Vintage Bleuettes

                         Bleuette's History

 

Bleuette: 1905 to 1914    

            Bleuette is a small articulated bisque doll made in Paris from 1905 until 1957.  She was the invention of the Paris publisher, Henri Gautier, and his staff at the girls’ magazine, La Semaine de Suzette, published every Thursday from 1905 until 1960, with six years off due to the German occupation of France during WWII.

            Bleuette springs from the fashion doll and the magazine mannequin traditions.  Her continued popularity is mainly due to her stylish wardrobe, which came from two sources: magazine sewing patterns and ready-made clothing.

When Bleuette came on the doll scene, French magazines had long been publishing doll clothing patterns, beginning with the magazine La Poupée Modéle in 1876.  This magazine helped its readers clothe their fashion dolls, bébés, and mignonettes. It also offered dolls for sale that matched the patterns found in its pages.  These were sometimes called doll mannequins since their main purpose was to model the fashions.

            From the very first issue of La Semaine de Suzette, patterns for Bleuette were published for the creation of a wardrobe specially designed to fit her. Continuing the magazine pattern tradition, Gautier Publications created more than 1,000 patterns exclusively for Bleuette over their fifty five year run.

            The first pattern in 1905 was for a drop-waist dress with ruffled hem and sleeves and ribbon trim.  This same dress is shown being worn by Bleuette in the first advertisements in La Semaine de Suzette  that offered Bleuette for sale.  The pattern text suggested to the reader that she must first clothe her new doll before introducing her to friends.  The dress was called Robe de Maison or At-Home Dress (shown below). The intent of the magazine was to teach its readers the niceties of housekeeping, including sewing and fashionable dressing with the least expense involved.  Young readers were encouraged to use their mothers’ dressmaking scraps to dress Bleuette, and not ask for new fabric.

 

This did not appeal to every reader, though, and many wrote to the magazine to ask for shoes, socks, hats, and dresses that they could purchase for their Bleuettes.  Gautier Publications saw an opportunity, and slowly but surely entered the doll clothing business.  In Paris there had long been shops devoted entirely to fashions, furniture, and accessories for well-to-do dolls, especially the poupée de mode or fashion doll.  As early as 1906, Gautier Publications was supplying Bleuette with replacement wigs and button-up boots; some articles of lingerie came next.  Before Christmas in 1906 an ad for ready-made clothing including dresses and hats was published in La Semaine de Suzette.  A dark school smock (shown below) and a lace-trimmed apron were two of the items, and they continued to be sold in up-dated versions for the next fifty years or more.

            By 1914 a long list of ready-mades was advertised in La Semaine de Suzette.  For the first time the ad showed a photograph of an actual Bleuette wearing the Red Cross nurse’s uniform that was included in the list of costumes and accessories.

            Beginning in 1916 and continuing through 1959, the Gautier firm (which became Gautier-Languereau, when Gautier’s nephew was made a partner in 1917) offered a selection of ready-made clothing and accessories for sale for their magazine’s doll, Bleuette.  The clothing was beautifully made for them by a cottage industry of seamstresses, and was sold exclusively from the publishers’ offices. It is rumored that these seamstresses may have been couture house needleworkers who wanted to earn extra money or work at home. Twice a year the subscribers of La Semaine de Suzette  would receive a small catalog in the mail for the Summer or Winter Season, offering the latest styles in dresses, shoes, lingerie, coats, hats and handbags for Bleuette.

            When Henri Gautier decided his brand new magazine for girls would have a special doll associated with it, he turned to the largest doll maker in France, the SFBJ.  In English it is the “French Society of Doll and Toy Makers.”   Formed by a group of 42 investors in 1899, the SFBJ partners brought a large number of doll molds and manufacturing patents to the new group including the factory, inventory, porcelain kilns, and molds of the famous Jumeau company.

           

Bisque dolls are identified by their head-molds, and so it is with Bleuette.  Her first mold was a Jumeau bébé with pierced ears and a size 1 and/or 2 marked head on a size 2 articulated wood and composition body which had shorter thighs and size 1 legs and feet.  Instead of the usual size 2 doll of 28cm (11”), Bleuette was 27cm (10 & 5/8”) with a head circumference of 18.5cm (7.25”)  The dolls had blue (and probably also brown) paperweight eyes, four teeth in an open mouth, and a mohair wig.  Gautier ordered an unknown number of these dolls to be made to promote the magazine’s start, and he gave away one free to each new subscriber for a limited time.  She was advertised as “a beautiful little Jumeau doll of 27cm” in the ad for the new magazine that appeared in Gautier publications.  After the special promotion was over, Bleuette was continuously sold by the publishers from their offices until the SFBJ went out of business in 1957.

