WASHINGTON — Flora Gill Jacobs, noted collector, author, historian and founder of the Washington Dolls’ House and Toy Museum, died on May 31 of congestive heart failure. She was 87 years old.
A native and lifelong resident of the nation’s capital, Jacobs attended George Washington University and later pursued a career as a newspaper reporter. Her talent for writing, together with the purchase of her first dollhouse, in 1945, led her down a new path as a collector and specialist book author. In 1953, Jacobs published her first book, a landmark reference titled A History of Dolls’ Houses, which was illustrated with photographs of European and American dollhouses spanning four centuries of production. In her lifetime, Jacobs would produce five references, including the classic Doll’s Houses in America: Historic Preservation in Miniature; and four children’s books, including the 1958 title The Dolls’ House Mystery, based on her first dollhouse purchase.
Each of her upscale dollhouses was tastefully outfitted with miniature furnishings. All were displayed alongside antique toys and dolls in Jacobs’ suburban home in Chevy Chase, Md. The collection gained increasing acclaim with each successive group Jacobs invited to private viewings. In 1975, Jacobs moved her collection to a museum she established on 44th Street Northwest. Thousands of visitors passed through its doors each year, and in the upstairs Edwardian Tea Room, presidents’ daughters celebrated birthdays with their school friends and doll companions.
After three decades of continuous operation, Jacobs’ venerable Washington Dolls’ House and Toy Museum closed its doors, and its contents were consigned to a June 19, 2004, auction at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda, Md. Noel Barrett, who conducted the $1.54 million auction, remarked at the time that Jacobs “set the parameters for the hobby and defined the field for a generation of postwar collectors with her (first) book. Her impact on the hobby has been formidable. The Washington Dolls’ House and Toy Museum inspired a number of other museums that came later.”
Flora Gill Jacobs was a founding member of the Chevy Chase Historical Society and a past president of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington. She is survived by her husband of 65 years, Ephraim Jacobs; and a daughter, Amanda Jacobs of Centreville, Md.