- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

To visit the Washington Dolls' House and Toy Museum is to be completely and utterly charmed.

The little museum is home to a vast private collection of antique dollhouses, toys and games, most of them Victorian. The exhibits show life in miniature, a fascinating crossover from reality to fantasy, and reflect a child's sensibility of magic and imagination.

The museum is dedicated to the proposition that dollhouses of the past reflect a study of architecture and the decorative arts, and that toys of the past mirror social history.

The collection is overseen (and fussed over daily) by director Flora Gill Jacobs, an 83-year-old former Washington journalist who is a story in herself. Ms. Jacobs began collecting dollhouses more than 55 years ago and is an internationally recognized expert on the topic. She has written a number of books, among them "A History of Dolls' Houses," which was the first such book ever published.

Although the museum is in its 26th year, says Ms. Jacobs, "people think it's a doll museum which drives me crazy with rows of dolls. But it's not. It's a serious collection."

Sure, a number of dolls some rather large and impressive, with bone teeth and silky hair are sprinkled throughout the collection, which is housed in a couple of refurbished apartments in the Chevy Chase area of the District. But the bulk of the exhibits feature dollhouses of all shapes, sizes and types as well as related buildings shops, stables, schoolrooms.

Much of the collection is housed behind glass set into old doors, shelving, cabinetry and furniture. The displays seem personal and accessible.

One of the more irresistible exhibits is found in a case containing four shelves, the contents of each focusing on a specific element of the home. The shelf labeled "Heating in Miniature" holds several dozen teeny-tiny fireplaces and heating implements. "Music in Miniature" displays little pianos of every shape and size, a violin with thread strings resting in a case nearby. The "Illuminations" shelf offers every variety of lamp in miniature, and the "Cooking" shelf is filled with stoves, stunning in their detail.

Another case holds nothing but Lilliputian chairs more than 50 the tallest no higher than 4 inches or 5 inches. There are rocking chairs, occasional chairs, and even an impossibly intricate folding chair, like those that would hold a card player at a folding table.

"If I were to do a chair collection today, I really think I could do 500 chairs now from my collection," Ms. Jacobs says. "They were made in such variety."

Another exhibit showcases "Sunday toys" wooden Noah's Ark sets and blocks that can be built into cathedrals and steeples.

Ms. Jacobs explains that children of 19th-century religious families were not permitted to play with toys on Sunday except for toys of a "religious" nature.

Then there is Ms. Jacobs' favorite: She calls it the South Jersey House.

"I found it in an old barn in South Jersey," she says. "It's the first house I found when I began collecting. I paid $35 for it in 1945."

The 3-foot-high house, which Ms. Jacobs says she believes is an 1870s-period replication, has seven rooms and an attic. She had the house restored and filled the bare rooms with early to late-Victorian furniture.

"After doing this for so many years, one learns the vintages and styles," she says.

The museum also houses two shops: One, says Ms. Jacobs, is the most complete of its kind in the United States for dollhouse collectors, and contains accessories, dolls and miniature furniture.

A second shop contains books and magazines for dollhouse builders, collectors and enthusiasts. The shop sells dollhouses and kits and features a consignment corner offering antique miniatures, dolls and toys.

Evidently, Ms. Jacobs is not alone in her penchant for life in miniature.

"We're often thought of as a museum for children, but we constantly have more adults come through than children," she says.

In her book, "A History of Dolls' Houses," Ms. Jacobs cites the words of fellow dolls'-house author A.C. Benson to explain the spell of the small:

"There is great beauty in smallness. One gets all the charm of design and colour and effect, because you can see so much more in combination and juxtaposition."

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