Tucked away inside of Heritage Square in Phoenix, just steps from the entrance to the better known Arizona Science Center, is a museum packed with vintage dolls and toys. Think Betty Boop, Raggedy Ann and plenty more. Big dolls and small dolls. Boy dolls and girl dolls. Dolls in dollhouses, dolls in baby carriages — even dolls in a classroom complete with blackboard and dunce chair.
A couple of moms were walking through with their children, from preschool through early middle school age, when I arrived. Both moms and children were excitedly pointing things out to one another. The giant dollhouse with panels to each side that swing open into additional rooms. The intricate lace dresses with accessories like parasols, hats and gloves. And unexpected items like toy train sets.
Once I’d finished touring the museum, I had nearly as much fun poking around the gift shop — where I spotted items for folks of all ages. I spied several gifts I wish I’d known about when my daughters were dancing in “The Nutracker,” including a trinket box that looks a lot like Mother Ginger and a minature grandfather clock with adorable mouse. Also lots of things perfect for grandmothers, small artists and others.
My favorite finds included “Cinderella” and other miniature books, several sets of nesting dolls, a couple of Star Wars items, coloring books free of pop culture influence, finger puppets and lots of accessories with vintage images of dolls, children, pets and more. I came home with several items for my college-age daughters, and a little something for my mother-in-law too.
Originally the museum was “The Stevens House,” built in 1901. But today each room houses dolls along shelves, inside display cases and in other settings. My favorites sit near a fireplace and small wooden rocking horse, which looks like a smaller verion of the one my mother built from scratch for my son Christopher. Also the school room, where a tall display case houses “Gepetto’s Workshop” and blackboard drawings include a music scale.
The home’s hallway is filled with photos in what look like antique frames. Inside one frame there’s a charming list titled “Rules of Teachers 1872.” Rule #3 notes that “Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.” Rule #6 states that “Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.”
Apparently teachers were permitted to read the Bible or “other good books” after putting in a ten hour work day, and those who performed “without fault for five years” received an extra 25 cents pay per week. Job duties included whittling writing instruments, cleaning chimneys and bringing two items to school each day — a bucket of water and a scuttel of coal.
The Arizona Doll and Toy Museum is also close to the Rosson House Museum and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, so you can enjoy several museums during a single outing. If you go before the holidays, take time to explore the museum gift shops for last-minute goodies (all my purchases at the Arizona Doll and Toy Museum were tax free). You’ll be finishing off your list while supporting the ongoing gift of arts and culture to all our families.
Note: Always check museum hours, location/parking details and admission costs before heading out. I paid just $3 for admission to the Arizona Doll and Toy Museum.
Coming up: What’s your sign?
Photos: Lynn Trimble