I spend hours every Christmas putting together a miniature village as part of our holiday decorations. I enjoy my village and I imagine my involvement in the lives of the tiny people in the streets and behind the windows of their houses. The village can be anything I want it to be, and it does not change unless I change it.
Miniature figures represent reality as images of people, buildings, landscapes, machines, tools, and other living or nonliving things. They allow the creation of a simulated reality that can be manipulated, controlled and viewed in its entirety. They can simulate proposed alternatives and “what if” situations, or they can provide an environment where fantasies can be played out in a world where rules are followed and people behave as expected.
Miniatures have been used for various purposes for thousands of years. Miniature soldiers were found in the tombs of the Pharaohs. Paintings in miniature were popular among the Persians about the 13th century and continued until the mid 1800s when the practice almost died out as photography was developed. Those artists tended to abandon miniature painting for photography.
The earliest recorded doll house was made for Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, between 1550 and 1579. It was a copy of his own residence and became known as his “baby house.” Charles Dickens referred to a doll houses in Cricket on the Hearth, 1845. Doll houses increased in popularity in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. The furniture and interiors of the houses reflected the lifestyles of their owners, and many were made purely as collectors’ pieces with contents made by craftsmen.
Brightly painted toys carved from wood were often sold by peddlers and street traders in the early 19th century. In the late 19th century, these toys were replaced by toys stamped out of tinplate. Many of these toys were clockwork and were developed as a sideline of watchmaking. In the 1930s brightly painted diecast cars were introduced in Britain, and that was taken to a new level in 1961with Mattel’s Hot Wheels cars which had low friction wheels that could send a car over a further distance with a single push.
One of the largest markets for miniatures is the movie industry. The fierce Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park was actually about 18 inches long. The Hogwarts castle in the Harry Potter series is only about 12 feet high. In “Back to the Future III” when the train was pushing the Delorean time machine along the track, that train and Delorean were actually much smaller models. Those sexy helicopter crashes that are so popular in movies involve small models, usually no more that 12 inches long. In these scenes, the speed of the film is slowed to make the movement look realistic. This is most noticeable in shots of ships on ocean waves. A small model ship floating on waves looks silly in real time.
Most collectors of miniatures are adults, but children are raised on toys. Toys help children develop their social and cognitive skills and help them identify their roles in society. There are a lot of studies to determine why boys like cars and guns and girls like dolls. Some people think it is the parents who create the preferences and some think it is hormonal. Extreme gender-oriented toys may have a negative effect on a child’s development. The Barbie Doll tends to make girls think negatively about their own bodies. Guns tend to make boys more aggressive. Some studies show that the kind of toys a child plays with has an effect on the child’s intellectual development.
Parents of grown children should look in their storage boxes. The original Barbie Doll is worth now about $8,000. An original 1933 edition of Monopoly will bring $146,000. A boxy sea-green Matchbox sedan, the 1966 Opel Diplomat, will bring $9,000.
How many battles have been planned and recreated with miniature soldiers, tanks, guns, etc? How many shopping malls and office buildings have been created in miniature before actual construction has begun?
Whatever the motivation, miniature models, toys, and Christmas villages offer whatever anyone wants from it. They offer a controlled environment at a reasonable cost. They also offer hours and hours of fun.