Officially class 40, which includes "dolls and toys, wax figures and figurines, games for children's and adults' recreation and educational and scientific toys", is called Bimbeloterie. For everyone, and especially for the little world, it is the toys that will be seen in this Children's Paradise, very cleverly installed in the first gallery on the left of the Palais des expositions diverses, following the Jewellery. This installation consists of a series of lounges formed by oblique windows, with small pavilions in the centre of each lounge and a main pavilion in the middle of the section.
And first of all, let us say straight away that what we have come to see here are the real toys, those which serve to amuse children, and not those which have the pretension, moreover badly justified, of instructing them, which is equivalent to making them learn geography from Jules Verne, and the history of France from Alexandre Dumas père.
As for toys for grown-ups, this name has been used to describe game tables, piquet marks, dominoes, castors and small horses. All this paraphernalia of sea baths and water cities should have been put in another place, in order to leave alone, because it is well worth the trouble of a special exhibition, the toy, the real luxurious toy, or cheap, the toy that little children play with.
The first toy, the king toy, is a queen, the Doll, and we are here in her palace. It is she who, with the Jumeau babies, occupies the showcase of honour, and it is she who occupies the vast majority of the other showcases. The Jumeau exhibition is a whole world: the scene is a garden in which a puppet is installed. In front of the puppet, a whole bunch of babies, each more delightful than the last, and almost as big as life. It is the articulated baby who stands on his legs, and bends his arm, closes his hands, turns his head like a real person.
It can also take all altitudes and make all gestures. One of them, climbing a cherry tree, throws cherries to two girls. This is a modernised scene of Jean-Jacques with M "e de Graffenried and her friend, copied from a painting by Beaudouin.
Next to it is a genre scene. On a bench, a little girl listens dreamily to the heated words of a teddy bear, while the young child for whose supervision the girl was responsible rolls dutifully on the ground.
Others have exhibited babies sucking on their own or other mechanical parts, which I find difficult to put in the hands of children. Here, for example, is the Leçon de danse, under Louis XV and a scene from Le Pré-aux-Clercs. These pieces are generally made for export and they will adorn, with more picturesqueness than good taste, exotic salons. It is true that England seems to have bought the whole exhibition of French toys.
In this kind of scene there are others which are obviously only window-dressing. Only the children of millionaires could be provided with such toys, and perhaps they would not be very amused. There is, for example, a viaduct almost a metre high and four or five metres long. A train passes over the viaduct, with baggage cars full of parcels, animals in the cattle vans and, of course, passengers in compartments of all classes.
Underneath, a wide variety of vehicles pass and circulate: omnibuses, lorries, carriages, handcars, and master's cars. There are pedestrians, horsemen and pedal cyclists. In all, a population greater than that of more than one commune in France.
Another composition, for this scene deserves the name, occupies an area of several square metres. It represents the capital of Lilliput, reconstituted with its houses, its palaces, its ramparts, its port and its inhabitants
as described by Dean Swift. The scene is taken at the time of the Palace fire, which Gulliver extinguished as you know. The Lilliputian fire brigade is at work and, as it all works, we see the pumps working, the firemen climbing the ladders, disappearing under the burning palace. The city ambulance car is there, ready to help the victims. In the distance a train whistles past; the astonished travellers put their heads in the doorway to contemplate the fire, and behind the palace, Gulliver, the Mountain Man, towering above the roof, tells himself that he will easily overcome this disaster.
Gum toys are a bit complicated. But it's great fun to watch.
This is a bit the case with all the dolls we have described. It is too beautiful; it is too luxurious. A doll dressed like a Worth or Felix customer, with almost gold jewellery, and real hair, scares a girl. It is almost as if you were to bring her a real princess in satin and brocade and say to the child, "Here's something to amuse you.
She will be afraid to break her princess and will not have any fun at all. For two reasons: the first is that the only beautiful toy is the one you can open to find out "what's inside". The second is that, by a very special and fortunate sense of maternal love, little girls become all the more attached to their dolls the more miserable and disinherited they are. I know four-year-old girls who frantically love ignoble cardboard dolls, without arms or feet, a sort of synthesis of all human infirmities, whose eyes are pockmarked, whose noses are crushed, and whose skin has been eaten away by unknown leprosy.
