Miniature staircase models originated in a French guild system known as “compagnonnage,” especially during the 17th to 19th centuries. The staircases were the culminating project of an apprenticeship in order to be accepted into the guild as a master craftsman, demonstrating the applicant’s virtuosity in woodworking and design. The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum has a major collection of these, and featured them in the exhibition of staircases donated by Eugene and Clare Thaw, Made to Scale: Staircase Masterpieces in 2006-2007.
The collecting of staircase models was also popularized in the late 20th century by the publisher Carter Burden and the fashion designer Bill Blass. Burden was a descendant of Commodore Vanderbilt, and an ardent collector of books and decorative objects. He owned the Village Voice and New York Magazine and became a respected New York City councilman. Bill Blass was also a prolific collector. Blass’s apartment in Manhattan’s Sutton Place neighborhood appeared in many interior design and fashion magazines, with his model staircase collection prominently featured. In an article in the April 2006 issue of Domino magazine, New York City interior designer Alexa Hampton referred to the Blass staircase collection, and recommended a model staircase from the George Glazer Gallery as an accessory for creating “classic tailored interiors.” (View the article).
“Made to Scale: Staircase Masterpieces. The Eugene & Clare Thaw Gift.” Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.http://www.cooperhewitt.org/EXHIBITIONS/selects/site/thaw.asp (5 June 2009).