When discussing Bru dolls, we must speak of the “House of Bru”, because many companies utilized the Bru name after the business was no longer owned or operated by Bru.
Leon Casimir Bru had worked as a doll assembler for a short time before deciding to start his own business. In 1866, the Bru Company was the first doll manufacturer to be settled on the Rue Saint Denis in Paris, France. Later, other doll makers followed.
Lady Fashion Bru dolls were assembled by Leon Casimir Bru and his wife, Appolyne. The heads were fashioned by R. Barrios. Appolyne, a seamstress, provided the elaborate costumes for the lovely dolls.
In 1876, the first doll in the Bébé line, Breveté, was produced. In 1879, the second doll in the Bébé line, the Circle Dot Bru, sometimes referred to as a Crescent Bru, was introduced. By 1880, the third doll in the Bébé line, Bru Jne, was in production.
In 1883, the Bru Company was sold to Henri Chevrot. Under Chevrot’s leadership, the company name changed to “Bru Jne. & Cie.”, which stands for Bru Junior and Company. Henri Chevrot added a new body for the Bru Jne head. Usually this body is referred to as the “Chevrot Body”. It features a slimmed down tummy and hips, lower legs of wood, and pin joints at the elbows & knees. The lower arms were bisque with a few exceptions of wood.
During the time of Chevrot’s ownership the Bru dolls that we all know and love were produced. It was the fine craftsmanship and wonderful designs of Chevrot’s Bru Jne dolls that won so many gold medals. These are the Bru dolls that stand in our cases and represent the the ultimate in doll making.
In 1889, the House of Bru changed hands again when Paul Girard took over. Girard altered the Bru Jne from the old master molds to a look that was barely recognizable. Girard made teeth, open mouths, and altered the chin. He made kiss-throwing Brus, walking Brus, and other inventions. He also added an “R” to the signature. The company continued to manufacture Bru dolls until 1899. At that point, the company was assimilated into S.F.B.J. (the Societe Francaise de Fabrication de Bebes and Jouets).
S.F.B.J. absorbed most of the major French makers of dolls, because German bisque doll competition became nearly overwhelming. At this time, the French companies no longer produced bisque or porcelain heads themselves. It was less expensive to import pieces from Germany than to manufacture their own. Nevertheless, S.F.B.J. continued to produce the Bebe le Teteur Bru into the next century.
Studies of Bébé Bru faces have determined there were only three master molds. The earliest of the children dolls was the unmarked Bébé Bru Breveté. The second master mold was the Circle Dot or Crescent Bébé Bru. The third master mold was Bébé Bru Jne. Each of these heads were sculpted by Leon Casimir Bru and all the master molds had been completed before Chevrot purchased the business.
Hundreds of different Bru faces were all conceived from these master molds. In fact, all various Bru Jne faces were taken from the same mold. The seeming differences were mere alterations made by cutting the eyes larger or smaller and by the removal of the teeth or tongue line. Other subtle differences were made in the painting, shape of the brows, and the shape of the lips. Even the color of the eyes changed the Bru so that while one was spectacular, another was mediocre. However, the basic shape was left untouched.
The same hand molds were used repeatedly. The first hand, with curved under fingers on the Breveté was only used on the Breveté. The ballerina hands were the loveliest and most artistic hands made by any company at that time. The hands were first used on short arms that went into a leather sleeve, then used as well as the pin-jointed, elbow length arms. Apparently, these forearms were not resized with every head reduction, but were used in one size for all three head sizes. Other Bru hands were made of wood and none were shaped like the ballerina hands.
This list outlines the chronological production sequence of Bru bodies. It’s important to note the duration of production periods for these various body types overlap.
- Leather and wood Lady Fashion bodies.
- Breveté chubby leather body, leather lower legs, bisque lower arms.
- Circle and Dot chubby leather body, leather lower legs, bisque lower arms.
- All wood eight-jointed Lady Fashion body.
- Gusseted leather body, leather lower legs, bisque lower arms.
- Slim leather body(Chevrot), pin-jointed wood lower legs and pin-jointed bisque lower arms.
- Slim leather body(Chevrot), pin-jointed wood lower legs and pin-jointed wood lower arms.
- All wood body multi-jointed Bébé body.
- Composition body.
- Kiss-throwing composition body.
Many people think that composition Bru bodies were only implemented late in production. However after much research, we discovered composition bodies were used on early productions of the Bru Jne, but they were not very popular. After 1890, composition bodies were frequently utilized by Paul Giraud.
Lady Fashion Bru
The earliest Bru dolls were the Poupée de Mode (literal translation is Doll of Fashion), or Lady Fashion Doll, sometimes referred to as “Smiling Bru” or “Mona Lisa Bru”. These were produced from 1866 to 1885 and featured bodies of goatskin leather and wood. These early production Bru dolls were marked with a letter indicating a size number and nothing else. Later, Lady Fashion dolls were marked “R.B.” (Barrios), “B.Jne et Cie.”, or “B.J.”.
By 1869, Leon Casimir Bru advertised Lady Fashion dolls featuring all wood bodies. These were jointed at the shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees, and ankles.
Bébé Bru Breveté
Breveté was the first Bébé Bru doll (literal translation is Baby Bru). These were produced from 1876 to 1880. Bébé Bru Breveté dolls featured beautifully formed and delicate molded head, mounted on a shoulder-plate, which was then attached to a goatskin leather body. These dolls also featured bisque lower arms with beautiful cupped hands and each fingernail outlined in pink. The lower legs were made of goatskin leather. For identification, it had only a sticker on the chest.
At the time, all other French companies Placed their first Bébé heads on composite bodies. However, Leon Casimir Bru was already producing leather bodies for his Lady Fashion dolls. So he fashioned leather bodies in child-like proportions for his Bébé Bru Breveté.
Circle Dot Bébé Bru
The Circle Dot Bru, sometimes referred to as a “Crescent Bru”, was produced from 1879 to 1885 and featured a leather body. These Bru dolls also featured bisque lower arms. The lower legs were made of leather. These Bru dolls were marked with the circle and dot mark, which is a dot under a half-circle or in a full circle.
Bébé Bru Jne
The Bru Jne was produced from 1880 to 1890 and featured various types of body constructions. Some of these dolls featured an all wood body, jointed at the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. This construction was wonderful for posing a doll. With these joints the dolls could be posed in nearly any position. However, it proved too expensive and time consuming to manufacture such bodies. As a result, very few were produced. Most of these dolls featured either a gusseted leather body with bisque lower arms, a slim leather body and pin jointed bisque lower arms, a slim leather body with pin jointed wooden lower arms, or a composition body. These Bru dolls were marked with “Bru Jne”.
Bébé Bru Jne R
The Bru Jne R was produced from 1890 to 1899. These Bru dolls were marked with “Bru Jne R”.
Transitional Bru Dolls
Between each production period, transitional dolls were produced. These dolls possessed parts from both the old and new production lines.
Novelty Bru Dolls
Bru also made a set of unique novelty dolls:
- Bébé Musique – featured a mechanism which played music.
- Bébé lé Teteur – also referred to as the “Nursing Bru”, was the most popular Bru doll ever produced and featured a mechanism that would draft liquid from a baby bottle.
- Bébé Gourmand – also referred to as the “Eating Bru”, featured a mechanism which allowed children to feed the doll. Dry food was put into the mouth. It then fell down through the body to the feet. The shoes were designed with little flaps to remove the food. This particular doll possessed very heavy and chubby bisque legs that were not used on any other Bru.
NOTE: There were many other patents and inventions from the House of Bru, but those most treasured by antique doll collectors have been mentioned here.