her doll house to replicate her own. There are two beautiful ceiling paintings: one in the nursery room- by Dutch landscaper and painter, Nicolaes Piemont, and one in a marble-floored hallway, portraying Aurora, The Goddess of Dawn. Also in the nursery is a gold-framed mirror, wicker baby chair, beautiful curtains and silk screens. There are another two gorgeous paintings on the chimney-piece, by Willem Van Royen.
In the kitchen, there are the most magnificent tableware and utensils. Oortman’s specially ordered dishes from China sit in a dresser against the wall. And last, but not least, within the kitchen floor is a ‘Hidden Cellar’, seen only when the drawer is removed. The amount of precision that went into the creation of the house and its unique artworks are what bring it such high value.
8. The 16th Century Dollhouse – $70,000
Husband and wife, Kevin Mulvany and Susie Rogers, are trained historians from Holt, Wiltshire, and specialized architectural miniaturists. With over 25 years experience, they are known for re-creating historically significant and detailed European castles and mansions. They have traveled miles in order to visit the places they rebuild. This six-room dollhouse has been commissioned by a private Californian collector at a value of $70,000, in 2009.
It took over 10,000 hours to create the home and all its detailed furnishings. These include real crystal chandeliers- £1000 each (one per room), furniture made from luxury wood, miniature hand-painted Sevres porcelain dinnerware, as well as two copies of porcelain Sevres vases. Sevres is a town know for its famous porcelain factory, located in France. There are real 16th century cutlery in sterling silver, twenty-two carat, gold-plated decorative leaves along the moldings and skirting of the walls. A miniature antique statue (an exact marble copy) of Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova’s Three Grace Statue. Above it- a handcrafted brass and glass lantern, worth 400£, coming from France. There are several original miniature oil paintings- each amounting to the price of a life-size original.
The rooms are based upon various locations from the 16th century Versailles Palace, the Chateau de Bagatelle and the Palace of Fontainebleau. These are all connected to Marie Antoinette, the infamous female monarch executed during the French revolution in 1793.
7. Japanese Dollhouse – $80,000
Daughter of American industrialist and copper tycoon William A. Clark, heiress Huguette Clark spent $80,000 on this Japanese-style Dollhouse, in the early 1900s. For this dollhouse, Huguette needed to gain permission from the Japanese government to use a special cedar reserved for the construction of imperial buildings. A book on Huguette’s life by Bill Dedman and Paul Newell, reveal that she commissioned Japanese miniatures of houses, temples and tea shops. She was very demanding and expected much skill from her dollhouse craft-workers. If something was a tad off scale, she would send it back until she was satisfied. However, she was very generous and would pay them unreasonably high!
6. English Gothic House – $82,000
69 year old Peter Riches from Sussex, England, started this dollhouse in 1994. After fifteen years, this miniature Victorian-style mansion is complete. Riches owns a construction company and after a hard day’s work on real size homes, he would get into the knits and grits with this ever-so-detailed mini-home. He confesses to never expecting it to take so many years to complete. Yes, his family did think he was a bit obsessed, but like any other artist, Riches found it very therapeutic.
Now sold for $82,000, the house belongs to a Canadian dollhouse enthusiast. It is a 10-bedroom house with 23 rooms. There’s a servants quarter, game room, a grand piano, pool table with the balls made of necklace beads, and a library room with 1,000 separately bound books containing pages of newspapers.
Riches admitted to the difficulty of parting with this house, leaving a piece of his heart with it. Still, he looks on the bright side, and says there is now more room to work on a new dollhouse!
5. Titania’s Palace – $256,500
Bought by Legoland in Denmark in 1978, Titania’s Palace is said to be one of the most expensive toys. More of a mini-castle, it started construction in 1907, and took fifteen years to complete. It was commissioned and designed by English painter and officer, Sir Nevile Wilkinson for his daughter Guendolen. As the story goes, Guendolen had seen fairies running around the garden and wanted to give them a home. The palace has 18 rooms and over 3,000 miniature works of art collected from all over the world. It can now be visited at Egeskov Castle in Denmark.
