Silver Miniatures to Feature on the Small Screen

Silver Miniatures to Feature on the Small Screen

by Elizabeth Talbot

The making of tiny replicas of items from everyday life has been recorded since ancient times. Miniatures have been made down the centuries using natural materials found close-at-hand, fashioned into the likeness of people, animals, tools and familiar household chattels. These objects were principally, although not exclusively, used to entertain children. However, by the 18th Century in Britain and parts of Northern and Western Europe, miniatures were purposefully crafted for the pleasure of wealthy patrons and collectors. They were manufactured out of precious metals, exotic woods, and might be enamelled or bejewelled. It has been suggested that silver miniatures were made as test pieces for apprentices, or that they were trade samples carried around by salesmen. However, these theories have been discredited over time. Ultimately, they were expensive items and the level of artistry and detail employed was high, with some of the most significant makers of each generation recorded as having undertaken commissions for royalty and people of consequence. The term “toys” was applied to these, as well as to playthings for children.

Meanwhile, dolls’ houses came into fashion in Holland in the middle of the 17th Century, the earliest dolls’ house having been recorded as being made in Nuremberg in 1558 for Albrecht V of Bavaria. It is thought that the original purpose of furnishing the dolls’ houses with tiny silver replica toys was as a training aid for young girls and potential brides to learn the layout of the house, what things were, and where they went. As time passed, rivalry developed between dolls-house owners who displayed their wealth and status using these tiny treasures. Most of the finest miniatures originated in Holland and during the progression of the 18th and 19th Centuries, it was the style of the Dutch silversmiths which set the trends for makers in other countries. Modern collectors look carefully for makers’ marks and many of the items originally made in countries other than Britain also bear English import marks to verify the standard of silver they are made of. 

In the latter part of the 19th Century, dolls’ houses were still popular in England, but they were being filled with cheaper German toys made of pewter, and tea services made of porcelain. As demand for silver toys declined, production reduced. Now, silver miniatures are considered sought-after collectables.

A private collection of nearly 50 silver miniatures is being offered for sale at TW Gaze on Friday 26th July. Mainly dating from the 19th Century, they represent a relatively rare opportunity to see so many examples on one occasion. They will be sold in several lots, with starting prices between £40 – 140, depending on the subject matter. Furniture is represented by chairs, settees and stools, tables, a piano, side cabinets and a dressing table with “real” mirror; forms of transport include horse-drawn carriages, and novelties include wager cups, a beer stein, finely-detailed buildings and windmills, plus a little man on a swing.

In attendance to capture the atmosphere and excitement of this auction will be Scottish Television (STV) and the “Travelling Auctioneers” team, who are filming a brand-new format for the third series of their popular BBC show. TW Gaze extends a warm invitation to you to share the day, attend the sale, and enjoy the on-site experience. There will be multiple auctions to view and to participate in, with Café 1857 open throughout the day. Illustrated catalogues and information:


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