Published: June 20, 2006
On May 31, Flora Gill Jacobs, a native of Washington, died from congestive heart failure at age 87. She was an internationally recognized authority on dollhouses, and the founder of the Dollhouse Museum in Washington, D.C.
Flora’s collection of antique miniatures, begun in 1945, was the basis of the museum. According to Noel Barrett, toy dealer and regular on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow and who handled selling most of the collection when the museum closed, “Flora was one of the most famous names in dollhouse collecting in the postwar period … she single-handedly put it on the map in America.”
When her collection outgrew her house, Flora found a spot in northwest Washington, D.C., where she founded the museum. She was director and curator from 1975 until she closed it in 2004 citing risings costs and advancing age. The museum was where Flora, as she told the Washington Post in 1988, spent most of her time, “I hardly ever go out into the life-sized world.” It housed more than 40 dollhouses from the Eighteenth to the early Twentieth Centuries, focusing mainly on Victoriana. The star attraction was an ornate Mexican villa, circa 1890, with its own chapel (miniature priest included), roof gardens, aviary, working elevator and a gated driveway with a Paige touring car.
Flora was a newspaperwoman by training; as a student at Georgetown University she wrote theater and movie reviews for the old Washington Times-Herald where she became the fashion editor. She later worked for the Washington Post as a reporter for the woman’s page. She was also renowned as a book author, “I am a writer who became engulfed by a collection,” she once said.
Her first book was published in 1953, A History of Dolls’ Houses, depicting the most famous European and American dollhouses from 1558 to the 1950s. She wrote many other books including novels for children often based on dollhouses she had collected. Her first dollhouse, purchased for $35 in New Jersey, was a post-Civil War mansion. It was such a “wreck” that it seemed haunted. The process of restoring it and filling it with Victorian furniture and decorative arts, became the inspiration for her first children’s story, The Dolls’ House Mystery, 1958. Her most recent book, published in 2005, is The Small World of Antique Dolls’ Houses.
Flora is survived by her husband of 65 years, Ephraim Jacobs, and her daughter, Amanda Bolling Jacobs of Centreville, Md.
Memorial donations may be made to UNICEF, 333 East 38th Street, New York NY 10016; The Humane Society’s Kindred Spirit Fund, Dept IT, 2100 L Street NW, Washington DC 20037; or the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1785 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036.
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