"Dolls ‘Made in Italy’" is a bonus exhibit that shows, from March 24 to January 5, 2013, the production of Italian dolls from 1880 to 1979.
Italian dolls, like their ‘Made in France’ sisters are highly collectible items worldwide today. The bonus exhibit held by the Musée de la Poupée shows the quality, the richness and the lasting of this craft, industrial and artistic Italian field of activity.
The first industrial companies to produce dolls in Italy date from the end of the XIX century. Firms like Furga, Meyer Fels, Milano Bollate, Antenore, among the most famous, used to assemble dolls with heads often imported from Germany. Experimented porcelain makers like Bähr & Pröschield, Kühnlenz Gebruder and Recknagel Alexandrinenthal supplied the Italian market with dolls that are often unknown, poorly considered or mistaken for fully German made dolls.
The generation between the two world wars was the most productive for the Italian doll market. Lenci started in 1919 in Turin. Its development was very quick what led other companies to get inspired by the style of Elena König Scavini’s dolls. Lenci kept on being number 1 on this new market exclusively devoted to cloth and felt dolls, keeping competitors such as Alma, Margot, Messina VAT, Eros, Marazzi… at bay.
At the end of the Twenties, another star was to shine for a few years on the Italian market : Burgarella. Created by the Sicilian, Gaspare Burgarella, this company based in Roma emphasized the artistic talent of the painter Ferdinando Stracuzzi. This top quality firm created beautiful composition dolls with expressive faces, harmonious bodies sometimes anatomically correct and well finished outfits. These dolls are rare today and coveted by well-informed collectors.
The doll production from the black years, between the end of the Thirties and the end of the Forties, testifies from the lack of primary materials, qualified workforce and fortunate investors. Dolls from that generation are rarely marked and therefore difficult to identify. The Italian market will only recover in the Fifties.
AAt that time, only two historical companies did maintain themselves : Furga in Lombardy and Lenci in Piedmont. While the last one was passed down to the Garella family without interrupting its speciality in luxury felt dolls, Furga abandoned bisque headed dolls for unbreakable materials : plastered cardboard first and then plastic materials. The Italian industrial field bounced thanks to this new material. New companies like Sebino, Migliorati, Italo Cremona, FIBA, Effe, Gabar, Zanini & Zambelli competed with the monopoly from Furga, Bonomi and Giachetti in the field of popular dolls. Lenci went on satisfying the rich customers with high quality products that however were beginning to lack modernity, which explains its decline in the following decades.
Celluloid, the oldest plastic material was also used by some Italian doll makers. Anili, the daughter of Lenci’s founder, created the company Anili in 1946 thanks to her mother’s support. If felt kept on being her favourite material, Anili also used celluloid for a range of expressive dolls that are as irresistible as their Lenci ancestors. Some other firms like Francesco Bardelli, Sita e Montoli, Industria Nazionale di Celluloide, SAMCO also used celluloid to produce babies. They competed with the German production well implanted in Italy at that time.
Celluloid was rapidly replaced by polystyrene, a hard plastic material. Galletti, Querzola, Oltolini, Monel and Ratti chose it to evolve towards polyethylene and PVC.
CPost World War II was also marked by the appearance of fashion dolls on the market. Bonomi and Ottolini made fashion dolls long before the birth of the famous American Barbie. Others followed in the Sixties and Seventies. At the same time, the couple of artists Golia (husband and wife) created an irresistible collection of funny silhouettes entirely hand decorated in one of a kind. These characters were not meant as playthings for children but for window decoration and for teaching the history of costumes in schools. They started after the Second World War and ended in the beginning of the Sixties when the Golia couple decided not to enter into a commercial approach that would take them away from their artistic inspirations.
From the Sixties, the weight of the Italian doll industry increased worldwide and competed with the French and German markets. Some companies like Furga and Bonomi had such a big place in foreign countries that some local companies had to fight to limit their spreading. The ‘Made in Italy’ quality with very attractive prices explains their development. Some French companies decided to import Italian brands and to become their exclusive sales representative instead of fighting them. This is what Arbois did with Furga, Galba and Ferrario, and also Convert with Sebino, to mention the two most efficient.
The end of the Seventies rang the knell of this industrial field in Italy as well as in Europe. Globalization was on its way, with new logics, new dimensions that revealed to be fatal for many small and medium doll makers that decayed in front of multinational companies.
Today, the Italian doll industry is not in a better shape than the French one. A taste for “fine” dolls remains and collectors snap up antique ‘Made in Italy’ popular dolls and undertake researches on Italian doll makers.
This exhibit is an opportunity for those collectors to see the dolls they cherish and for others to discover the history of an industry, rather unknown, even if it’s quite near from us in space and time.
- Doll prized Pinocchio d’Oro
Photos by Musée de la Poupée-Paris and Jean Dalmard