Antique Reproductions (Rebirth of Yesterday’s Dolls)

The first half of the 19th Century saw the manufacture of primarily wax and paper mache dolls made in England and Germany. China head (glazed) dolls were made beginning in about 1835, followed shortly by unglazed porcelain heads (circa 1830).They became extremely popular. The Germans dominated the market with these dolls and exported them around the world.

By the 1840’s the French were doing a brisk business importing papier mache dolls from Germany and lavishly costuming them in material scraps. When the porcelain head dolls became an inexpensive and effective alternative for shoulder heads, the French began importing them as well.

Paris was the fashion capital of the world and the costumes of the dolls reflected the latest ravishing fashions. Because of these enchanting costumes, French dolls became a world famous luxury item. Mid 19th century dolls were costumed in imitation of elaborately dressed adults in large part so that the little girls who owned the dolls could imagine themselves grown-up. The dolls had complete trousseaux with every piece of clothing an exact copy of elaborate adult clothing. They were exported to show the allure of the fast, fashionable city of Paris.

These dolls were not only play things, but served as a standard of fashion in foreign countries. In 1851, the Jumeau firm won a top medal for doll clothes at a competition at London’s Crystal Palace. It appears France imported most of the doll heads it used from Germany also profited from France’s brisk sales in the world doll market. Rohmer, Barrois and Jumeau imported most of their porcelain doll parts, but Jumeau was the first to decide not to rely on foreign imports. He worked toward making an entire doll per his own specifications.

The 1867 Paris Exposition marked the end dolls with enormous trousseaux. France lost the Franco-Prussian war in the early 1870’s and the country made a great effort to re-establish the industries it lost during the war. By 1873, encouraged by the lack of German dolls on the market, Pierre Jumeau set up a larger factory. He now had everything including the boxes, to retail dolls on the larger scale. Jumeau won gold medals during the 1870’s in both Vienna and Philadelphia for his fashionable dolls that sold at a low price. Pierre’s son Emile took over the business when his father died in 1878. Emile had ambitious management style and used diverse advertising techniques to make everyone in Europe and America aware that Jumeau was the important name in the doll industry.

Until 1870 the French Poupees had an adult stature. The Germans made their own version of a fashion dolls. However, children readily took to Jumeau’s introduction of the Bebes (child dolls) in the 1870’s, which represented children themselves and not their parents. The Victorian age viewed adults doting on their children as stylish. Mothers taught their children sewing skills making clothing together for their dolls.

However, the Germans had not given up. While the French produced stylish and romantic luxury dolls, the Germans were plodding and industrious. They had a long history of cottage industry doll making in which entire families worked together from their home. The German economy had also suffered during the war. They did not produce a large volume of dolls during the period the French dominated with the poupees and bebes.

However, The Germans were known for being excellent businessmen who always found less expensive ways to mass produce. By the 1880’s the German doll industry expanded primarily as it had begun – as a cottage industry. Wages in the cottage industry were low and the hours long. It is estimated that the people working the French doll factories made three times as much as the Germans working in the cottage industry. Lower wages, coupled with simper methods and less expensive materials, enable the Germans to made a very attractive doll of reasonable quality that was much less expensive than the French doll.

The German and the French doll manufacturers fiercely competed with one another from the late 1880’s on. Sonneberge was one of the largest doll manufacturing regions in Germany. Many of the Sonneberg companies had an employee stationed in Paris. As soon as a French company would release a new doll, an agent would bring it back to Sonneberg. Within a few weeks a similar product would be offered on the world wide market at a cheaper price.

One of the more famous of thise copies is the Kestner AT, made circa 1881 which closely resembles the French Bebe AT by Thuillier. Another circle/dot Bru manufactured by an unknown Sonneberg manufacturer in about 1885.

Thus, making German dolls in the French Trademark style became big business for the Germans. Many other dolls, whether direct forgeries or copies with small changes made, are known today simply by the region of Sonneberg where they were produced.

Even so, the French were forced to sell their dolls at special rates to compete. As long as the popular fashion styles of France set the trend, the French dolls held their own against the less expensive, more simply dressed German. By the mid 1890’s children’s clothing became more simple styles. Since children wanted dolls which emulated themselves, there was no longer the demand for the exotic, lavishly costumed French dolls. Simple garments now dominated and appeared to be equally favoured by both the adults and children.

The reign of the French doll was soon to end. Jumeau must have realized it was impossible to produce quality dolls at a lower price. It is documented that in 1887 he commissioned the German firm Simon and Halbig to produce the original 200 series character heads. Today they are among the rarest and most sought after of the Jumeau dolls. By the end of the 1890’s Germans dominated the doll world. The Germans and the French merged, S.F.B.J. at first the doll quality was good, although inherited parts sometimes made unorthodox combinations as the dolls were assembled. Familiar names such as Bebe Jumeau, Bebe Bru, and Eden Bebe were still manufactured.

Soon, much less expensive German heads were being mounted on Jumeau bodies and sold in Bebe Jumeau boxes.

The French never regained themselves in the doll market, after the war the Germans too lost. America after the war seized the chance to expand, leaving the Germans and French to the past.

This is the history of the past, the full circle of the doll market, and now its left to the… that is why I begin my journey and muddle on, with the rest of societies, creating our doll dreams…

Add comment 27 April 2007

New Toys

We finally have a blog installed and all at the press of a button too. Well, we poked our tame geek and they installed WordPress and tweaked it a little for us.

We’ll try and keep you updated with our regular crafting adventures.

Add comment 29 July 2006

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