Cheryl St.John: 19th Century Dollhouses

Little girls have enjoyed playing house throughout the years, and doll houses have always been a favorite.

R. Bliss Manufacturing Company of Pawtucket,  Rhode Island made doll houses in the late nineteenth century. Rufus Bliss started out making wooden screws

and clamps for piano and cabinet makers, and later adopted modern technology to produce inexpensive miniature houses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Made of wood and lithographed paper, the houses were affordable for middle-class parents to purchase for their children. Bliss printed its name on the lithographed bricks or wood either on the front or back of the house.

 

Designed in the Victorian style, the houses were simple in their construction, with no embellishments like working windows or shutters. All the trimmings were in the lovely lithographs.

 

The house opened to expose two to

four rooms. Larger models had an attic as well. Firehouses, garages and stables were also popular.

 

Bliss houses are highly collectable and can be seen in museums across the country. Occasionally one comes up for sale on ebay. There is a company making reproductions, which are lovely.

 

 

The house at the right measures 18x12x20 This one would go for about $1,400 today.

 

Did you have a dollhouse when you were a girl? I had a colorful metal one.

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28 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: 19th Century Dollhouses”

  1. What fabulous pictures! I had a metal doll house, but later in life my mom decorated a wooden one as a hobby. My dad joked that it cost less than redoing the real house. Fun post! Thank you for the memories.

  2. Amazing Dollhouses… thanks for sharing this info. I had a dollhouse as a little girl, but to tell you the truth, I can’t remember much about the details. I know it was had plastic furniture and accessories. But it gave me hours of pleasure.

  3. Oh, I always wanted the Barbie Dreamhouse, but my parents couldn’t afford it. I used to play with paper dolls alot and had fun dressing them up. But no…no dollhouses for me sadly.

  4. I love all the tiny Victorian furnishings! So beautiful.

    My dad made me a doll house when I was a girl. It was thick and clunky, but I adored it. It had two stories and a sloped roof. My mom helped decorate it with carpet scraps and Fischer Price furniture. I can remember piecing together scraps of fabric for quilts for the beds. It might not have been beautiful, but there was a lot of love built into that little house. I wish now that I still had it.

  5. Good morning, ladies! So nice to see you all enjoyed the dollhouses and so many of us have memories.

    I played paperdolls, too, Charlene. I had Pat Boone and Annette Funicello, and of course they became a couple and I created stories for them. I cut babies from the Sears catalog and they had a LOT of children.

  6. I never had one, either, but always wanted one. I was a big paper dolls person, too. The Lennon Sisters were my favorites because there were four of them in the same folder!

    Love the pictures.

  7. I love those! I wish I had a couple for my girls they loved doll houses. They each had the Barbie big doll house and now they are teens they still have the big doll house!
    Penney

  8. Karen, I was given a dollhouse like you described and my grandkids played with it. One in particular loved it so much I gave it to him and he spent hours making furniture and fixing up the place.

  9. I had one of those metal dollhouses, too. It was a “colonial” which I think is rather funny now, since I so enjoy writing colonial era fiction. This post is interesting and I love the pics.

  10. Cheryl, what great photos and pictures. I think any little girl would love playing with those. I had the metal colonial, too, with plastic furniture. I could still tell the you the colors of each piece.

  11. (Sigh) I wanted a doll house like one of those soooo bad. I did get a metal ranch house with a fence and some horses once, but it just wasn’t the same. (It ultimately ended up being a birdhouse, which was much better.) This was in the pre-Barbie days, and since I never cared much for baby dolls–I wanted dolls that had LIVES–I played with paper dolls A LOT. My all time favorite was actress Cyd Charisse. She had a life, boy. All those evening gowns and fancy dresses with hats. You wouldn’t believe the places she went. It was great! But if only she’d had a house…

  12. I love this, Cheryl. Why do these miniatures touch our heart so, even now.
    I never had one and my children never had one, though at one time they had She-Ra’s castle…I think.
    NOT THE SAME.
    I just bought a little barn for my soon-to-be 2 year old grandson. It is about 2 feet tall (not quite) and opens and has little animals and a corral fence for outside. CUTE!