 

These gorgeous premiere Bleuettes above are from the collection of Peggy Spivey.

 

 

No one knows the reason another head mold began to be made by the SFBJ for Bleuette; perhaps it was to make more dolls quickly to meet the demand for them, or to save on costs, or because of a technical issue with the manufacturing process.  After the initial Jumeau-mold dolls, Bleuette was marked 6/0 and had a different face/mold.  Because the SFBJ director was German and owned a porcelain doll factory in Germany, experts now believe that the 2nd mold for Bleuette was German, and further that the heads were made for the SFBJ in Germany, where production costs were lower.  Other SFBJ dolls at the time were known to have been made in Germany, and the mark 6/0 is a typically German size mark.

            The 1914 photograph of Bleuette mentioned earlier is a photo of the 6/0 mold Bleuette.  This has given rise to speculation that the 6/0 was actually the first Bleuette, but the ad for the first Bleuette (with engraved illustration of the doll) clearly states she is a “Jumeau doll.”  The 6/0 mold could never truthfully have been advertised as a Jumeau doll.  In spite of the change in head mold, Bleuette had the same French-made body and remained 27cm tall.  The earliest documented 6/0 Bleuette was found in her original Gautier-labeled box stamped with a postmark of 1907, but the mold may have been in use as early as 1905, when the publishers ran out of Jumeau mold dolls.

            Because Bleuette had fashions from two parallel sources, the magazine patterns and the catalog of ready-made clothing, it can be a little confusing when Bleuette fans discuss her ensembles.  Both the magazine and the catalog fashions are now being actively reproduced by Bleuette aficionados.  The La Semaine de Suzette pattern fashions are identified by their year and the issue number, for example, LSDS 1911, #15, and they have simple descriptive titles like “Summer Dress,” or “Wool Hat.”  The catalog fashions are more fancifully named, for example, “Bouquet” for a floral-print dress, or “Tres Sage”  (Very Well-Behaved) for a dressy velvet and lace costume.  These are usually called the G-L fashions, and are identified by the year and season of the catalog they first appeared in, for example, G-L Winter 1928-29 for “Tres Sage.”  No patterns for the G-L fashions were available until recently, when Bleuette fans began drafting patterns based on the illustrations in the catalogs or on existing catalog clothing.

 

This 6/0 Bleuette is wearing the G-L catalog sailor suit Marin, probably from the mid-1920s.  (Photo courtesy of Peggy Spivey.)

            The 6/0 mold Bleuette was made until 1914 when WWI forced the German director of the SFBJ to leave France for neutral Spain.  The SFBJ then elected a French director, and vowed to produce entirely French-made dolls from then on.

 

 

Bleuette: 1914 to 1932

 

The SFBJ was not able to sell only French-made products right away, they were a bit shaken up by the war and having to find a new director.  Their former director was able to keep supply lines from Germany open for a while by importing heads from Germany to the neutral Basque town of Irun on the border of Spain and France.  From there the SFBJ were able to take the heads into France and put dolls together for sale during the war years. Sometimes they had to make do with non-standard parts:  it is thought that the thin, small arms on some Bleuettes come from this period, as do the solid black eyes. 

           

 

 Some researchers feel that one of these heads was the Bleuette marked SFBJ 60 Paris 8/0, whose introduction dates from about 1910 to 1915, depending on the researcher.  The earliest of these heads has feathered eyebrows, set blue eyes, painted eyelashes, inset teeth, and very nice painting and bisque.  Shown above is an early 60 8/0 with set dark blue eyes and thin arms.

 

Sometimes they are marked R or PR, a few have been found marked D.  This style of the 60 8/0  Bleuette, characterized by set eyes, was sold until the end of WWI, when the SFBJ introduced sleep eyes.  Some now believe the R was the Recknagel factory, while the PR might have been the Paul Rauschert porcelain factory. 

