6. The New Folding Doll House

Patrick Cox, H-NET President-Elect and Editor's picture

Contributor: Frederika Eilers

PhD Candidate, School of Architecture

McGill University


McLoughlin Brothers of New York City (1828-1920), known as The Kings of Chromolithography, introduced The New Folding Doll House in the late nineteenth century. The four-room version was shown in the 1875 catalogue and consisted of a bedroom, parlor, kitchen, and dining-room. By 1894 there were also four single-room dollhouses. In both versions the rooms are a cubic foot and neither version included the dolls and furniture on the box. The interiors were similar, but the individual rooms had exteriors representing a tan brick townhouse with a door on one side and two classical windows with a decorative cast floral insert between them on the other side. At least two other two-story New Folding Dollhouses by McLoughlin Bros. existed at this time; these had detachable roves and open backs. 

Although there were many varieties of paper toys, including toy blocks, books, board games, dolls, novelties, peepshows, puzzles, and toy theaters in the 1887 McLoughlin Bros. catalogue, this dollhouse by an industry leader is notable because it is an early example of an existing toy type adopting a new printing technology for production. Before commercial production, dollhouses were often custom built by family members, local cabinetmakers, or other tradesmen. These dollhouses were frequently large and difficult to transport. By implementing new production methods, this cardboard dollhouse was more affordable because of the speed of manufacture and the ease of distribution. For example, the two-story paper dollhouse listed in the 1887 catalogue retailed for one dollar, which was less than the average daily wage in the 1890 census. However, the domestic representation and the children on the box seem to come from affluent families. Subsequently, there were other foldable or collapsible dollhouses and they often marked times of austerity, like Schoenhut's wooden foldable apartment rooms introduced in 1930. Moreover, collapsible toys are indicative of the growing popularity of smaller house sizes which necessitated smaller toys.

The New Folding Doll House was also unique in its simplicity of assembly, and the single-room versions had multiple configurations. Before, in the mid-nineteenth century, single-sided printed construction sheets were available from peddlers. Later, in McLoughlin Bros.'s The Dolls’ House Model Book (1905), the paper dollhouse had to be cut-out and glued. The matching paper dolls were in another publication called The Model Book of Dolls. The book consisted of six single-sided perforated pages which had trapezoidal rooms or furniture pieces. The directions were relatively complex by today’s standards and involved cutting, scoring, and using pins to transfer information on the blank side. It is fascinating to note that the more complex to assemble dollhouses were also referred to as models. Constructing the toy was a large play component, which The New Folding Doll House circumvented. Thus, this toy affected American Childhood at this time through its use of technology to create an affordable product and its space-saving constructability.


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