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Miniphile ‘Baby House’ Dolls

There are many valid approaches to collecting miniatures and furnishing dolls houses.

Some, like Mrs Thorne whose rooms now reside in the Art Institute of Chicago, want exquisite perfection of scale, so that if you see a photo, you cannot tell it is a model.

For others, like Edwin Lutyens, the mastermind and architect behind Queen Mary's Dolls House, it is necessary that everything works, even at the expense of correct scale, and this adds some charming touches like oversized taps and switches to an otherwise correct model.

But for many, it is not a dolls house unless it has dolls. Such houses as those at Uppark, Nostell Priory, the Bethnal Green Museum and the Vivien Green's former Rotunda collection in Oxford were all inhabited, often by a mixture of different types of dolls - wooden, wax, china and bisque.

For those collectors who particularly wish to capture the flavour of such houses, Miniphile has made faithful copies of wooden dolls of both the 18th and 19th centuries.

Miniphile Queen Anne Style Doll

Miniphile Grödnerthal Style Dolls

The two types of doll are made in a similar way, with differences of proportion – for example, the "Queen Anne" doll has a much longer body to accommodate the long-waisted fashions of the day, and it also has upper arms made of kid leather, whereas the "Grödnerthal" has wooden versions.

The head and torso are turned and shaped, the shoulder hole is drilled, and a tiny wooden nose is fitted on. The "Queen Anne" doll has its eyes carved and a very minor little chin. Then 5-6 coats of gesso are applied to the head and neck. Gesso is a mixture of glue and a chalky clay called whiting, and is commonly used underneath gold leaf. The layers are built up and sanded by hand to give a nice, smooth finish.

When the layers are complete, the face paint is applied with the help of a magnifying glass, and the style of painting is quick dashes to resemble the old ones. The expressions are therefore always different – some sad, and some happy and some definitely crotchety. The hairstyles of the "Grödnerthal" ones are also varied – some more suitable for men dolls. The "Queen Anne" doll has a hole for attaching hair or a wig – which also reflects the real life custom of wearing wigs at the time. The heads are then oil-varnished, one layer is applied per day, allowed to harden and sanded. Three layers give a finish like old examples, with a deep glazed effect with a rich yellowy tone.

The upper arms and legs are made from turned wooden dowels, which are drilled and chiselled out to make joints for fitting into the hips, shoulders and lower limbs. The hands and feet are very roughly carved, as were the originals, which is surprisingly hard to do! We try to replicate the chisel marks as the originals. Most old dolls have no hands at all – the lower arms just end in a blunt point. The legs and feet are similarly crude – the fashions of the 1800's and 1900's were floor length, and ankles very decorously covered.

The hands and feet are painted, and jointed to fit each doll individually. When the joints are all satisfactory, they are fitted together by inserting tiny dowels, and is all done without glue.

These joints are fragile. Please take care of your doll!

Particular attention should be paid to the arm joints – try to remember to raise the arms by carefully, and gently, twisting the shoulder joint, not the hand. If the movement is closer to the actual joint, the leverage places less stress on the joint –for example: to tilt the arm up from the elbow, don't lift the hand; lift the forearm, as close as possible to the elbow joint.

Each Miniphile doll is numbered, and is a unique handmade item – when you think about it, that is a great rarity these days. It takes about 3 weeks to make each doll, - a real labour of love, and certainly not a money-making exercise!.

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