 

 

 

D is sometimes thought to represent Simon & Halbig, but could also mean simply Deutschland (Germany, in German). Other heads have been found marked X and Y—common German marks. This photo shows a typical D mark on an SFBJ 60 doll.

 

 

At Gautier Publications in 1917, Gautier promoted his nephew, Maurice Langeureau to partner, forming Gautier-Langeureau Publications.  Madame Yvonne Langeureau, Maurice’s wife,  designed fashions for the ready-made Bleuette clothing, and their little daughter became known to readers of La Semaine de Suzette as “Loulotte,” the baby to whom Bécassine was nursemaid in the weekly Bécassine cartoon. Above is Becassine with Loulotte as a young woman, in the 1930s.

 

 

A pattern was published in LSDS in 1908 for dressing Bleuette as Bécassine, (shown on the left) in the traditional woman’s dress of Breton,

the French region where Bécassine was born.  In 1909 the first ready-made Bécassine costume was sold at the Gautier Publications offices, and it was very similar to the LSDS pattern.  Later a simplified version was developed in time to be sold in the first catalog in 1916, and Bécassine’s costume was sold in some form until WWII caused the catalog to cease publication for six years.   

 

During the first World War, Bleuette’s fashions reflected the times.  While the men were engaged in the war, women became the conductors on Paris trolley cars, and a pattern was published in La Semaine de Suzette (left) so that Bleuette could dress as one of the conductors, including her bag for money and tickets.  Bleuette had a Red Cross nurse’s uniform, and a costume designed to look like a British officer’s uniform, called “Tipperary,” since so many Irishmen fought for the allies in the British forces.  Last but not least, Bleuette had a blue coat and cap like that of the famous French field marshall, Joffre.

 

 

 

Next, about 1919, the SFBJ mold 301 was brought into use for Bleuette.  This Bleuette was marked with the French size 1, like the Jumeau mold premiere Bleuette.  These Bleuettes have feathered and slightly molded eyebrows, blue sleep eyes, painted lower eyelashes, molded teeth, and very nice painting and bisque. They have earring holes, like the premiere Bleuettes.  Because of the size 1 number and the earring holes, it is thought that the heads were poured in France.  They may also be marked 22 or 22-2, or 23.  The SFBJ 301 Paris 1 Bleuette was used until about 1924.  Bleuette’s body remained the same with 2 on the back and 1 on the soles of both feet.  

 

Starting in 1919, Bleuette had sleep eyes.  Sometimes sleep eyes were put into the older heads with painted upper and lower eyelashes, as shown on the left.  Later Bleuettes would have mohair upper eyelashes to go with their sleep eyes.  Beginning in 1921, the SFBJ 60 Paris 8/0 heads were dated with the last two numbers of the year they were made, so you find 21 through 26 marks in addition to the usual mark.  The painting of these heads varies from nice to rather slap-dash.  Some of the dated heads have “France” below the date, usually the ones dated 24 or 26.  These could actually have been made in France.

           

In 1924/1925, the SFBJ finally achieved its goal of  selling all-French-made dolls.  They had to, as they were now part of a syndicate of French manufacturers selling all-French-made goods.  It was the patriotic thing to do!  The two head molds for Bleuette from about 1924 until 1928, were marked Unis France, and were either the 60 8/0 or the 301-1.  Unis France is not a company, but a phrase, “United France.” 

 

Numbers designated individual companies or persons belonging to the syndicate.  Bleuette Unis France dolls were marked 71 and 149, along with the mold and size numbers.  These dolls had sleep eyes, mohair upper lashes, painted lower lashes, molded teeth, and feathered eyebrows. 

Many have lighter blue eyes like the beautiful Unis France Bleuette on the left. This UF 60 8/0 Bleuette is in the collection of Peggy Spivey, photo used courtesy of Peggy.

 

 

           

 

 

 

As in America, the 1920s were a period of great fashion change, and new prosperity for France.  Bleuette’s patterns and ready-made clothing followed the trend toward short hair and short skirts. 

 

 

 A great innovation begun in the teens was firmly established in twenties’ fashions: the kimono sleeve, cut as one with the dress, blouse, or coat.  Readers of La Semaine de Suzette were shown how to place both the garment body and sleeve on a fold of the fabric, to cut the new sleeve style.  Cloche hats were all the rage, and these were available from the G-L catalog, or could be created from LSDS patterns.  Drop-waist dresses became popular again. The 1928 LSDS pattered cloche hat and drop-waist dress on the left above were made by Michele Potter.

