I love writing about museum objects but it can be so frustrating. Imagine walking into your favourite museum where there are thousands of objects just waiting to be seen, admired and talked about. You know that every single artefact is important in its own right and they all have a story to tell. The only problem is, the one thing that’s caught you eye isn’t ready to reveal its secrets. The brief display text sitting next to it may be all that is known about it and despite phone calls, archive and internet searches, its history remains a mystery.
Take this gorgeous 19th Century miniature bazaar for instance. The museum text states that it was made by the Booth family, who lived in Cobham, circa 1860. A phone call to Stephen Nye, the Collections Officer at the Guildhall Museum in Rochester, reveals that the bazaar was made by the donors’ mother but apart from that no further information is known. After a brief feeling of disappointment, my imagination kicks in and I imagine an entire family bent over the delicate and impossibly small pieces within a candlelit parlour while their father spoke about his day or sat puffing on his pipe in the corner.
The truth will never be known but, with a little bit of research, it was possible to find out that during the early 19th century adults would frequently work together to create miniature scenes and this one may well have been inspired by the hugely popular ‘baby houses’ and miniature shops created by a German factory called Nuremburg. The factory operated between 1835-1927 and one of its most popular models was its ‘Baby’s First Butcher Shop’ displaying grisly animal carcasses and a floor covered in bloody sawdust. As you can imagine, these scenes weren’t for playing with but American, French and British manufacturers soon caught on to the ‘miniature’ craze and tiny domestic objects were soon widely available.
Fortunately, the Booth family chose to recreate a far more tempting scene and whenever I look at it, I’m drawn back to the days when I spent hours re-arranging my own dolls’ house. Sadly, I don’t have it any longer but, like you, I can always go and have a look at this wonderful minature bazaar at the Guildhall Museum on Rochester High Street. The museum is free to enter and further visitor information can be found here.
Until next time.
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