By Anna Georgiev
Anna Georgiev is currently working at the V&A Museum of Childhood, focusing on the Robert Freidus Collection of Architectural Paper Models, a collection which includes some of the finest examples of paper dolls’ houses and furniture. Previously Anna has worked as a curator at the Haifa City Museum and as a museum’s assistant at the Bauhaus Centre in Tel Aviv.
”…this work is dedicated by a humble native of flatland in the hope that even as he was initiated into the mysteries of three dimensions having been previously conversant with only two so the citizens of that celestial region may aspire yet higher and higher to the secrets of four five or even six dimensions thereby contributing to the enlargement of the imagination.” – Edwin Abbott Abbott, Flatland, 1884
The invention of lithography largely democratised world heritage and brought a miniature model of the world into the private sphere. Paper models allowed the common men to erect his or her own buildings, vehicles, but also to become a witness of historical events such as military parades. Paper dolls’ houses operate generally on a different layer, since they reproduce private life. Like their real dolls’ house counterparts paper models represent an idyllic world. In bright colours they often advertise the classical family – father, mother and two children – with a dog, a fire place, bibelots and a nice garden. Originally, baby houses gained their reputation through their uniqueness and were purchased by wealthy or even royal families for representative use, whereas paper dolls’ houses, miniature rooms and paper furniture dismissed the aura of the object due to their massive distribution. Mechanical reproduction was cheap, paper models were a bargain and companies mainly earned their money through high sales. As an element of popular culture paper dolls’ houses were reinventing themselves constantly. Therefore, their history takes keen hobbyists on a journey through different architectural and design epochs. 1
At the end of the 19th century, mainly in the US, it became popular among children and adults to design houses for their paper dolls in scrapbooks. Beautiful decorations were made with the help of glue, scissors and pencils using various sorts of paper-textures, cut-outs of catalogues, souvenirs or commercially produced pictorial scraps. Whilst turning the pages the reader would discover the house: The first page often showed the front door, followed by the front hall on the page after, and so on. Tiny windows cut in the pages gave the opportunity to glimpse into the following room through filigree paper curtains. The paper dolls were positioned thoughtfully on the pages, some creators even used extra slits in the paper so that paper dolls might have slipped literally into their beds.2
Commercially printed homes for paper dolls were available from the end of the 19th century. The American company Milton Bradley Co. for instance printed an advert for “A Home for Paper Dolls” in the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in 1882. The toy consisted of several large pictures on cardboard and was conceived as “an attractive setting for pictures of furniture, decorations and people cut from catalogues and illustrated papers”. In the 1890s, the German company J.F. Schreiber published a series of paper dolls and cut-out furniture with different backdrops including a bed room, a kitchen, a garden terrace, and a Wilhelminian style living room. Other paper dolls’ houses such as Colleen Moore’s Doll House to Cut-Out and Set-Up (c. 1935) used a similar method for their design.
In the 1860s, paper models became popular in various printing shops across Europe. The French company Pellerin is among the most notable paper model publishers. They produced around 1500 paper models (sometimes with several sheets) including the Grandes Constructions faciles for children or the moving models Grandes Constructions Mécanisme.3 Pellerin’s miniature paper rooms were theatrical, arranged in a stage-like, narrative setting with love for the detail. The Salon (No 189, No 423) or Meubles & Accessoires (No 423) for example showcase splendid parlours with exquisite furniture and design. They depict women and gentlemen chatting, playing the piano, dining, playing cards in between the sizzling noise of the fireplace, the rustling newspaper and a boy playing the drums.
Peddlers, travelling merchants, fostered the creation of an expanded market for imagery in France. Other paper model dolls’ houses, miniature rooms and furniture were printed in newspapers such as in the Boston Sunday Globe, Art Supplement, c. 1896 or sold as postcards, like the Drawing Room Furniture by Raphael Tuck & Sons, 1930, London. Modern aesthetics also affected the dolls’ house design, illustrated for example through the Puppenstube (1927) published by Otto Maier Ravensburg in a series which included the paper models of the Bauhaus toy designer Alma Siedhoff-Buscher. The Puppenstube model represents reformist claims: The design of the furniture is straight forward, shapes are simple, only primary and secondary colours are used. Two years later, the Danish Illustreret Familie Journal published in 1929 the article Fra Cigarkasse til Dukkestue explaining how to turn a cigarette crate into a doll’s house. It offered a sturdier version of the paper model, but would at the same time maintain the cutting and assembling part. Generally though, paper models were designed for the pleasure of construction and required – if at all – very careful playing. It is a feature they share with the first dolls’ houses which were too delicate to actually use as a toy.