In the later teens and throughout the twenties, LSDS published as many as twenty-some patterns for Bleuette per year.  Sadly, the columnist, Jacqueline Rivière, who had begun writing the very first pattern instructions in 1905, died in 1920.  Happily, her daughter, Suzanne  Rivière took up the writing of the instructions in the column featuring the dress-making patterns, Nous Habillions Bleuette (We Dress Bleuette), and continued doing so until sometime in the 1930s.

 

In 1928, the “unbreakable” head made of pasteboard or pressed, molded cardboard was introduced.  This new Bleuette head head was nicely painted and had sleep eyes.  At this time the mold 251, size 2 character child was introduced, and could be purchased with a bisque or an unbreakable head. 

 Photo on left courtesy of Agnes Sura.

 

 

Although she was sold as Bleuette, she is often found dressed as Bécassine.  She has an open mouth with two teeth and tongue showing, and a dimple in each cheek. Her wig was a short-cut bob style. 

 

 

 

The 251/2 dates from 1928 to 1936.  The sweet 251/2 bisque Bleuette above is shown courtesy of Deb Engdahl.  She is wearing an original G-L summer play costume.

Bleuette --  1932 to 1960

In the winter of 1932, Bleuette’s 1920s cloche hats were sold out, and G-L fashions  began to focus on fitted thirties’ styles, and new hat shapes.  In the summer, two fashions for Bleuette were offered that have since become classics for Bleuette, Juan les Pins, a sailor-type trouser outfit for the beach, and Petit Bob, a coat and hat also with sailor styling, shown below.  These are typical of the new ideas Gautier-Languereau Publications had for Bleuette.  Little girls responded by purchasing more and more ready-made clothing for their Bleuettes from the twice-yearly, “Le Trousseau de Bleuette” catalog.  The LSDS patterns began to shift toward more lingerie, night-dresses, costumes and sports clothes, with fewer dresses and coats.

 

The thirties were a time of modernity and streamlined silhouettes.  Bleuette’s “little mothers” were given patterns in La Semaine de Suzette for sports clothing, from rowing and riding to fencing and bicycling. Bleuette went on vacation to the seashore. Bleuette wore shorts and trousers! 

 

 

 

 

 

To keep up with the times, in the Summer 1933 G-L catalog, Bleuette became taller and more streamlined, with longer, thinner legs.  She was now 29cm tall, and had an entirely new body. 

 

 27 cm Bleuette on left,

29 cm Bleuette on right.

 To go with the new body, Bleuette’s head was either the charming character 251-2 mold or else a new Unis France 301 mold in the size of    1 ¼ for bisque or 1 ½ for pasteboard.  

The new body was still marked 1 on the soles of the feet and 2 on the back. Her wig had bangs and curls, longer than the short bob styles of the twenties.  In addition the banner of La Semaine de Suzette was updated.

 

The 1930s brought exceptional G-L fashions and a multitude of accessories for Bleuette:  skis, skates, boots, clothing with the new zipper closure, leather handbags, slippers,  umbrellas, a little leatherette dog named Ric, and even furniture and pottery dishes.

 

In the November 7, 1935 issue, sale priced Bleuettes were advertised in La Semaine de Suzette, dolls put together to use up the leftover heads and bodies.  In order for these dolls to wear the new clothing and patterns, their bodies were altered by substituting 1 cm longer thighs.  These sale Bleuette had a variety of faces, but all had 6 cm smoothly rounded-top thigh pieces combined with the usual lower legs marked 1.  Sale Bleuettes, therefore, are 28 cm tall, but all their markings are those of the true Bleuette. Many also have the smaller arms of the WW1 shortage era.  Previous Bleuettes could also be sent back to G-L Publications repair department to have the longer thighs added. 

 

On September 3, 1939, war with Germany was declared. The spring/summer 1940 catalog was the last “normal” catalog before WWII overcame the workings of the publishers.  In June of 1940, Paris was occupied by the enemy, and the publication of La Semaine de Suzette came to a halt until May of 1946.  A much-reduced catalog for 1940-41 bears the caption, “Bleuette Awaits You, she thinks of you without ceasing.”  During the war, supplies were difficult to get.  G-L Publications continued to sell clothing for Bleuette as materials allowed, drawing on and using up their fabric stores in the process.  Between 1942 and 1946, no catalogs were printed, but clothing was sold from the offices of the publishers. 