  13. Hi Cheryl, terrific posts and pictures! I had a metal dollhouse as a kid, too. These days, we’ve got a collectible that survives my sister in law’s childhood…a Fisher-Price one with the little chunky people. It folds together and even has a car in the garage. My six-year old grandson loves playing with it. xox

  14. Interesting blog, Cher! I love these. But I’m guessing a person had to be pretty well off to have afforded one back then. I never had a dollhouse but I yearned for one with everything I had. We were too poor for such things though. I remember going to my cousin’s house and playing with hers. It was lots of fun. My sister and I played with paper dolls. We laid out houses for each of us and pretended big time. I remember we made beds for them out of Kleenex. Had a great time. In fact, it’s one of the things that really stands out when I look back on those years.

  15. I too, had a metal doll house as a child. Two-story, with a patio on the roof of the garage. When I went to England, among other things, I got to see Queen Mary’s dolls house. It is magnificent. Its furnishings are magnificent. I could have spent all day looking at it.

  16. I did have one as a child. It was during WWII, so it was sort of a skimpy one. No furniture. Very Austair. My mother made all my furniture–out of heavy cardboard. Beds had pillow stuffing for mattress’ and brightly colored material from her sewing basket. I had wooden furniture, too. My Dad whittled chairs and glued wood together for tables. It was pretty well fashioned. No people. I had to do that with clothes pins. We made some pretty fancy people out of them. I had a tiny book, at the time, called Racety-Packety House. It was about the people who lived in an abandoned doll house that was behind the door of a rich little girl’s bedroom. They all came to life after she went to bed. Amazing book. Anyone else know of the book? So I played with both places in mind.
    I was raised as an only chld since by brothers were 10 and 11 years older and in the military. I made my own fun. XOXO

  17. We had the metal dollhouse, not because we were well off but to share with 2 younger sisters. LOVED paper dolls as well. Went to Chicago for 8th grade Science club bus trip (ONLY reason I entered the Science Fair) We saw a 3 or 4 story doll house with that Victorian furniture and tiny electric lights the size of a grain of rice. Forget which of 2 museums it was in, but certainly made an IMPRESSION 50 yrs ago!!

  18. Mary C My gf said I was the only single person she knew with a toy box- babysat her daughter part time from 3 to 5 yrs so bought Fisher Price farm, etc at garage sales for her and me to play with at my apt. Think our church toddler area may had a metal doll house?

  19. These pics are amazing, never seen a doll house like this. I didn’t have a doll house when I was growing up. I was lucky to just have a doll.

  20. Love these dollhouses, Cheryl! How fun, and the insides and accessories are amazing. I bet the little girls who got those were thrilled, just like I was with my dollhouse (which wasn’t half as grand).

    –Kirsten

  21. I don’t think I have seen this particular style of doll house. Just as well, I don’t need anything else I’d want to collect.
    We did have a metal doll house when I was a child. We also had a large wooden one with one large room downstairs and two up, plus a door that closed it off in back. It was large enough that my youngest brother could get inside and we could close the door. Unfortunately both it and my baby doll disappeared when we moved. Don’t know how, there wasn’t that much to move and we just moved a few miles away. Both were dearly missed. Today, both are collectables.

  22. I had a doll house along with its own table top stand that my father made for me and my two sisters. I loved it. He use old pieces of wallpaper that he had and old pieces of linoleum. He even strung some old big bulb Christmas Lights throughout the doll house so that it would have lights. It had a light switch to turn on the lights. The doll house as it got older was not in the best of conditions. My sisters ruined it when they got older. One evening when my sisters and I were grown, he decided to put the doll house and stand out for the trashman the next day. It was out there for about 15 minutes before a father and daughter drove by. They knocked on the door and asked if they could take the doll house and stand. They were willing to do the work to revive the doll house back.

  23. Cheryl. I loved this. I have seen some pretty doll houses somewhere in the past years , but were made for selling. No, I never had one. Was lucky if I could get a doll. Our family was big and not much money at all. BUT, lots of love. I spent many hours playing paper dolls. But mine were cut out of Sears Roebuck catalogues. Had whole families. And, cut out clothes for them. If I had cardboard, sometimes would make a car or such. I was occupied for hours playing with them. There was one time when I has extra dolls, when A great-aunt and her granddaughter passed away from affixiation , and her sister sent a big box of clothes and dolls to my daddy for his girls, Had this one very special lady doll(would be worth hundreds of dollars now) . She was probably about 18.in. yall and slim, beautiful red hair fixes like some of these covers of Victorian books. And, a beautiful green satin floor length fancy dress. Can’t imagine how I loved this doll. But, we had to move and us kids and mom had to go by bus and our stuff was stored. When daddy got it, a lot had been stolen, including my beautiful bed doll! MAXIE

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