Classic dolls' houses for sale

Jane Hughes
Saturday 19 September 1998 23:02

A UNIQUE collection of dolls' houses, owned by the widow of the novelist Graham Greene, is to be auctioned following the closure of her private museum.

At 94, Vivien Greene says she can no longer cope with running the Rotunda Museum of Antique Dolls' Houses, which she opened in 1962 in the garden of her Oxford home.

The collection of 42 houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, many restored by Mrs Greene herself, has attracted visitors from all over the world and is estimated to be worth tens of thousands of pounds.

"My eyesight has deteriorated and I can't manage it any longer," Mrs Greene said.

She began her collection with a Victorian dolls' house she bought for pounds 15 to keep herself occupied during the long nights of the Second World War blackout. What began as a hobby quickly became a vocation, and she established herself as a leading expert in antique dolls' houses, with the most extensive private collection in the country. In 1955 she published the first book in English on the subject, her first of three.

She concentrated on houses from the 18th and 19th centuries because of the high level of craftsmanship and because the models recorded in detail how stately homes were run.

The museum was never advertised and opened only once a month during the summer, but it was well known among collectors around the world.

"She is the doyenne of dolls' houses," said Sue Laurence of the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood. "It's always sad when collections are broken up but someone may come along and buy all the houses."

Many of the houses, up to 8ft tall, were built as replicas of old country homes by estate carpenters. Some were commissioned as ornaments for stairway landings, but they also provided hours of amusement.

Discussions are under way with auction house Bonham's, where the collection is likely to go under the hammer at the end of the year.

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