Rare dolls house and sampler in Yorkshire sale

Two childhood mementos of very different kinds of young lives will go under the hammer in Tennants Auctioneers‘ costume, accessories and textiles sale later this month.

The first is a needlework sampler created by a pupil who lived in unimaginable conditions in an orphanage in Van Diemen’s Land in Tasmania in 1838. The modest sampler was completed by a girl from the Queens Orphan School during 1838.

A 19th-century sampler from Van Diemens Land orphanage

The orphanage was established in 1833 to house orphans, neglected children and the children of convicts transported from Europe to horrors of the formidable penal colony. Run as part of the convict system, the orphanage was described at the time in a newspaper article as ‘cold and comfortless’. The writer of the piece goes on to elaborate ‘… never did we see two hundred human beings, that exhibited so squalid an appearance, as did the majority of the Queen’s orphans.

However, belying such a bleak situation, the colourful and carefully stitched sampler contains a verse ‘Lines on a Lady’, extolling the virtues of meekness and mildness and wishes ‘may she in paths of flowers stray’. The sampler, which was worked with the name of the orphanage, is on offer with an estimate of £600-800.

Elsewhere in the sale, a lavish dolls house made in London c.1850 for a very wealthy household, is the top lot. The model house is painted white and called ‘Belgravia’, which was once owned by Vivien Greene, one of the world’s foremost dolls’ house experts and wife of novelist Graham Greene.

Belgravia dolls house

On offer with an estimate of £4,000-5,000, ‘Belgravia’ was the first dolls house that Greene bought, and which inspired her deep fascination with the subject. In 1944, Vivien Greene was re-building her life in Oxford with her two children following the loss of both her house in the Blitz and her husband who abandoned his family.

Searching for affordable furniture at an auction in Burford, Greene came across ‘Belgravia’ and made an impulsive purchase – taking the four-storey dolls’ house home on the bus. She set about painstakingly scraping away old paint with shards of broken bottles, and gradually restored the house with decorations and furnishings appropriate to the mid-19th century period of the house.

She named the family that inhabited the house the ‘Bosanquets’ and arranged the rooms and their inhabitants in intricate scenes, rife with social dramas. The house is fully furnished with fine Walterhausen furniture. Greene went on to collect and restore a great many dolls’ houses, and research and write about dolls’ houses in depth. She can be credited in reviving interest in her subject and inspiring museums and conservators to save dolls’ houses in the rapidly modernising post-war world. Greene built an extraordinary collection of dolls’ houses, which she would display in her own museum, before they were sold at Bonhams in 1998. ‘Belgravia’ was later displayed at Tara’s Palace Museum of Childhood in Co. Wicklow.

Also in the sale are a pair of circa 1950s Käthe Kruse Dolls, on offer with an estimate of £1,000-1,500, and an early 20th-century Steiff teddy bear is estimate to sell for £500-800.

The sale takes place on November 22.




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