A Timeline of the History of Miniatures: From Ritual and Religious Object to Plaything and Collectible

*This post is best viewed on a computer. It gets a bit convoluted on mobile devices.


On this week’s episode of My Mini Monday, I discuss miniatures throughout history. This one is for all you history and miniature buffs.

The images in the timeline below are not mine, many are under creative commons license from wikimedia commons If denoted with an asterisk, the image’s source is in the list below the timeline, otherwise, please click on the image for it’s source page. If you are the owner of one of these images and do not approve of it’s usage, please let me know and I will promptly remove it.


A timeline:



3rd Millennium BC (Old Kingdom Egypt)

The earliest known examples of dollhouses (with wooden models of servants, furnishings, boats, livestock and pets, placed in pyramids for religious purposes).

Mesopotamia/ Iron Age/ Ancient Egypt (3000s BC)

Mesopotamian clay tablets considered the first miniature books.

Miniature artwork in the Egyptian papyrus manuscripts.

Iron Age/Roman West votive offerings and grave gods.

Salisbury hoard detailed miniaturized bronze shields. So detailed they are later used by archaeologists to learn about their full-scale counterparts.

American Precolumbian (1st millennium BC to 16th Century AD)




Early Roman (753 BC – 476 AD)

 Small-scale architectural effigies are made in ceramic, stone, wood, and metal.*

Less representational miniature Roman weapons produced.

 Late Roman (late 3rd – mid 4th centuries AD)

 Mithrassymbole – detailed bronze miniatures of farming implements, snakes, lizards and frogs in wealthy female burrials around cologne.

Medieval Period (5th to 15th Century)

The word “miniature” is derived from the pigment used in the small, detailed art of illuminated manuscripts – “minium.”*


Peter Schoffer publishes Diurnale Mogantinum – the first traditional miniature book.

Ancient Peru/ Inca Empire (13th to 16th Century)

Miniature feathered clothing and gold, silver and copper figurines made as religious offerings.*

16th Century

Earliest known European dollhouses (baby houses – cabinet display cases with individual rooms, trophy collections made for adults).

Small toy tea sets, made from pewter and copper,  first created in Germany.

17th Century

Rise of the use of maquettes during the baroque period – small models of planned sculptures (also referred to as plastico, modello, bozzetto or sketch). **this date could be even earlier in history, more information is needed.

18th Century

Smaller doll houses with more realistic exteriors appeared in Europe.

Porcelain manufacture led to resurgence of children’s tea sets.

First model train engines created as prototype steam engines.

Shipwrights build scale ships as demonstration prototypes.

Late 18th – Early 19th Century (Industrial Revolution)

Dollhouses began being mass produced in factories – Christian Hacker, Moritz, Gottschalk, Elastolin, Moritz Reichel in Germany, and Silber & Fleming, Evans & Cartwright, Lines Brothers (later Tri-ang) in the UK.

Early 19th Century (start of WWI)

Germany’s very popular dollhouse manufacturing declines.

Mid-19th Century

More cost-effective children’s tea sets produced from bakelite and celluloid, and the dolls’ tea set emerges with the invention of celluloid dolls.

1843 – 1912

UK company Stevens’ Model Dockyard produces miniature brass locomotives.

Mid 1850s

Small scale commercial train models produced.

1850 – 1870

Model trains become more available.


US company Eugene Beggs of New Jersey begins making steam models.

Late 1800s – 1940s

Salesman samples produced.

End of the 19th Century

The Bliss Manufacturing Company begins making dollhouses in the US.

Germany’s Markland company is the first to use a numerical model train gauge system.

20th Century

Clockwork model horseless carriages date back to this time (the earliest miniature automobiles).


TynieToy Company of Providence, Rhode Island makes authentic replicas of American antique houses. Other notable early 20th century American dollhouse companies include: Roger Williams Toys, Tootsietoy, Schoenhut, Wisconson Toy Co.


Meccano Ltd. Introduces a set of six die cast scale model cars to go with their O scale model train line.


First plastic models manufactured (By Frog in the UK).

Mid 1940s

First scale model automobile kits produced by Ace and Berkley (wooden).


First plastic automobile kits produced by Revell.

Late 1940s

American companies began producing plastic models (Hawk, Varney, Empire, Renwal, Lindberg).

Dollhouses are mass produced in larger scales with less detail.


More companies began production of plastic models (America: Aurora, Revell, AMT, Monogram, UK: Airfix, Matchbox, France: Heller SA, Italy: Italeri, ESCI, Former Soviet Union: Novo, Japan: Fujima, Nichimo, Bandai). Automobile models originally made as sales promotional items become popular with the public. AMT begins producing 1:25 scale models to meet this demand.

Most dollhouses are made with sheet metal and contain plastic furniture – relatively inexpensive and available to developed western countries.


AMT starts producing model car kits.


Tamiya began manufacturing plastic model aircraft kits.


Japanese companies Hasegawa and Tamiya dominate the plastic model industry.


Chinese companies DML, AFV Club and Trumpeter join Hasegawa and Tamiya at the top of the plastic model industry.


Tamiya reissues a small selection of plastic model aircraft kits.

As I learn more, I’ll add more, so stay tuned. There’s so much to the world of miniatures, there’s not way this is ever going to be complete.


Leave a comment below about your experience with miniatures, your notes on the history of miniatures or your ideas for future MMM posts!

**By no means am I an expert in this area, if I got something wrong, left something out, etc. let me know by commenting below or emailing [email protected].

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