4. Chicago’s Fairy Castle – $500,000
Built by American silent film actress Colleen Moore, this castle took seven years to complete. From 1928 to 1935, a humongous amount of work has gone into the magnificent twelve-room, fairy-tale castle. There is a drawing room, great hall, chapel, library, princess’ and prince’s bathroom and bedroom, attic and a magic garden. During the Great Depression, it toured all of America and raised $700,000 for children’s charities.
Over 700 workers from all backgrounds went into the creation, including Walt Disney, who hand-painted one of the many gorgeous murals on the wall. There are over 500-year-old Chinese royal gems in the house made of jade and quartz, as well as chandeliers made of pure gold and diamonds. Fairy-tale scenes have been incorporated all over the castle, such as Statues of Cinderella and the Prince standing magically in the great hall, and drawings of Snow White & the Dwarfs marked onto the windows. The fairy-castle is now displayed at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago,
3. Stettheimer’s Dollhouse – $1 million
The Steittheimer Sisters were very wealthy German-Jewish women during the 1900s. So wealthy and powerful that they smoked, drank, wore pants, and interacted with artists and writers.
The Stettheimer dollhouse was created by Carrie, the youngest Stettheimer, over the course of 25 years. Her creation captured much attention. Said to be worth millions, many of her artist friends (we’re talking the most trailblazing artists of that time) would create miniature art pieces for the house. They made tiny copies of their paintings and sculptures, including Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, and smaller nude sculptures by Marguerite Zorach and Alexander Archipenko. The dollhouse can be visited at the Museum of the City of New York.
2. The Astolat Dollhouse – $1.1 million
This dollhouse was built by Colorado miniaturist Elaine Diehl, from 1974-1987. Having the luxury to commission artisans and miniaturists from all over the world, this house consists of over 100,000 handcrafted and high standard quality pieces. Diehl used a 1:1 scale – giving the impression of a realistic-sized interior with any photo taken.
The Astolat is furnished with gold-framed mirrors, mosaic wood floors, a marble bathroom, gold chandeliers, original miniature oil paintings, miniature portraits, a library with miniature books, a wine cellar and a fireplace leading to a “wizard’s tower”, with telescopes and astrological signs. What adds to its value is the lighting system, which lightens up all areas of the Astolat and automatically adjusts depending on the time of day.
The house has been purchased by Dr. Michael Freeman and his wife Lois, who have now moved it to the Nassau County Museum of Art in Long Island, New York.
1. Queen Mary’s Dollhouse – Priceless
One of the most incomparable dollhouses ever created, Queen Mary’s cousin, Princess Marie Louise, shared her ideas with top British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to create this dollhouse. With over 1,500 artisans and craftsmen, they gifted the dollhouse to Queen Mary, from the people, for her dedicated presence in WWI. It served as a portrayal of how the aristocratic homes might look like during the 1920s – furnished with great detail and miniature items that can be found in the Windsor Castle.
Many items are copies from well-known companies of the time. Miniature shotguns actually lock and load, toilets flush and hot and cold water run through small pipes. On the dining room table, you can find Coleman’s Mustard, and in the kitchen, there are Cadbury chocolates. Near the sinks sit tiny bottles of Sunlight, and in the marble hallway there is a long case clock by Cartier. Additionally, there are elevators that run up and down, a garage full of royal limousines, and six luxurious cars supplied by Daimler, Sunbeam, Vauxhall, Lanchester and Rolls-Royce.
Each bottle in the wine cellar is filled with its appropriate wine and spirit – two hundred bottles of Chateau Lafitte 1875, and five dozen bottles of Veuve Clicquot. Last but not least, the library is filled with seven hundred tiny paintings by well-known artists, as well as over 300 books, including miniature original poems and short stories from well-known British authors. The dollhouse now sits in a room at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England.
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