Bleuette - The famous little "Blueberry" of France
by Susan Hale
The doll museum in Paris (Musée de la Poupée Paris) [Note: Museum closed permanently in September 2017], which I was lucky enough to visit a few weeks ago, has a wonderful dollhouse inhabited by a number of famous Bleuette dolls. It stands in the lobby of the museum and one can admire it even before admission to the museum is paid.
This collection of these sweet little dolls piqued my interest and I just had to know more about them.
Martha Waterman Nichols has a very informative website about the doll. Click here to see it [Note: Link no longer active]. On the first page she tells us "Bleuette is a small French doll who was made in Paris by the SFBJ (Society of French Doll and Toy Makers) from 1905 until the company closed in 1957. She is popular with collectors interested in French dolls and fashion history. More than 1,000 published clothing patterns and fifty-plus years' worth of commercial clothing made just for her make Bleuette one of the most fashionable in the history of dolls with their own wardrobes."
Have a look at the rest of her website. It has much more information than I could include here and there are also many beautiful pictures.
The doll was created in 1905 as an incentive to get people to subscribe to a new weekly newspaper for girls called 'La Semaine de Suzette' (Suzette's Week). I was lucky enough to find a number of samples of this newspaper at a flea market in Paris last week. Above is the cover of one from March 1913. My French is quite poor, but it looks like Napoleon is making his own omelette.
A party dress for Bleuette from 1913, with beautiful Arts and Crafts style embroidery
Wikipedia site for Bleuette tells us the following:
"The first Bleuette dolls are known as "Premiere Bleuette", and were given free to those who had placed an order for a year's subscription to La Semaine de Suzette before its first publication in February 1905, and were available only until one month after the first issue. 20,000 Jumeau dolls were ordered from the Société Française de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets (SFBJ) for the initial advertisement, but 60,000 subscriptions were received, and this first supply of dolls were gone before the first issue was even released."
In the kitchen of the Bleuette house we see a doll dressed in a traditional costume of Bretagne (Brittany), an area of France.
This is the same costume worn by the cartoon character Bécassine, a young Breton housemaid who was drawn by Joseph Pinchon and who appeared in the first issue of La Semaine de Suzette on February 2, 1905. She is considered the first female protagonist in the history of comics.
Bécassine is a a good-natured, and well meaning nanny who creates all sorts of humorous situations in her comic strips. She is a well loved character in France and before I became familiar with her connection to Bleuette I saw many representations of Bécassine in the shops in the form of key chains, small figures and stuffed dolls.
'La Semaine de Suzette' was aimed at teaching the home arts to young girls of good families, and it was intended to teach them to be good mothers and good Christian French wives.
Most issues contained patterns for dressing Bleuette, but one could also order ready-made costumes through the publishing offices and catalogues.
As well as a wardrobe for everyday wear, bridal dresses, festival costumes, and a Holy Communion dresses were available.
One of the dolls in the dollhouse is wearing the Communion gown that is advertised in the1949 issues of the paper.
Many more items could be purchased for Bleuette's trousseau including bed linens and delicate undergarment.
Wikipedia tells us:
"Bleuette is a doll that was produced from 1905 to 1960. She has a fully jointed composition body. She was 27 cm (10" 5/8) until 1933, then 29 cm (11 3/8) until production ended in 1960. She had a bisque head until World War II, then a composition head until 1958 when a hard plastic body and head were used for the last two years of production. More than 1,060 patterns were published over the 55 years Bleuette was available."
The three dolls in the smallest room of the Bleuette house appear to be later than the others and have may have composition heads. (It is hard to tell though the glass). Their dresses are adorable.
Click on this link to download patterns from La Semaine de Suzette.
The charming cover of this issue from September 1938 begins the story of poor little Gertrude. The whole house is sad because Gertrude is sick. She has a high fever and the doctor is "inquiet". I don't know since my lack of French prohibits me from reading it, but I bet Gertrude feels better by the end of the story. The lovely color picture of Gertrude and her doll would make anyone feel better.
I hope you enjoyed my discovery of Bleuette and her world as much as I did. Below are more pages from La Semaine de Suzette for your enjoyment.
1925: a dress decorated with braid, very à la mode
1949: a 3 piece set
1913: a planter made from matchboxes
1913: more matchbox furniture, this time a sofa
1913: a pram or baby carriage to make from cardboard
1913: a workbasket, also from cardboard
Festival costumes from February 1925
1925: more outfits. One could choose a doll with real hair or artificial hair.
Visit Susan's blog here: Susan's mini homes (http://susanshouses.blogspot.com)