(This post is especially for Norma, who requested more pictures of my dollhouses!)
When I first started collecting dollhouses and miniatures, one of the pieces I most longed for was the Dunham's Cocoanut Dollhouse, made in America in the 1890s. The odd name belies its origins: the house was originally a packing crate for Dunham's Cocoanut, a shredded confection used for baking, particularly as a cake topping. The 28 inch tall crate originally would have held several boxes of this shredded coconut product, and the house served as an advertising premium.
It's believed the crates arrived in stores already papered inside, ready to be converted into a dollhouse once they were emptied and stood on end. The lithographed floor and wall papers are awash with details, including rugs, tile, and loads of Victorian bric a brac like potted ferns, pianos, paintings, shelves, china cabinets, even a taxidermied moose head and an aquarium full of fish. And, lest we forget this house was essentially a marketing device, the cupboard lithographed on a kitchen wall is stocked full of tiny Dunham's Cocoanut boxes!
The outside of the crate has impressed bricks and windows on each side, and is stamped "Dunham's Cocoanut Dollhouse" on both ends. No one is really sure how the houses were distributed after the coconut was sold, and they are hard to find today. Considering their original purpose, most remaining examples are in rough shape now, with water staining, torn and missing paper, and a prominent crack down the back, caused by the joining of the two planks used to fashion the crate's bottom. Even so, the house, with its fantastically detailed wallpapers, is a treasure, providing a peek into late Victorian domestic life.
It's also an outstanding example of a very early marketing premium. Besides the house itself, children could send away for individual cardboard pieces of furniture, each emblazoned with the Dunham's logo. You would have had to really like shredded coconut in order to acquire enough pieces to completely furnish the house! This furniture is now exceedingly rare: I've only ever seen one set, and it was in a museum. Consequently, lucky Dunham's house owners fit out their homes with whatever they can find that seems suitable. Mine features a mix of old pieces, including early 1900s German bedroom, dining, and parlor sets, and an American stove and icebox from the 1920s and '30s, along with some other odds and ends. The tour commences below.
The top floor of the house is a bedroom, complete with lace curtained windows. A 4 inch Limbach doll plays with her toys on the floor, next to her German bed with its original coverlet, and a matching wardrobe complete with clothes pegs and a mirrored door.
Down one floor we find the parlor, where a German dollhouse father relaxes on the sofa with his newspapers. The piano is on the wallpaper in the back left corner. The fruit compote dish in this corner is very old and also German made.
Next is the dining room, with the most wonderfully detailed wallpapers in the house: this is where we find the moose head and aquarium. The buffet, table, and chairs are from the same 1900s German set as the bed and wardrobe. I had a lot of fun laying out the breakfast foods and dishes and setting out the tea things on the buffet. The tiny tin trunk is actually a British candy container, which I've filled with extra dishes.
At the bottom of the house is the kitchen. The stove and icebox are American made, and I love the icebox, which came complete with its original glass "ice block". The copper tea kettle on the stove is Dutch. This is the room with the wallpaper cupboard holding the boxes of Dunham's Cocoanut.
I hope you've enjoyed this visit to my Dunham's Cocoanut Dollhouse!