What is a Doll?

How long have we had this love affair with Dolls?

Pearls of Wisdom:

New World Dictionary describes a doll as - "a child's toy, puppet, marionette, etc. made to resemble a human being."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Children of Paris

“Madmoiselle”, “You are, I know, a charming little girl. You have the quality of making everyone who draws near you, love you, and you are cherished by your good parents to whom you are a pride and joy. I know, too, that you to love to work and study, and it is to reward you for your progress that Madame, your mother, has purchased for you my humble and blonde person.” Letter of a Jumeau Baby to her Little Mother, included in the box with Jumeau Bébé doll, 1881,

It was a magical time in France , Bébés, or dolls made to represent children, were quite revolutionary for their time (starting about 1850), since most dolls up until that time were made to represent adults. These child dolls, with their kid or composition bodies, fine bisque heads, and beautiful expressions, were called Bébés, a significant name, since up to this time most dolls, including the popular ladies, had been known as poupees.

Jullien-France 1885

In the 1880’s when a lady was accompanied by her children, whether receiving at home or in public, the children had to be as fine as possible, and if the little girl was to carry a doll, it too had to be fine as well. It is not surprising then, that the Bébés were outfitted with richness and charm.

Endearing Steiner doll ca. 1885 carrying a group of "Mignonettes"

Jules Nicolas Steiner 1890...Armand Marseilles "Dream Baby" in Buggy.

They were usually sold exquisitely dressed, in doll-sized fashions worn by children of that era. At last there will be dolls in the little girls’ small, own image.! For the children they represented another role model; they were like sisters that never did anything naughty, never played in the dirt, always listened and hardly ever spoke a word.

As thus, what was sweeping France in the 1870’s and 1880’s was the new companion of the child, their younger selves, in the form of a superb doll with a curious and compelling aura, brilliant blue eyes and the look of childish wistfulness.

French Bebes were the pinnacle of the dollmaking industry. The Bébé surpassed the fashion dolls in popularity, and led to their demise. French Bébés, made by the master doll makers “The Big Three” Jumeau, Bru, Steiner and their wonderful craft would have their ascendancy from the 1860s to the 1880s. It was the time of the fabled French doll. They were the perfect little images of the ideal child, with enormous eyes, delicate features, a rosy complexion and blonde curls. They were dressed as the children of the upper and good middle-class industrial families for whom they were intended. And so an army of baby dolls left Paris to conquer all of Europe, and set off across the ocean to new continents….The birth of The Bébé had begun.


The Jumeau Dynasty

"Little Girl with Puppet Theater"
automaton created by Vichy ca. 1880. Rare Long Face Jumeau.

"Jumeau Triste"

Original straight wrist 9 piece composition body, with a pressed bisque head marked with the number 15. Beautiful face in creamy bisque with soft tinting and light mauve eye shadow.
She has magnificent, big, blue paperweight eyes with
painted lashes, and beautifully painted brows in layered multi-strokes. Closed mouth with a slightly molded tongue between the shaded, and outlined lips. Long blonde human hair wig, that falls to the waist in tight curls.
Her couture includes what may be her original dress. Bonnet is also antique black or very dark blue velvet with a wide brim, feather plumes and long velvet ties. It is held in place with an antique hat pin. She is wearing her original Bee marked Jumeau shoes and carries an antique parasol of turquoise and pink silk.

Depose -Tete Jumeau 13, holding a Marotte Doll ca. 1880
Body made of wood, all original doll. Dress bears the label "Maison Parisienne Bertone C. Milano

Jumeau was the French manufacturing firm responsible with the evolution of dolls between 1841 and 1899. They were pristine and immaculately dressed, the essence of the great French doll. Symbols of their age and invaluable records of the fashions and aesthetic ideals of the period. By 1873 the firm was a highly efficient organization. Pierre-Francoise Jumeau was joined by his son, Emile, who took the leap that opened the way to new industrial methods. These were the years the Bebe Jumeau became fully established and a team of skilled workers were being made responsible for the various components of the doll. One person would work on the moulds for the different parts of the body. The most skilful will decorate the heads. A special section was employed in making the beautiful glass eyes that were the pride of the firm and set the standard for other companies to follow. The dynasty peaked in 1890 when bebes were made with parted lips to reveal lovely porcelain teeth. In spite of this success, this period marked the beginning of a gradual decline. Mass production brought about a reduction of the high standards of the dolls from earlier years and the company was beset by fierce competition from German firms that managed to maintain low prices and high productivity.

