BENNINGTON -- The Dollhouse and Toy Museum of Vermont has a new exhibit featuring the decorative tin boxes of Jane Radocchia, a local architect and historian who specializes in restorations of historic houses. In keeping with her professional work, many of the tin boxes picture historic structures, including Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello; Memorial Hall in Deerfield, Massachusetts; the Decatur House in Washington D.C. that was built by Stephen Decatur, Jr., the War of 1812 naval hero; and the library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Radocchia got her master’s degree.
There are more than a hundred tin boxes in the exhibit, and in addition to representing historic houses they depict such well-known places as Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Boston’s Symphony Hall and the Harvard Football Stadium, which was built in 1903.
Tin boxes for foods first came into wide use in England after the Licensed Grocer’s Act of 1861 allowed groceries to be individually packaged and sold. Most of the early tin boxes were for the biscuits and confectionaries that the British had with their afternoon tea, as well as for coffee, candies, and tea itself. Eventually they began carrying colorful designs -- particularly at Christmas time -- that caused people to keep them as household ornaments or to store other things long after the original contents had been consumed.
Decorative tins started to become collectibles in this country in the 1950s, in part because of their interesting designs and in part because they could be found in antique stores and at yard sales for very reasonable prices. Radocchia, who began collecting them in the 1980s, said that back at the start she sometimes could buy them for as little as twenty-five cents.
"I’ve never been interested in antiques that no one can touch," she said. "I really enjoy holding them and turning them around and studying them. I only bought them if they were an accurate representation of something. And my children could handled them as well. They could pass them around and if they dropped them on the floor it didn’t matter."
Radocchia considers herself an "old house" architect, who over the course of forty years has repaired, updated and expanded more than 1,200 houses, many of them dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. She also writes a monthly column for the Bennington Banner on local historic homes.
The permanent collection of the dollhouse museum includes many large and fully-furnished dollhouses, several faerie houses, a large collection of Madam Alexander dolls, an exciting collection of puppets and marionettes, and such toys for boys as vintage trains, planes, circus wagons, and Erector sets.
In addition to the Radocchia collection, which will be on display until summer, the museum has been decorated for Easter, with a collection of Easter bunnies and eggs.
The museum’s gift store has been enlarged and offers vintage collectables as well as dollhouse kits, dollhouse furniture and paper dolls. And a local miniatures club now meets at the museum on the evening of the fourth Monday of the month and holds free workshops for anyone interested in miniatures.
The Dollhouse and Toy Museum is located at 212 Union Street and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $2 for children three and older, $4 for adults, and $10 for families. For more information about the museum, please visit the museum’s web site at dollhouseandtoymuseumofvermont.com or call (802) 681-3767.