Inspired by Tennyson’s poetry about the Arthurian figure the Lady of Astolat, the Astolat Dollhouse Castle was created between 1974 and 1987. It is officially the most valuable dollhouse in the world, with an estimated value of $8.5 million.
It is 9 feet tall, weighs more than 800 pounds, and has 29 rooms. The dollhouse was designed by famous Colorado miniaturist Elaine Diehl, with help and support from many miniaturist artisans from around the world.
The Astolat Dollhouse Castle was in Diehl’s museum shop in Arizona until her retirement in 1996. In 1996, collector L. Freeman purchased the castle and moved it to the Nassau County Museum of Art.
Since the acquisition of the dollhouse, its proprietor has constantly upgraded the interior adding a significant number of unique new handcrafted items. According to the owners, “not only the castle was the most beautiful miniature structure ever made, it was also the most beautiful thing they had ever seen, miniature or not”. It takes 2 days and 12 people to assemble the castle and 2 days and 12 people to dismantle it.
The castle today has a unique collection of more than 10,000 handcrafted miniature pieces that includes a variety of furniture, fireplaces, the world’s smallest antique Bible, oil paintings, and a large number of gold and silver items. The castle’s inventory of items exceeds the number of items displayed at a single time. There are about 30,000 pieces in total. Interior pieces on display are rotated.
The castle consists of seven levels, stairways, and hallways, and was created for 360-degree viewing. On the basement level, there are kitchens, a wine cellar, an armory, and the Knights of Columbus room. The main floor consists of the entrance foyer, main stairway, and butler’s closet. The next floor has the living room, the dining room, and the music room.
The miniature grand piano is valued at around $7,000. A private library and oil paintings are one floor up. The books in the library can be read with a magnifying glass. Sleeping quarters are on the fifth floor, and on the sixth are the ballroom, bar area, and sitting rooms. The wizard’s tower is on the seventh level and contains a telescope, observatory, hand-painted zodiac signs, and astronomical representations. The furnishings include seven periods and styles, including Spanish, Oriental, Tudor, 18th-century English, and Victorian.
The interior of the castle incorporates miniature furnishings, most of which are hand-made, unique, and antique. These include original oil paintings, sculptures, jewelry, chandeliers, marble bathrooms, and hand-sewn tapestries. Most of the pieces were obtained by private collectors or manufactured by renowned miniaturists. Many of them are more expensive than their life-size models. All areas of the castle are fully illuminated. There is a day-time and night-time system that automatically adjusts depending on the time of day.
The castle has a copper roof and wooden walls that are finished on the exterior with papier-mâché and then sculpted to a rough faux stone finish. Some of these walls are fixed to create a 3D effect, others can be opened or removed for group viewing.
Of all the dollhouses of this magnitude, only the Astolat Dollhouse Castle is privately owned. The owners put in on rare public display in 2015, at the Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle, New York City. Approximately 7,000 visitors per day attended, not including the special event. All revenue from the exhibition went to charity.