 

Bleuette had a uniform of blouse, skirt, and trench-coat with a military-style cap.  Parts were on hand for repairs, but no wigs were available, or leather shoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the war, even after La Semaine de Suzette resumed publication, there were still shortages and fewer Bleuettes were available.  Those made then had pale faces, rayon wigs, pink-painted bodies that peeled and cracked, and new weighted sleep eyes of vivid blue.  The rayon wigs did not wear well, but human hair or mohair was not available.

 

Rayon jersey-knit underclothing and nightwear was more successful. G-L cooperated with the lingerie company Valisére, in making these for Bleuette, and Bleuette was featured in the company’s print advertisement, shown below.  Oilcloth shoes were offered in place of leather. (Lingerie ad below: "Mother, Bleuette, and me.")

 

 

By 1950, much was returned to normal in Bleuette’s world.  The catalog was back to its usual illustrated form, being published twice a year, with all the latest fashions. 

 Bleuette herself was made of better materials.  A pasteboard head for the unbreakable version of Bleuette had a new mold, Bleuette with a closed mouth.  It was made from 1950 to 1954.  A large round sticker on the back proclaimed her to be “Bleuette, Depose" (registered design) in navy blue letters.  Human hair wigs returned in the winter of 1950-51.

Above: A 1948-50 Bleuette from the collection of Peggy Spivey.

 

 While the ready-made clothing was of exceptional quality, the patterns for Bleuette published in La Semaine de Suzette were a little disappointing in this era.  The late forties and 1950 issues had fewer patterns  of Bleuette’s stylish clothing. In 1951, patterns were not printed in full size, but in schematic diagrams only.  Then, in issue 49 of that year, the patterns abruptly returned to full size—obviously the diagrams had not proved popular!  From 1952 to the final, and only, pattern in 1960, the number of patterns provided was drastically reduced.  Suzettes were undoubtedly purchasing in quantity the very tempting G-L ready-made clothing and accessories, and sewing much less.

A big sister to Bleuette, was mentioned in the March 3, 1955 issue of LSDS at the bottom of a smock pattern for Bleuette:  “You know without doubt that your little Bleuette has a big sister, unbreakable, of 35 cm.”  Soon her name is given as Rosette. In February of 1956, patterns appear in two sizes, for both sisters, and in the Spring 1956 G-L catalog, Rosette is described, and her clothing, matching that of Bleuette, is offered.

Rosette was made in bisque of the Unis France 301-3 head mold, with 3 at the base of her neck and 3 on the soles of her feet, but unlike the standard Unis France 301-3, she was made taller by the old expedient of adding longer thighs to the standard body.  

 

 

She was also made with an incassable head using the SFBJ 301-3 pasteboard mold.  Her first body had a torso of composition, with wood and composition limbs; later torsos were made of a new plastic material, painted, with the same wood and composition limbs. She was made from 1955 to 1957, when SFBJ stopped making dolls and toys.

 

  

Bleuette continued for a short time in a world that had now embraced Barbie and her ilk.  No one knows why a vinyl Bleuette and Rosette were not manufactured to keep in step with the times, but the SFBJ closed in 1957, and the factory was converted to manufacture ball-point pens.  G-L Publications, now being run by Madame Languereau, continued to publish the catalog and La Semaine de Suzette until June of 1960.  Briefly, in 1958, a hard plastic “Bleuette 58” of 33cm made by the doll company Gé-gé was added to the catalog, and an attempt was made to include “Bleuette 58” in the LSDS patterns.  She was not a fully articulated doll, her face was dissimilar with its closed mouth, and she did not wear well the G-L clothing of either Bleuette or Rosette. Understandably, she was not a success.

 

The era of Bleuette was over. To quote Billy Boy:

On Le Trousseau de Bleuette stationary, the following was received by each reader who sent in requests for a Bleuette or her clothes in 1960: 

“Because of our ad which appeared in Les Veillées des Chaumiéres [another G-L publication] since September and more especially again in the October, November and December issues, we received many requests for Bleuette and her clothes and we are sorry to let you know that our stocks are, at this time, completely sold out.”   This is how G-L Publications announced the final curtain on Bleuette’s fifty-five year life.