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  • Writer's pictureCarole Conn

Miniature Antiques - Why do we like teensy-weensy stuff?

I am mad for miniatures. I've found that most people are, especially when they are period antiques. I don't particularly collect them, but when I look around my house I see them everywhere, so I guess I do.

There is something sweet, cute, cuddly even, about teeny weeny things. And good period ones can command astounding prices. A tiny firkin went at auction recently for $8500.00!

The first miniature I ever bought was a little tiny candle lantern. I was in my early 20's and I found it at a flea market for a few dollars. I still have it and I'll never part with it. Plus it's painted BLUE. It's really grungy, the glass is loose, but I love it. I found another little one recently- in a lot better shape. Look at the two of them in front of a full size lantern:

I became enamored with samplers when I was very young, and I bought them as I found ones I could afford. Then I discovered the miniature ones and have searched for them, but they are really hard to find if you want 19th century ones, as I do. This is my collection:

Note the one on the bottom left. It is 3 1/2" x 3 1/2". Small, right? Look at this:

Now, that's a miniature! It is only 1 1/2" x 2". I found it on Ebay and I paid a lot for it, but when you gotta have it you gotta have it.

In another blog post I talk about toy china - a passion of mine. Look at the 2 covered vegetable dishes at the left. They are the same pattern, same shape. One is for real vegetables, the other a toy. Both date from about 1820 and are English blue underglaze transferware. The toy would probably cost as much as the big one in the market today.

You can find miniature baskets, many of which are identical to their larger counterparts. Basket makers created them to show their skill at tiny detail, and maybe to use them as samples. It's sometimes hard to tell if they are early, hand made ones. New ones often use cheap splint which feels rough to the touch, and the weave is suspiciously even and exact. When in doubt, pass.

These are fun to collect - tiny pincushions. Some of them are emeries - that is, needle sharpeners, and they are filled with sand. But the ones pictured here are all little tiny pincushions. Two of them are set in little baskets. The big tomato is the normal size. You can find these lots of places, and most cost only a few dollars, although unusual shapes or really early ones can cost a pretty penny.

A basket of strawberry emeries. Most are less than an inch long.

Miniature books are interesting, and very sought after by some. The little one here is leather bound and dated 1823. I've heard that book publishers made them so that they could be carried around easily, although I can't imagine trying to read one!

I absolutely love country smalls in early milk paint. There is so much fake paint out there that you have to be really careful, and know who it is you are buying from. I've been fooled more than once. But after handling these things for many years, I have a pretty good feel for what's real and what isn't. Again, when in doubt, pass.

The Shakers often did very small versions of their larger wares. This is a little bail handle pantry box, unpainted. It has the typical diamond shaped escutcheons found on a lot of Shaker bail handles.

Miniature portraits were very common in the early 1800s. People could carry them with them like the photographs we carry now. This little portrait of a gentleman which I've propped up at the bottom of this painting is really teeny.

But he has great detail:

Lots of other things can be found in miniature.

Dolls and toys:




I guess this blog hasn't answered the fundamental question of it all - WHY? Why did people make them? Why did people want them? Why do we collect them? I guess some of us are just drawn to little things. And they take up very little space - which collectors have often over-filled. They just make me happy.


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