New Zealand man visits grandfather’s dollhouse at local Taber Museum

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette Nicholas David Mowbray Finnis and his wife Annette peer into the many rooms of the Manor Hall House dollhouse.

A New Zealand man recently found his home away from home at the Thomas T. Taber Museum —  literally.

An ornate, antique dollhouse, called the Manor Hall House, that has been on display at the museum was discovered to be the exact dollhouse that Nicholas David Mowbray Finnis and his wife, Annette, have been searching for.

“It was lost to the family. We knew it existed, but didn’t know where,” Nicholas said.

Finnis’s grandfather, the Rev. H. Mowbray-Finnis, built the dollhouse in the late 1920s while he worked in New Zealand as headmaster of a co-educational school. It went on display in Auckland in 1931. The family later sold it in England, where it was put on display in different stores, including Harrod’s.

In the late 1970s, Dr. Michael Gross’s mother bought the house in a museum auction in New York City. Dr. Gross and his wife, Rickie, of Hughesville, kept it on display in their home before donating it to the Taber Museum in 2011, they said.

“It was enjoyed by us and our friends and children,” Dr. Gross said. “But it complements Millionaire’s Row so well. It belongs here.”

The news of the dollhouse finding its permanent home at the museum made its way to the New Zealand couple and they decided to include a visit to Williamsport on the itinerary for a trip to the United States.

First, Nicholas and Annette visited their son in Nebraska, where he goes to school on a soccer scholarship. Then they made their way to Philadelphia before driving to Williamsport with a quick pit stop in Gettysburg. In Williamsport, they met with the Grosses at the museum.

“It’s a lot more detailed than I imagined,” Nicholas said, peering into the different rooms of the dollhouse for the very first time.

The dollhouse holds over 2,000 pieces of mahogany flooring, among other types of wood paneling, and each room is decorated with miniature paintings that Nicholas’s grandfather handpainted —  they’re believed to be replicas of famous works, Nicholas said. The dollhouse was made using all natural materials, and Nicholas’s grandmother created all of the soft furnishings.

While there, Nicholas recreated one of the photographs of his grandfather by having Annette take a photo of the front of the dollhouse through which his face could be seen peering through the center from the back side.

“It’s exceeded my expectations,” said Annette, who was visibly excited. “I didn’t think it would still be here. I thought it’d be a hunk of wood!”