While we now think of dollhouses as kids’ stuff, for the wealthy Germans and Dutch of the 16th and 17th centuries they were more like cabinets of curiosities, filled with precious woods and metals and hand-crafted items made by skilled artists. The European tradition influenced British and American dollhouses, which are still being made with astounding levels of detail, not to mention an astounding concentration of resources. Below, eight of the most amazing from around the world:
1. ASTOLAT DOLLHOUSE CASTLE
Designed by Colorado miniaturist Elaine Diehl in the 1980s, this miniature home was modeled after the castle in Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Lady of the Shallot.” Valued at $8.5 million—and said to be the most expensive dollhouse ever—the tiny castle features 29 rooms filled with thousands of perfectly-wrought shrunken items, including rare books, miniature cars, pieces of jewelry, musical instruments, and even a mini-Dalmatian snoozing by the front entrance. It even has its own ballroom and wine cellar. And it’s now on view in New York City.
2. TITANIA'S PALACE
Located in the magnificent Egeskov Castle in Denmark, Titania's Palace was created by the British army officer Sir Nevile Wilkinson as a gift for his daughter, Gwendolen, to serve as a home for the fairies she claimed to have seen in the garden. The dollhouse features 18 rooms, including a throne room, a nursery, a chapel complete with organ, and a royal dining room. Gwendolen was an adult by the time the dollhouse was completed, but Wilkinson exhibited the dollhouse (which was built by Irish craftsmen) around the world to raise funds for children’s charities. You can watch a 1928 video of Wilkinson presenting the palace, or a far more recent video in Danish with English subtitles below:
3. SARA ROTHÉ DOLLHOUSE
Wealthy Amsterdam merchant’s wife Sara Rothé created this 11-room dollhouse in 1:10 scale, offering a glimpse of the furniture and decoration you might find inside a real 18th-century canal-side mansion. It’s now on display at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, Netherlands—also home to a dollhouse “collage” exhibit featuring 71 rooms from 17th and 18th century dollhouses. A second dollhouse Rothé constructed is on display at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.
4. CHATEAU ANTOINETTE
Architectural historians and miniaturists Kevin Mulvany and Susie Rogers created this 6-room, 16th-century dollhouse for a Californian collector with a passionate interest in Marie Antoinette. Only 42 inches high, the chateau is a pastiche of places associated with Antoinette during her life, and is filled with furniture and decorations made of crystal, gold, and silver. The larger chandeliers cost over a thousand British pounds. Mulvany and Rogers have also miniaturized Versailles, Buckingham Palace, Hogwarts, Sans Souci, and several other astonishing buildings from around the globe.
5. HUGUETTE CLARK’S JAPANESE DOLLHOUSE
Reclusive heiress Huguette Clark collected dolls by the hundreds, and commissioned tiny dollhouse models of Japanese temples, castles, teahouses, cake shops, and other buildings. (She also collected Japanese artifacts, an interest that led to an FBI investigation during WWII.) She specified that her dollhouses should have detachable roofs so she could see the furnishings inside. According to Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.'s book Empty Mansions, one of Clark’s Japanese dollhouses required special permission from the Japanese government to use a rare cedar generally reserved for imperial buildings and castles. That same dollhouse cost $80,000 and took three years to build.
6. TARA’S PALACE
Tara’s Palace at the Powerscourt Estate in Wicklow, Ireland, is a Georgian Palace built in 1:12 scale, featuring 24 rooms filled with miniature furniture and books, as well as treasures such as a 17th-century house in a bottle. The ceilings are hand-painted, and the tiny floors of wood and marble were all built by hand.
7. QUEEN MARY’S DOLLHOUSE
Built for Queen Mary by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924, this miniature townhouse on a 1:12 scale features thousands of objects made by leading artists, designers, and craftsmen of the 1920s. There’s a well-stocked library and wine cellar, a garden, a toy theatre, and about 1000 works of art, as well as running water, electric lighting, working elevators, flushing toilets, and a miniature working bicycle.
8. BOSDYK DOLLS HOUSE
Now housed at the Powerhouse Museum in Australia, the Bosdyk Dolls House was created by Frans and Christina Bosdyk in the grand tradition of 17th century Dutch dollhouses. The five-level, 20-room house took about a decade to create, and incorporates elements from Dutch and Australian life from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Frans Bosdyk, an electrical instrument maker, even constructed his own tiny hand tools to make the pieces. The rooms include a sewing room, gaming room, library, and kitchen.