Michele Smith, an antique dealer from the Northeast, says she has a customer looking for a “Bru Smiler.” Michele writes, “While I am not a doll dealer, I occasionally come across dolls and I thought I knew what a Bru looked like, but the pictures I have seen of Bru dolls do not look as if they are smiling. Is there such a thing as a smiling Bru?”
The Bru firm is considered by most collectors to be one of the most prestigious of the doll-making companies. The firm produced dolls from about 1866 to 1899 in and around Paris. During that short time, the firm was able to insure a spot in doll history by creating breathtaking faces of high quality, including children, ladies and characters.
The bodies used on the Bru Bebes (children), ladies and characters could be leather, wood, or a combination of leather and wood, and also could be found with bisque forearms or lower legs. Whether a Bebe or a lady, they have bisque socket heads with bisque shoulder plates.
known as a Bru Smiler
Characters included dolls that could suck liquid (thanks to a nipple at the back of the head) and dolls that could eat with the food entering the mouth, going through the body and exiting through the foot. A musical Bru was also made. There were also characters with multiple faces that were seen by turning the head around.
While the characters are interesting and very rare, it is the “Bru Jne,” with the child-like wistful face, that is the Bru most people think about when the name is mentioned. The beautiful Bru Jne face with the shaded paperweight eyes, plump cheeks, closed mouth with tiny molded tongue; deep shoulder plate and short stocky body is both innocent and sensuous.
While the Bru Jne is a youthful face, the face of the earlier fashion Bru models is quite mature. The French fashion dolls produced by Bru were of superior quality on shapely leather bodies with leather or bisque forearms or articulated wood bodies.
The heads were of two types: The oval faces are of fine, pale bisque with delicate painting and perfect features. These heads are usually marked with a number only. The other model of the fashion head was the Bru Smiler. The molding is sharp and the bisque is pale. Rather than being shy and demure as the oval-face model appears, the Smiler seems to be very self-assured and ready for the world.
Because of its distinct look, the Smiler was probably not as popular in the late 1800s as the oval-faced fashion model and is more difficult to find and slightly more expensive on today’s market.
Remember, if you are buying a fashion doll, whether a Bru or any of the other beautiful examples, the clothes are important and help determine the price of the doll. To bring top dollar, a French fashion must be dressed in original clothing or garments appropriate to the period including shoes. Period clothing and shoes for French fashions are difficult to find and can be expensive. Remember this if buying a nude or incorrectly dressed example.
Questions or comments? Contact Sherry Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.