The Toy and Miniature Museum in Stellenbosch

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 8 July 2013

When I arrived at the The Toy and Miniature Museum in Stellenbosch, the doors were closed, despite having being told by the Information Bureau that the museum was open. I felt a bit disappointed as I only had a day in the town and really wanted to see the miniature Blue Train display (the only one of its kind in Africa). Then a voice behind me called out and said “Don’t go! He’s just making some tea. I will give him a call.” The painter made a call and in the next minute a cheerful  man by the name of Phillip Kleinhans came around the corner with his steaming mug of tea and opened the doors to a world of enchantment.

When you enter the building the first thing you see is a replica of the farm house in Uitkyk Wine Estate near Stellenbosch. The interior around the back of this impressive 1:12 scale replica has three 19th century rooms upstairs, complete with furniture from that era. The three downstairs sections portray a main room, a voorkamer and an 18th century kitchen. Phillip went on to tell me that each little doll was individually cast and then broken apart so the limbs could be moved into position. There are tiny chests, antique cupboards, pots and pans, four poster beds, grandfather clocks and even tiny plates of food on tiny tables. Many of the items in the house are perfect miniature replicas of antiques found in the Stellenbosch Village Museum and a great deal of time and effort by a group of local artists has gone into creating a dolls house that’s  like no other.

Another cabinet held miniature tea cups, the world’s smallest kitchen (in a matchbox) from the 1920s, a Newman’s stove with little shiny little kettles and a pot along with various utensils and crockery. The most fascinating for me was a topsy-turvy doll (I had never seen one before) also known as “A reversible doll of cloth”. In another room there were 100-year old dolls in period clothing (sadly most of the fabric is starting to disintegrate with age) and their pretty little faces with their rosy cheeks, perfectly shaped mouths and ringlet-curls put many a factory-manufactured Barbie to shame!

Then there were cabinets filled with Dinky Cars, miniature carriages (with horses too), fire engines, ambulances, lorries, motorbikes and beautiful shiny convertibles. Alongside them were mini pianos and chaise lounges. There was Paddington Bear and Bears for Africa complete with traditional attire, beads and a Zulu spear. My favourite bear however, was a well-loved scruffy bear with one big button eye called Little Ted. She (the teddy is a girl) was sent from the UK to Johannesburg as a gift to Hilary Muller when she was born in February 1950. Little Ted lived with the Muller family until 1961 and was nearly left behind at the Wagon Wheels Motel in Bloemfontein in 1962. Thankfully Little Ted was reunited with her owner and was Hilary’s only source of comfort throughout boarding school. Hilary and Little Ted shared a bed until 2004, when Little Ted was put on pension and is now a member of the teddy gang in the museum.

In a dark room you’ll find interesting lit-up displays depicting a motorbike workshop, an Oriental Carpet Shop where all the mini rugs and carpets are handmade with approximately 500 stitches per square inch and a Stellenbosch backyard from 1690 where the lighting is programmed to change from daylight to night time every two minutes. Each display is absolutely fascinating with its fine attention to detail.

The Blue Train display was definitely a highlight for me. Unfortunately the train wasn’t working when I was there (they were getting someone in to fix it), but I was still in awe. The display depicts the Blue Train’s journey from Stellenbosch through the Cape Winelands and the Karoo and features miniature Dutch gabled houses, bridges, vineyards and even a perfect miniature replica of the Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein. Having spent some time in Matjiesfontein at the hotel I couldn’t believe my eyes!

As I left the Toy and Miniature Museum I smiled as I imagined nightfall Enid Blyton-style, when the miniature dolls in their mop caps would sweep the floors of their miniature houses in preparation for the next day. Paddington Bear would hop on a toy convertible with his suitcase in the back while the Blue Train would toot its way through the Karoo, taking its miniature passengers to tea at The Lord Milner Hotel. It’s that kind of place – a magical place where you are taken back to a time before television and computers. A time of handmade dolls, cars that came in little boxes and scruffy teddies with the stuffing hugged out of them.

The Toy & Miniature Museum information

The museum is housed in an 18th century parsonage and can be found at 42 Market Street, just behind the Information Bureau.

Opening times are Monday to Friday, 09h00 to 17h00 and Saturday to Sunday, from 09h00 to 14h00. From May to August the museum is closed on Sundays.

Entrance is R20 for adults and R10 for children (it’s the best R20 I have ever spent!)

Tel 021-887-9433 or 079-981-7076.

Find accommodation in Stellenbosch.

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