-It is only for this reason that the girls of today will later coddle and fondle poor crippled babies. In a nation where children only had dolls for five pounds each, there would soon be no more sisters of charity.
But there are other dolls than the expensive ones. The one-armed, legless cardboard nipple has more or less disappeared, it is true. It has taken refuge in the vague provinces, but the Paris industry manufactures, for a few pennies, babies with all their limbs and human figure, with a nice wig of oakum.
It is necessary to point out, however, in painted cardboard, a collection of the generals of the Revolution which are, I assure you, much more picturesque than in bronze.
Cardboard has been replaced by rubber.
In the past, only shapeless children or rough animals whose limbs were glued to the body were made with this material. Today, this manufacturing process has been perfected. Nowadays, rubber is used to make well-decoupled babies, animals full of kindness, and whole regiments. And note that this can be put in a tub full of water, without fear of alteration. And yet, there is no pleasure for childhood comparable to that which one experiences in washing one's doll with water. Is it a kind of revenge for the imposed washings; or simply the love of cleanliness? I'm not sure, but the fact exists.
The toys of little boys are generally more warlike: many, today serious notaries or peaceful maids, could say with Hugo :
I had dreams of war in my worried soul,
not because, "as children, their cot was placed on a drum", but simply because they had a passion for sabres, guns, pistols, drums and trumpets. The trade in children's paraphernalia is still flourishing, provided that the same paraphernalia includes a soldier's rifle and an officer's sabre. Children do not like regiments, where not everyone is an officer.
The luxury rifle is made with the care of a precision weapon, it is damascened and sculpted. The cheap rifle is one of the prettiest types of this use of debris, which is essentially a Parisian industry: the barrels are made... from old tins. These old tins are also the raw material for small musical instruments. All this constitutes an important industry in the room. The household, if it is made of porcelain or earthenware, comes from the provinces. In stamped metal, it is made in Paris, with tin shavings.
There is a numerous variety of metal toys which have come into being in recent years and which the peddlers have made popular by selling them on the boulevards. These are the Parisian types, made of varnished iron and set in motion by a wheel to which a considerable initial speed is imparted by means of a string. It began, I believe, with the delivery boy, a shop boy pushing a small car; then there was the bread carrier, who pulls her little van. The Boulanger-Floquet duel gave rise to the enraged duellists who, driven by a rubber band, fight all the time. There is the bellringer, the swimming doll, the fish; there is the fire pump with its warning horn, the dancer, a marvel of applied mechanics. The latest creations are the ambulance cars, the little jockeys and two types of the Exhibition, the wheelchair and the rickshaw... The latter is a simple masterpiece, and nothing is more natural and comic at the same time, than the movement of the legs of the Tonkinese who drags a beautiful lady.
Yesterday's novelty, which however is already at the Exhibition, is a triple expansion locomotive with its three pistons, its connecting rods and its whistle, which costs fifty-nine cents. The other subjects cost thirty-nine, twenty-nine or even nineteen. The little dog, held on a leash by a thin rubber hose and which walks and barks under the impulse of compressed air, costs forty-nine cents, and it is a masterpiece.
We have saved the little tin soldier for last, for good measure.
This one is a conquest. Only Germany used to make it. Today Paris is setting up armies of penny pinchers. It is a great and flourishing industry. The number of Zouaves, Hussars, cuirassiers and simple lignards who, armed, equipped and dapper, leave the Parisian workshops to parade before the eyes of budding generals, must be counted in the millions... It is a comrade from the old days that we always find with pleasure, the little tin soldier, and more than one father has stopped as complacently as his son in front of the windows where whole squadrons, regiments, with all their battalions at the regulation strength, are displayed.
There is in one large window the capture of a fort by the sailors and the marine infantry; well, you will believe me if you want to, it is as exact, and infinitely more gripping than the military photographs of M. Meissonier, which the Americans pay for at the rate of a hundred thousand francs a square decimetre.
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Paul Le Jeinisel.