Second Empire Doll House

An architectural gem, this elegant Second Empire doll house was built to house a little girl’s small dolls and furniture. It’s architectural design is that of a fine suburban mansion. The builder was well versed in current tastes and the nuances of the fashionable Second Empire style.

Interior of doll house with original papers on walls and floors.
Interior of doll house with original papers on walls and floors.

Louis Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor of France in 1851. He transformed the old city of Paris with grand boulevards, parks, and fine mansard roofed structures.

Between 1873 and 1880, the Second Empire emerged as an architectural tour de force in America.

The doll house has a French mansard roof with a double pitched hip roof and curved roof dormer windows set into the steep lower roof slope. Heavy moldings finish the juncture of the upper flatly pitched roof and the steeply pitched lower roof. Heavy moldings and decorative brackets support the roof eaves. It is designed with a five bay façade with four light windows. Architecturally shaped window trim and wood sills are applied to each window. The interior center stairs connect the three levels of the house. The mansard roof adds the third floor level. Partitions separate the house into four rooms.

The architectural design of the doll house is  similar to residential designs illustrated in the 1873 architectural pattern book, DETAIL, COTTAGE AND CONSTRUCTIVE ARCHITECTURE, by A.J. Bicknell & Co.

Compare the façade and architectural detailing of The Union League building, located at Broad and Sanson Streets, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with the doll house. It was designed by the architect, John Fraser, and constructed between , 1864-1865. The Union League and the doll house share similar architectural details. Both structures are architecturally related and exhibit Second Empire style features..

Exterior, Second Empire doll house, circa 1870-1880.
Exterior, Second Empire doll house, circa 1870-1880.

Doll house dormer roofs are curved like the dormers on The Union League. Tiny shaped shingles, intended to replicate slate, clad the doll house mansard roof. Similar corner quoins ornament the vertical exterior corners of both structures.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, a publication for women, sometimes included an architectural design for fashionable residence. A MODEL RESIDENCE, drawn expressly for Godey’s Lady’s Book, by Isaac Hobbs, Architect, Philadelphia, is similar to the dollhouse.

The above house was designed and built for Mr. C.S. Kauffman of Columbia, Pennsylvania.

The doll house was constructed when major changes in taste occurred. These changes began in the 1870s and continued until 1910. France was no longer the style setter for interior design. America looked to England for design leadership in the decorative arts. England replaced France as a source of fashionable wall coverings. English wallpapers dominated the better paper market when this dollhouse was constructed. American manufacturers adapted English designs and produced less expensive, affordable wall coverings.

At the time this doll house was built most residential rooms, including kitchens, were papered. Ceiling papers came into use.

Original papers remain intact on the walls, ceilings and floors.

The exterior of the doll house is painted two shades of gray. A lighter shade was applied to the walls and a darker used to accent the quoins, window trim, cornice brackets and roofs. Gray was probably selected as the finish color to simulate a cut stone façade. Brick was  used for wall construction and trimmed with cut stone detail. The natural color of slate roofing is gray. It is possible that the doll house maker wished to simulate a stucco house with wood architectural details. We will never know. In any event, he created an architectural gem in ¾” scale.

  • Maker: Unknown.
  • Origin: Purchased from and estate near East Petersburg, Pennsylvania.
  • Circa: 1870-1880.
  • Materials: Painted wood.
  • Size: 20”W x 23 ¾”H x 13” D.
  • Provenance: Purchased from John Watson at Golden Lane Antique Gallery, New Oxford, Pennsylvania.