December 3, 2009
If you happen to be a doll, life in plastic is fantastic. You reap the benefits of a perpetually perfect waistline, beautifully bleached teeth and a mind-boggling array of accessories to help you live the high life in style—although most of those goodies are by and large molded in blaring non gender-neutral colors. As awesome as that all may be, the dolls who live at the National Museum of American History have an even sweeter deal: they’re waited on hand and foot by the curatorial staff and don’t undergo the dirty-fingered manhandling the average plaything endures. Furthermore, some of the dolls in the museum’s collections have developed a very devoted cult following. Such is the case with the Doll family, which includes Peter Doll, his wife, Rose Washington Doll, their ten children and servants.
The Doll family—and their lavish 5-story, 23-room early 20th century-styled home—is the product of one woman’s decades-long love of novelty furniture. In 1887 at the age of 7, Faith Bradford inherited her older sister’s dollhouse and collection of miniature knickknacks. When the dollhouse fell apart due to lots of playtime love, Bradford’s mother had a basic three-tiered shelf built to serve as a new home for her daughter’s dolls.
This first iteration of the dollhouse underwent renovations in the early 1930s. When this model debuted at Gadsby’s Tavern in 1932 as a part of a charity toy fair, Bradford’s dollhouse was lavishly decked out with wallpapers, curtains and all the modern conveniences the diminutive turn-of-the-century family could hope for. However, giving the dollhouse the Extreme Makeover treatment proved to be a group effort. The miniature furnishings Bradford was unable to purchase at the local Washington, DC-area toy stores, she—or her friends—made do with their own ingenuity and crafted them by hand. Buttons serve as the Doll family’s fine dinnerware and carefully painted and arranged matchsticks provide the perfect illusion of tomes in a bookcase. Local stores provided wallpapers while friends made bathtubs and water bowls for the family pets.
Bradford’s dollhouse attained local celebrity and she offered it to the Smithsonian in 1951 where it has since become a touchstone for visitors. And although it was no longer in her possession, Bradford continued to visit the Doll family, typically during semiannual cleanings and right before the holidays so she could hang bottle brush wreaths in the home.
And we are pleased to say that this tradition is being continued by the American History Museum’s curatorial staff. That’s right—the dollhouse’s halls are decked with festive trimmings for you and yours to enjoy this holiday season.
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