A Brief History of Miniatures

baby house dollhouseIt's safe to say that people have been enamored of miniatures throughout human history. After all, miniatures of everyday objects have been found in artifacts dating back thousands of years.

The Earliest Miniatures

Some of the earliest miniatures were created by the Egyptians 5,000 years ago. They made miniature replicas of boats, animals, furnishings, and even servants. These hand-crafted miniatures were placed in tombs within the pyramids. (Sort of makes you rethink the idea of "you can't take it with you," right?)

The Dawn of Dollhouse Miniatures

Dollhouse miniatures got their start about 400 years ago. That's when so-called "baby houses" made their debut in Europe. Despite their name, these miniature houses were off limits for kids. That's because "baby houses" were collectible miniature pieces that featured many fine architectural details and had painstakingly crafted miniature furniture in their interiors.

"Baby houses," which were also known as "cabinet houses," became a hit among wealthy patrons in Holland, England, and Germany. Only the elite could afford them since their price could rival what an actual house could cost! (See the image above for an example of a "baby house.")

Miniatures from this also served an educational purpose, with mothers in the 17th century using dollhouses and miniatures to teach their daughters how to maintain a proper home. Over time, more parents let their children actually play with miniatures as the importance of child's play began to take hold.

Germany, an in particular the city of Nuremberg, produced the majority of miniatures all the way up until World War I. Germany is even credited with creating the criteria by which all future (and contemporary) dollhouses and miniatures came to be produced. German miniatures were highly sought after not only in Europe, but in North America as well. 

Germany's entry into World War I greatly impaired its ability to manufacture and export miniatures. It was during this time that other countries like Japan and the United States began making miniatures. Notable miniature makers in the U.S. during the early twentieth included Roger Williams Toys, Schoenhut, Tootsietoy, and the Wisconsin Toy Co. 

Miniatures for the Masses

Miniatures were made by hand until the Industrial Revolution. At that time, companies began to mass produce miniatures along with many other goods.

Mass-produced miniatures boomed after World War II. That brought the cost of miniatures down dramatically and allowed many more people to discover the wonderful world of miniatures and dollhouses. The downside is that many of these mass-produced miniatures lacked the detail of earlier miniatures. By the 1950s, a typical dollhouse was constructed from painted sheet metal and came with miniature furniture constructed from plastic.

Contemporary Miniatures

Today's miniatures can generally be divided into two varieties: miniatures meant for children's play and miniatures meant for an adult hobby. 

Children's miniatures are often made of plastic or other inexpensive, durable materials. These miniatures are often 1/6 scale (also known as "playscale). This scale means a miniature is 1/6th the size of an object in real life. It is considered the biggest of the miniature scales. Most children's miniatures are almost always mass produced.

Miniatures meant for adult hobbyists are typically made of wood, plywood, or MDF. Dollhouses aimed at adults include ready-made dollhouses as well as dollhouse kits that require assembly. Another popular, less time-consuming option is a miniature room box.

Many adults greatly enjoy the process of assembling a dollhouse kit and then customizing it to their tastes with paint, miniature wallpaper, miniature lighting, and more. The fun doesn't end there, because miniatures lovers will then spend years furnishing their dollhouses with miniature furniture, miniature food, miniature home accessories, and more. 

Today, miniatures are attracting newfound interest thanks to social media, miniatures forums, miniatures ecommerce stores like Little Shop of Miniatures, and this blog. Small scale miniature artisans are finding a place among mass-produced miniatures and helping grow interest in miniatures.

The Development of Miniature Scale

The very first miniatures did not conform to any set miniature scales. It wasn't until the 20th century that manufacturers began to conform to standardized miniature scales. The most commonly used scale at that time was 1/18 miniature scale, which is also known as 2/3 inch scale. This means that an object that was one foot in real life was scaled down to 2/3" in miniature scale. 

Today, the most common scale is 1/12 miniature scale, also known as one inch miniature scale. Recent years have seen even smaller miniature scales gain traction. They include 1/24 miniature scale, 1/48 miniature scale, and even 1/144 miniature scale. (Check out our blog post to learn more about miniature scale.)

Miniatures have been around a long time and have certainly evolved over the years. One thing that doesn't change is the joy miniatures bring to people the world over.


If you're interested in trying out (or diving deeper!) into the wonderful world of miniatures, make sure to check out Little Shop of Miniatures. We offer the web's best miniatures, along with free shipping at $65, a 30 day return policy, and friendly customer service. 

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