Dolls’ House Books
Dolls’ house books were not only conceived as books containing little stories but also toys. Two-dimensional paper dolls’ houses encouraged children to unfold hinged pieces or to cut them out, to arrange them on the paper and paste them in. Little paper dolls inhabited the houses, among them Dolly’s Mansion by Jarrold & Sons (c. 1893, London), The House that Glue built (1905) and The Doll’s House that Glue built (1911) by Clara Andrews Williams and George Alfred Williams, A Paper Home for Paper People (Edith Root, 1909) or My Dolly’s home by Doris Davey (1921, London). Some of these dolls’ house books were inspired by scrapbooking and became the corner-stone of the seventeen volume glue series by the US-American publisher Frederick A. Stokes.4
There is a range of pop-up dolls’ house books, a few of them included paper models. Das Puppenhaus designed by Lothar Meggendorfer (1889, JF Schreiber) is an early example of a pop-up dolls’ house book. It was in an accordion shape and would be 140 cm long in its full extension. McLoughlin Bros. introduced in 1894 their New Folding Doll House which unfolded easily out of one single piece into a three-dimensional dolls’ house in sturdy x-form. It was printed in gay colours on stout binder’s board containing a parlour, dining room, bed-room and kitchen. The walls were richly decorated showing plants, curtains, fireplaces, hunting trophies and carpets on the floor. The publisher encouraged children to use their own paper or other small furniture. Although McLoughlin Bros. did not market their dolls’ house as a book, its design influenced several publications such as My Dollies’ Bungalow (Ruth Morrison, c. 1920) or My Doll House Family to Cut-Out and Assemble (Whitman, 1957). Bungalow Book and Toy Company created another version of a dolls’ house book: In 1913 they released Betty Bungalow’s Doll-House Living Room and Bed Room. The cover of the book represents the floor of their dolls’ house, and was supposed to be aligned flat on a table. Afterwards the two-storey house could be erected out of the book.
Using cardboard as a means for constructing dolls’ houses allowed more convenient playing, but was still cheap in production, and due to its light weight, good for shipping and storing. Cardboard houses could be furnished either with wooden or iron dolls’ house furniture or with paper furniture and paper dolls. Of course self-made paper furniture could be used as well such as suggested in the book “When Mother Lets Us Make Paper Box Furniture” (Ellingwood Rich, 1914, New York).
In 1911, the company Benda & Hipauf, Manufactures, 32, Whitecross Street, London patented a collapsible toy room/house, which was supposed to be “erected upon the box containing it”. It featured a roof with chimney, ornamental prints on the cardboard, and a “bay window” which was a piece of cardboard bend around the corner of the house. Nevertheless, there are only a few European examples of cardboard houses, among them Dollyville by Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd (c. 1921). An example is held by Leeds Museum and Galleries.
Especially in America folding cardboard houses became popular. Following McLoughlin’s Folding Doll House success, other companies such as the Warren Paper Products Company with their Built-Rite dolls’ houses, Jayline Manufacturing Company, Sutherland Paper Company and others offered cardboard houses with several pieces to assemble.5 In comparison to McLoughlin, these dolls’ houses appeared to be more elaborate, containing a roof, a chimney, or a front porch standing out of the cube structure. Still construction was a matter of a few minutes. No cutting was necessary; sometimes the pieces needed to be popped out along perforated lines. The box itself might have been designed to use as the bottom of the house. It is likely that the success of these cardboard dolls’ houses was fostered by the rationing of rubber and various metals during the Second World War.6
Optical and Tactile Perception
A short glimpse on the history of paper dolls’ houses revealed a range of designs which gave a warm and welcoming home for beloved dolls. Their cultural history differs from non-paper dolls’ house history through their relation to the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The popularity of scrapbooking and paper models coincides with a time in which cultural perception in the Western world changed. According to the philosopher Walter Benjamin, contemplation as modus of cultural perception was unsuitable regarding the fast and harsh developments in everyday life at the turn of the century. Involvement [Anteilnahme] needed to focus on customisation through dispersion rather than on contemplation. This shift was expressed mainly through the popularity of the film medium and its shock-effects. Dispersion asked for tactile and optical perception and was crucial in order to cope with the ongoing social changes.7
Following Benjamin’s thoughts, paper dolls’ houses may be interpreted in a conservative and in a progressive way: Contemporary authors such as Roth pointed out that paper dolls’ houses aimed at preparing girls for their future role in the household. This is a common argument in reference to non-paper dolls’ houses as well, see for example Virchow’s lecture on “Über die Erziehung des Weibes für seinen Beruf” (1865).8
Alternatively, the manual procedure in engaging with paper dolls’ houses may be prioritised. Since the wake of the 19th century paper modelling (with self-made paper models) was conceived as a useful occupation for children in German schools since it would foster the understanding of geometry and the spacial environment.9 Not without good reason paper dolls’ houses can be therefore interpreted as a way of exercising the eye. Paper models confronted the viewer with a fragmented world and disintegrated objects. Erecting paper models through cutting and assembling enhanced customisation to this world view through tactile and optical perception. Also, scrapbooking can be understood as a way of aesthetically training the eye, which got used to assorting relevant information in regard of the abundance of mass-production and the consumerist world. 10
Today, it is still a pleasure to investigate old paper dolls’ houses, to be fascinated by the creativity of their creators, but also to literally build them up. Though, enjoying the haptic experience of the object means no longer preparing the eye for modernity but slowing down life’s pace.
1. CfWalter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Penguin UK, 2008 
2. Beverly Gordon, “Scrapbook Houses for Paper Dolls”, in Susan Tucker, Katherine Ott, Patricia Buckler The Scrapbook in American Life, Temple University Press, 2006, pp116-134
3. Sigrid Metken, Geschnittenes Papier: Eine Geschichte des Ausschneidens in Europa von 1500 bis heute Callwey, 1978
4. Christie D Jackson, With Paper and Glue: Building the Commercial Success of an Arts and Crafts Toy, Winterthur Portfolio Vol 44, No 4 (Winter 2010), pp351-386. Gordon, “Scrapbook Houses for Paper Dolls” in Tucker et al, The Scrapbook in American Life
5. Gordon Campbell, The Grove Encyclopaedia of Decorative Arts, Oxford University Press, 2006, p 490
6. Funny Face!: An Amusing History of Potato Heads, Block Heads, and Magic Whiskers, Rich, p11
10. Gordon, “Scrapbook Houses for Paper Dolls” in Tucker et al, The Scrapbook in American Life