Who knows how many children tired out after playing, quite nervously, with their precious but most fragile Bebe, would not have preferred to lock it away in its box, and curl up instead with a soft and undemanding Teddy Bear.

Le Journal des Enfant ca. 1884...Depicting a group of the sophisticated Parisian
children who are reflected in the bebes.


The Luxury Dolls of Leon-Casimir Bru

The first impression upon looking at a doll made by Leon-Casimir Bru is that is undeniable beautiful. Its remote, almost rapt expression, the intense look in eyes that seem to be gazing into the distance. A slight smile on half closed lips that made the doll fascinating and lifelike.

BRU 8 Perfect bisque head and shoulderplate, featuring that “vulnerable, concerned look” we all love. In addition, there is a very prominent tongue, indescribable pale blue paperweight eyes, mauve shadow, a fabulous antique deep blonde mohair wig, and pierced ears. Patented Chevrot body with lower carved wooden legs, and lovely bisque arms. Mademoiselle Bru wears a lovely ensemble in gorgeous pale pink brocade with pale pink chiffon and lace accents. In addition, she wears a matching dramatic chapeau, antique under things, and black leather bebe shoes.

BRU Jne 9 ca. 1885

The biggest difference between Jumeau and Bru dolls is that dolls made by Bru were luxury items, and were sold as such, with guarantees and of excellent quality and superb finish. Typically their forearms were of fine porcelain, and the hands delicately fashioned in bisque. Bodies were made from kid or fully articulated from wood. They won the Gold Medal in Paris in 1889, where they were described as follows "The Bru dolls are the only ones with realistic eyelashes. They are also distinguished by the fineness of their hands and feet, and by the beauty and good taste of their clothes.” Later as it was the case with Jumeau, German firms began to create problems at the Bru factory were cost production was very high. A period of simplification began with dolls being made the traditional way, with bodies made from hide or composition and standardized heads with less character.

"A Child's Paradise"... English illustration 1883


The Face of the Steiner Doll

"Jules Steiner"
Gorgeous Steiner all original with antique dress and parasol
...Thank you Bonnie!

An extraordinary Series C Steiner with lever eyes of deep blue enamel, mauve eye shadow, closed mouth, full moon face with delicate coloring over smooth, ivory bisque and original, long, luscious blond mohair wig. She has a gray cardboard pate with remnants of a French label, however the originality is not certain. Her early, chunky Steiner body with straight wrists and robust, so called "banana" hands, wears her white pique antique frock so well. Topped off with an antique, flower-adorned black bonnet and black leather shoes, she is brimming with style and substance..

" Bébé Steiner Gigoteur," vers 1870...Le Musée de la Poupée, Paris


Steiner had a particular talent for developing the face of the bebe; Charming chubby little faces, mouths closed or slightly opened to reveal pointy little teeth. He was honored in Paris for creating “The Mechanical Speaking Doll”. Dolls that moved and cry. He improved construction for making dolls larger, but lighter, and created faces of great character and diversity. In 1889 they won the Gold Medal in Paris for their baby dolls which were advertised as “unbreakable. In 1900 they began manufacturing ethnic dolls of mixed races, but despite their attempts at innovations, Steiner , like Bru and Jumeau, slowly began to lose ground.

A French Fashion Plate ca. 1880. The elegant child is being offered a bebe from a stall in a Parisian arcade. The doll is even more splendidly dressed than the girl herself.


