Quite some time ago, I published this info on this site, but I’ve since reformatted for readability and published again. This post and my history of toy photography post will both be making their way into a whole new deep dive soon. I hope you’ll find it useful.
Miniatures have taken the world by storm. And why wouldn’t they? The internet allows the spread of their tiny glory to miniacs all over the world. But they have a hugely amazing history, dating back to ancient Egypt, if not further, and I think that history needs to be explored.
3rd Millennium BC (Old Kingdom Egypt)
The earliest known examples of dollhouses. These included wooden models of servants, furnishings, boats, livestock and pets and were 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 Pre-Columbian (1st millennium BC to 16th Century AD)
Small-scale architectural effigies are made in ceramic, stone, wood and metal.
Early Roman (753 BC — 476 AD)
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 placed in wealthy female burial sites 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.
- Earliest known European dollhouses called baby houses. These were cabinet display cases with individual rooms, trophy collections made for adults.
- Small toy tea sets, made from pewter and copper first created in Germany.
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 potentially be earlier in history.
- Smaller doll houses with more realistic exteriors appeared in Europe.
- Porcelain manufacture led to the 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 by 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 popular dollhouse manufacturing declines.
More cost-effective children’s tea sets produced from bakelite and celluloid and dolls’ tea sets emerge with the invention of celluloid dolls.
UK company Stevens’ Model Dockyard produces miniature brass locomotives.
Small scale commercial train models produced.
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.
Clockwork model horseless carriages date back to this time. These are 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 — Dinky Toys.
First plastic models manufactured by Frog in the UK.
First wooden scale model automobile kits produced by Ace and Berkley.
First plastic automobile kits produced by Revell.
- American companies began producing plastic models. These companies included Hawk, Varney, Empire, Renwal, and Lindberg.
- Dollhouses are mass produced in larger scales with less detail.
- More companies began production of plastic models. In the US – 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. They are 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.
And that’s where I’ll leave you today. I’d venture to say, everything from 2004 — present day is too modern to gear just how influential it will be.
- Big Ideas Behind Small Things, The Met, Joanne Pillsbury
- A Brief History of Modern Miniatures, Lisa Robinson
- Miniature objects as representations of realia, World Archaeology Issue 1: Miniaturization, Philip Kiernan
- Dollhouse, Wikipedia
- Plastic Model, Wikipedia
- Maquette, Wikipedia
Newer research suggests toys/miniatures may date back into ancient times. Items once believed to be ritual objects, cannot be ruled out as toys. Learn more here – Why Ancient Toys Are Elusive Artifacts, Discover, Bridget Alex, June 2, 2020