I think my interest in miniature foods goes back to seeing the illustrations in Beatrix Potter's 1904 book, The Tale of Two Bad Mice. In the story, two mice break into a dollhouse and attempt to eat the scrumptious looking dinner laid out on the table. When they discover the food is made of plaster and glued to the plates, they smash it to bits in frustration and then go on a destructive rampage as they burglarize the house. The dollies, upon returning home, immediately engage a Steiff policeman doll to watch over their residence.
I've always found the illustrations of the dollhouse food in The Tale of Two Bad Mice to be charming and captivating:
and I was thrilled last year to find an antique dollhouse ham very like the one in the illustration (German, circa the 1900s):
My oldest piece of dollhouse food is this tiny ham shown below, about 1 1/4 inch wide, made of a papier-mache-like substance on a pressed paper plate. It came from Germany in the mid 1800s. It's not pretty, but it's old, and it's amazing to me how something so small and fragile has survived:
My very best sets of antique miniature food are these two, made in France in the 1880s. The items are painted plaster, in a scale a bit larger than 1" to 1 foot; I think they may have been meant for dolls rather than dollhouses. They are unplayed with; in fact, most of the pieces are still tied down with their original twine. The boxes feature beautifully lithographed labels with scenes of little bakers cooking (and drinking!) and children dining.
I love the old stove in this image, and the
oversized frying pan on the burner.
That's some giant omelet they're making!
And this image has so much to appreciate: the lovely cupboard on the right; the gorgeously upholstered chairs; the children's clothing; the finely detailed dishes and embroidered tablecloth...
And here's what's inside: beautiful miniature play food, some recognizable to me (those hams again!) some not (that flat pink and white thing in the upper left corner. Maybe it's some sort of French regional specialty):
Here are the items in profile, to give a sense of their proportions. The pieces average between 2 and 3 inches long:
And some detail close-ups:
A very fancy ham.
A fishy entree.
A ham (again), lobster, what looks like eggs in a salad....but I'm not sure what that is in the upper right. Maybe a fruitcake?
For some reason (perhaps the Beatrix Potter influence again) I prefer the primitive style of these old pieces to our modern hyper-realistic dollhouse food. Even though today's amazingly crafted pieces look so authentic, these crude-by comparison miniatures have a special charm of their own. And, after all, they fooled the mice in the story, so they must look real enough!