S.F.B.J "The Demise of The Big Three"

S.F.B.J Jumeau

This doll is what is known as an SFBJ Jumeau. In 1899 Jumeau and many other French doll manufacturers combined to become the company known as SFBJ and some of the earliest dolls were made using the Jumeau moulds. This is one such doll marked only SFBJ but with a definite Jumeau look about her. She has her original factory chemise and also an extra dress with matching bonnet which would have been made for her around her time of manufacture. The bebe pin on that dress isn't original to the doll but is from the same time period.

S.F.B.J. Junis in peasant dress

Notice the heavily applied coloring on the face in comparison with the earlier Jumeau.

On March 1899 the story of Maisons Jumeau, Bru, Steiner, and of many other Parisian factories, came to an end with the forming of S.F.B.J "The Societe Francoise des Bebes et Jouets" in a final attempt to fight off foreign competition and survive as a group. Unfortunately, the dolls were not of the same high quality as their epic levels of 1880 and before, and this resulted in the slow decline of the great French doll-making industry. Today, prices for French Bébés vary widely, depending on quality. Expect to pay several thousand at minimum for Jumeau or Brus. Later French Bébés, by the S.F.B.J are not as fine quality, with more heavily tinted faces, and lesser clothing, can be had for several hundred dollars, especially for post-WWI examples. The German doll makers basically took over the industry in the 1890’s with their excellent quality, beautiful dolls. Somehow they managed to keep the price lower, and more accessible to the children of the middle class.

" A lesson in proper penmanship"

"Portrait of Catherine du Bouchage"... Thank you Phillip.

They were showered with affection by the children that were so eager to give it. But once the child had enjoyed a few minutes of excitement and pleasure, the precious doll would inevitably be packed away by some wise grandmother for safe keeping, and only brought out on special occasions. The fact that child was forbidden to play with it freely, caused the doll to be more desirable, but at the same time was gradually forgotten, tucked away in some dark attic. Consequently, these dolls survived their original owners, to be re-discovered later by some other adoring child. To the delight of today’s collectors, many of these dolls, although showing the scars of time, are given another chance to shine in their glory, thus proving they are far too precious to be discarded forever.


  1. They are so beautiful, but as you say look rather too precious to actually play with.

  2. Lucky for today's collector that was the case. These dolls were only to be admired and then put away. The closest I've come to own a Bebe is an SFBJ, she is indeed beautiful, but lacks the softness of the coloring. I still dream of owning a Bru. There are some very talented artists out there, that do wonderful reproductions. But I can't quite make myself purchase a repro....I guess I'll never own one then.

  3. LAS MUÑECAS... han sido mis idolos de niñez,todas me gustaban y mi padre en cada viaje me traia una nueva, era una persona más en mi vida, sentian me querian y las adoraba,.
    He pasado un rato maravilloso viendo tan estupendas muñecas, y postales de niñas dando ese amor que solo un ser inocente sabe dar y comprendiendo a sus muñecas como solo cuando se es pequeña se puede comprender.
    UN abrazo

  4. Gracias Maite...Mucho gusto me da que te guste mi blog. Al igual que tu, yo adoraba a mis muñecas de niña, siendo hija unica, pasaba muchas horas jugando con ellas a solas y eran com mis hermanitas. Hoy me deleito en coleccionar algunas antiguas que tengo a mi alcanze, Y, a veces todavia juego con ellas...Como miniaturista que eres, veo que tambien has mantenido tu pasion desde niña...Que bueno!
    Muchos cariños Y nunca dejes de jugar a las muñecas

  5. Hi Marta, nice to see you again today.. your blog updates are FABulous..and thank you for the acknowledgement of the Triste Long Face Jumeau, wish I could afford to keep her and the Steiner..oh my! Dolly hugs, Bonnie

  6. Hola Marta.

    Me dejaron impresionado esas Bru dolls, cuando ví tu post el otro día. Esas caras son especiales y además, su ropa es increíble. Todos esos plisados, encajes, puntillas y lazos... son réplicas exactas de los vestidos auténticos de las niñas de la época. me han parecido fascinantes.

    Siento no habertelo dicho antes. veo tus posts y dejo los comentarios para otro momento (Allways busy...) y pasan los días.

    Es un placer ver todo lo que nos cuentas en tus posts.

    Un beso.