By Nancy Bateman, Registrar
“The fulfillment of every girl’s dream. Here, at last are beautifully detailed, hand crafted furniture and accessories to fill many hours of fanciful play. Collect it – play with it – make room arrangements to capture the fancy of any Petite Princess.” – Ideal, 1964
Our Newest Display
Earlier this month, the National Building Museum opened up our newest micro-exhibition featuring a recent addition to our permanent collections: Petite Princess and Princess Patti dolls, dollhouses, and furniture from the 1960s. Located on the second floor of the Museum, the exhibition is what we hope will be the first of many small displays featuring new acquisitions.
The Petite Princess Collection was donated to us by Linda Gant and her colleagues Deborah Holman and Roy Specht. Generally, the Museum does not accept dollhouses or dollhouse furniture into our permanent collection. Dollhouses are usually part of the broader history of a specific family or community and we recommend that the donors give their houses to their local museum or historical society. However, the Petite Princess Collection was an offer we simply could not refuse.
Petite Princess History
In the early 1960s, the Ideal Toy and Novelty Corporation used state of the art plastic molding processes to create hyper-realistic furniture for dollhouses marketed specifically to young girls. The company’s Petite Princess Fantasy Furniture line debuted in 1964 offering a line debuted in 1964 offering a mix of Italian Renaissance, French Provincial, Rococo, Art Noveau, Victorian, and Oriental styles. The 30-piece set included hand-painted furniture composed of wood, porcelain, brass, and glass, as well as hand-tailored satin and brocade upholstery. The designers sought to achieve an “antique look” that reflected 1960s interior design. Unfortunately, the toys never became as popular as Ideal envisioned they would be. The furniture was too expensive and delicate for most young children and the toy line was discontinued in 1967.
Petite Princess furniture did however become popular with adult dollhouse collectors who valued its fine details and historical accuracy. Donors Linda Gant and Deb Holman started out with just a few furniture pieces each but eventually became Petite Princess historians, working tirelessly to collect examples of every Petite Princess doll, dollhouse, and furniture piece ever sold. In their book, The Complete Petite Princess Reference Guide, they detail the history of the collection and its reflection of life in the 1960s.
Linda offered the Museum the entire Petite Princess and Princess Patti lines, including rare dollhouses, dolls, furniture, advertisements, and other ephemera. She, along with Deb, even donated display pieces that toy sellers would have used as advertisements in store windows. This collection is not just the story of a specific family or toy line or company, but is also a perfect time capsule of the aspirations of middle-class Americans in the 1960s.
The National Building Museum welcomes the Petite Princess and Princess Patti collection to the Museum. Please come check out highlights from the collection and more information on its history!