Antique Doll Collecting in Paris

Antique Doll Collecting in Paris
Along with me, my husband also married two dogs and a house full of dolls. One of those dogs, simply put, was a bitch… really, though, the scar on my husband’s hand is not all that bad. He also wasn’t crazy about a house full of dolls, and though they can be a bit spooky by the light of a full moon, at least they don’t growl, draw blood, or try to sleep on your head when it is cold.   I mentioned in one of my earlier articles that he tempted me with a shopping spree to encourage our move to France and the only thing French I love more than dolls is poodles. Our current bear size dog “doesn’t play well with others” so for now I’m buying dolls. I have been collecting and researching dolls all my life, although I don’t collect them for profit, or based on the doll maker or value. I am just a collector and not an expert, so my purchases are made by tugs of the heart and intuition. I just buy dolls that speak to me and I would never part with them.  When I see elderly women in wheelchairs at nursing homes, cradling baby dolls, I know that one day that will be me. I’m not attracted to the frilly dressed French dolls many collectors love, although I have seen some lovely examples of these dolls in Paris, especially by Bru and Jumeau.  I also am not a huge fan of the French boudoir lady dolls, or the Pierrots or smoker dolls although I have a cyber friend that ‘s an expert on them. I prefer the sweet felt Lenci-type dolls or little dolls that look like orphans or peasants with more somber faces, mysterious gypsies or pretty witches (not the green faced hags). My husband has to warn guests, “um, my wife has witches and dolls all over the house” just so they’ll be prepared.  Walking into our house is a bit like entering a fairy tale, complete with the Big Bad Wolf (our dog) lurking in the background.   Prior to moving to Paris, I already had several French dolls dressed in regional costumes, because they reminded me of my gypsy dolls, and a sweet French celluloid cancan doll that’s wonderfully dressed, down to her black net stockings and garter belts.  One jointed doll still has her Alsace tag, and is a good example of her region showing a German influence, with her blonde hair and blue eyes. The unmarked dolls dressed in regional costumes are still quite affordable, usually starting at around $5 and can be found easily on eBay, or flea markets and antique stores in France.   The prices on eBay are usually better than the prices I’ve seen in France.  They vary hugely in quality and age so they are priced accordingly, with the modern plastic dolls being the cheapest.   These regional dolls would be a wonderful way to teach a child French history.   The Christmas before moving to Paris I bought a wonderful souvenir de Paris doll from the 1940’s. She has a cloth mask face and the most beautiful black floss hair, still perfectly rolled. “Miss Paris” is wearing the red liberty hat and dress similar to the woman in Delacroix’s La Libertre guidant le peuple, from 1830.  This female force is referred to as “Marianne” and she is to the Republic what Uncle Sam is to the United States.  I bought this doll, and a French boudoir doll with a cloth mask face and lovely red hair, tied with a lavender ribbon from Diane. It was fun to take all of these dolls back to their country of origin!  They have a knowing look in their eyes, as if they know they are home.   We quickly discovered La Maison de Poupee, one of our favorite doll stores in Paris, where my husband made secret trips for Christmas and my birthday last year.  He tried to go there on Christmas Eve this year, only to learn they had gone to Normandy for the holidays.   Their store windows should not be missed, as they are always filled with scenes of antique dolls.  Their dolls are exquisite and they are not particularly anxious to part with them. Last Christmas my husband wanted to find a very “French” doll and found an excellent quality S.F.B.J. girl at La Maison de Poupee, in Normandy dress from 1900.  She has brown hair, brown, glass eyes and an open mouth with teeth.  She has a bisque head on a ball, jointed body and is marked “S.F.B.J. 3/0 Paris” on her neck. Her clothing is highly detailed and original, all the way down to her little wooden clogs.  She was sold as parfait and clearly spent a lifetime in a glass case.  I wish I could make myself keep my dolls behind glass but I like them to be out where I can enjoy them.   My birthday gift last year was bought at the same store and is a beautiful antique dolls’ divan, which is a carriage meant to be carried by 4 men and inside is a lucky doll who should sit inside on the tufted cushion.  It is made of inlaid wood, with a gold crest with a “D” on it.  One of the arms must be pulled out for the locked, hinged secret door to open.  There is a space under the seat and we were told this was made as a jewelry box for a well off girl or young woman.  It is a quest of mine to find the right doll to sit inside, and four male dolls to carry the carriage.   One of my German dolls was poorly wrapped and did not make the move to France well.  With a broken heart and doll replacement money in hand we went…

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