Museum number: W.41-1922
Currently on display in the Home Gallery
This house was made in Nuremberg in 1673 – the date is written on the chimney. It is the oldest house in the Museum and is very similar to (though much smaller than) the houses in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany.
The house was owned by wealthy people who could afford to commission specialist craftsmen to make miniatures of the full-sized versions that they normally made. Dolls’ houses could serve an important role as visual aids for the young girls in the household in learning domestic skills.
There are several clues about the family who would have owned a house like this. It is a merchant’s house, which was used for working as well as eating and sleeping. In those days a shop would use a picture or symbol for customers to see. A unicorn on the left door of the dolls’ house indicates that this house belonged to an apothecary or chemist. The family was clearly interested in religion as on the right door there is a picture of the important Protestant figure, Martin Luther (1483-1546), and there are some prayer books in the bedroom. The house itself is comfortable, with a well-equipped ‘best’ kitchen downstairs on the left which was used to entertain guests and receive customers.
This house has some surprisingly realistic features. For example, the upstairs room has a large water boiler as found in homes of the time, and there is a toilet or privy downstairs. Linen was an important symbol of status and wealth and would be proudly displayed. This dolls’ house has a beautifully full cupboard full of folded fabric.
Prints and books were prized objects in the 17th century, popular with collectors. This house is decorated with many woodcuts and leather-bound bibles.
We don’t know who owned this house when it was first made, but in 1871 it was bought by the Science Museum in Kensington. In the 1920s it was transferred to the V&A and came to Bethnal Green to be displayed with other dolls’ houses in the new Children’s Section.