1890s Bedroom Furniture
The McLoughlin folding dollhouse of 1894 illustrates the important principles characterizing toy manufacturing in the forthcoming 20th century, namely, factory production, appeal to the middle class, and ease of shipping; in this case, the four hinged rooms and corresponding floors could be collapsed to fit flat into a box (left) only 13 by 13 by 1 inches. The materials were light-weight: coloured lithography on paper glued to cardboard hinged by red cloth. Located in New York City, the company manufactured toys from the late 1850s and dollhouses from 1875 into the early 20th century. The folding rooms, which were set up on a table and allowed a number of children to deal each with his or her own room, date from 1894. Children of the day no doubt appreciated the realism and high quality of workmanship in the wall and floor finishes factors which also attract today's adult collector. For display purposes, the rooms can be placed on a square of plywood, which rests on a turntable. This allows the rooms to be turned for viewing, even if the table is placed in a corner. Although cardboard furniture was originally available as furnishings, today's collector may decide to incorporate iron and wood furnishings from the period. The walls are 12 inches (representing 12 feet) and seem to be forgiving of items ranging from just under 1:12 scale to just over. Floor coverings are not wanted because the original floors are brilliantly designed and coloured to represent rugs, carpets, parquetry and tiles. In fact the impression is of vivid rich colours contradicting the stereotype of the "brown" decades of the late 19th century. The notion of three-dimensional objects portrayed on a flat surface will continue throughout the 20th century, for example in the steel suburban dollhouses of the 1950s. For the McLoughlin rooms, placement of tall furniture against the walls does not seem appropriate, as well as anything needing to be hung on the walls. (For more images of the folding rooms, please see section 4 of the Gallery of Images - link at bottom of this page)
This fine brick Victorian house, built in 1886 in Kingston, Ontario Canada, is the sort of residence one imagines as the outer shell of the McLoughlin rooms. Built for a successful grocer and maintained by servants, it was considered at the time the finest house in the city. One of the exciting aspects of the McLoughlin rooms is the use of full colour, whereas contemporary photographs, such as this Boston bedroom in the 1880s (below right), are monochromatic in sepia or black and white or hand-tinted.
In real life, posh parlours (above) were rich with with ornaments. The McLoughlin rooms show the interest of the trendy in collecting Japanese porcelain during the 1890s; whereas, the sphere of servants was characterized by long hours and hard work in plainer surroundings. The rooms suggest how the upper class lived and the lifestyle to which the...