Updated: Apr 5, 2020
My love affair with the French Steiner dolls began in 1974, for that was the year I met "Mamselle." Standing as she was on the counter of my favorite doll shop, all 28" (71.1 cm) of her in red velvet, she was certainly stunning, but her appeal, to me, went further: it was the special something which develops between a collector and a doll that kept drawing me back to her over the other hundred dolls on display.
BY JAN FOULKE. PHOTOGRAPHS BY HOW FOULKE
Source: April/May 1979 • DOLL READER , Pages 3-6
As I circled the shop, always coming back to sigh over her, I told myself that this feeling was ridiculous. I didn't collect bisque dolls. Not only that, I couldn't buy one with such an enormous price tag! Subsequently, I left the shop with a box of assorted smaller dolls, "Mamselle" still standing on the counter.
Sometimes the old adage "out of sight, out of mind" absolutely refuses to work-and visions of that doll spun round my head. Finally after several days I could stand the torment no longer: I must own that doll. My husband was tired of hearing about her: "Go ahead and buy her," he said. I called the shop owner in a state of euphoria, only to come crashing down to reality when she told me the doll had already been sold! I was devastated, but at least the torment was over.
However, that is not the end of my story about "Mamselle" because four months later on Christmas morning, there was "Mamselle" standing next to my tree. I hugged and hugged her, laughing and crying both at the same time that such a marvelous treasure was really mine. My husband was the one who had bought the doll, and I never suspected.
Societe Steiner was founded by Jules Nicholas Steiner in 1855 in Paris, France. After 1891, he was no longer in charge and the direction of the company passed to a succession of other heads until 1908. Apparently Societe Steiner did not join the S.F.B.J. conglomerate of doll makers formed in 1888 which included Jumeau, Bru and others.
Judging from the number of patents registered to them, the Steiner firm apparently worked hard to improve their dolls and to try new innovations. They had patents for eye movement, walking, talking and other mechanisms for dolls as well as for improved processes for making heads and limbs. Several times the firm won medals for their dolls at the Paris Exhibition, the most exciting in 1889 when they were awarded the gold medal (Medaille D'or).
Steiner dolls usually have beautiful smooth bisque, almost creamy, with delicately tinted cheeks. Their eyes are alert, but not oversized like those of the Jumeaus; their lips are full, but tinting is pale so they do not show up as well in photographs as those of other French dolls. Dolls from the early 1880s often have round faces; those of the 1890s are more rectangular. Societe Steiner created a wide range of dolls-too many styles and types for one small article, so we are choosing a sampling to include here and will discuss their characteristics.
Marks on body: Partial black stamped mark with a decipherable J. This type of Steiner is usually dated about 1880. Her wide forehead and full cheeks give her face a round appearance. Her chin is not well defined, but does have a faint dimple. Her eyebrows are a delicate blonde with minute brush strokes. Her blown glass eyes each have a vivid blue iris with a black rim and many tiny dark spokes in them. Often this type of doll has wire eyes (explained later in detail), but although her head is cut for the lever, she never had moving eyes and was apparently a less expensive model. Painted lashes are a series of lightly-made black strokes and eye sockets are outlined in black. Her pierced ears are rather plain and sim· ply modeled. Her mouth is typically Steiner with light tinting; two pronounced peaks on the upper lip and a turned up corner. The original pate is of dark brown cardboard. Her curly kidskin wig is a replacement of the proper style as her original hair had been eaten off its skin wig cap.
Her original body is in excellent condition. At the knee and elbow joints, the typical purple undercoating which Steiner used can be seen. Fin· gertips and toes still retain traces of the red-lined nails. As is typical of French doll bodies in general, there is little anatomical detail: upper limbs are straight, as are the knee joints; toes are only faintly modeled. There are no separate ball joints; wrists are straight and fingers are stubby; stomach is flat; derriere protrudes only slightly, gently rounded. She is 14" (35.6cm) tall.
Marks on head (incised):
Red stamp located at sides of crown opening at left: J. STEINER 8.S.G.D.G.
Right: illegible, but could be a repetition of the left side. Marks on body: None.
This Steiner baby is a scant 7" (17.8cm) long with size 4/0 head. Her face is of the type associated with the "Bourgoin" mark. She has the same pate, slight nose, upper lip, ear and eye shape as the doll shown in Illustrations 1-3. Her brows are light and feathered also, but her gray lashes are longer and heavier in proportion to her size, and the eye sockets are not black-lined. Her eyelids have a rose tint. She has the 1880s patented wire-eye mecha· nism. The lever protruding behind her ear opens and closes her dark blue gray eyes. Notice how the head is cut to ac· commodate the lever. She probably had a lamb's wool curly wig which has been lost.
Her papier-mache body, which shows some detail in molding of arms and legs, appears to be a forerunner of the bent-limb babies so popular after 1909, and certainly indicates her to be a rare Steiner type. Not shown in the illustrations is what appears to be her original clothes-a child's guimpe and dress of the late 1880s.
Hardly the prettiest of Steiners in her stripped down condition, yet very interesting is this mechanical doll. In her torso is a mechanism which moves her legs, arms and head while she cries "Mama." This is operated by the key which protrudes from her side. Her head of a pale, almost parian finish with rosy cheeks is round with a wide short neck, completely closed dome and open mouth with two rows of tiny teeth. Her small eyes are pale blue, a paperweight type with blue lining at the eye sockets. Her eyebrows are long and tiny, arching slightly. Her pierced ears have little detail.
Her torso is cloth-covered cardboard; arms and lower legs are composition. There is no mark on the heads of these dolls, but the mechanism carries the Steiner mark. This doll is 16" (40.7cm) tall, but this type was also available in other sizes. She is hard to date precisely and could possibly be as early as the 1870s as she has characteristics associated with the early Steiners. Also some of these types of bodies have been found with wax-over-papier-mache heads.
Marks on head (incised): S TE C4.
Red stamp at each side of crown opening:
J. STEINER B.S.G.D.G.
Eyes (incised on back of eyeball):
Marks on body: None
This 22-1/2" (57.1cm) Steiner has a longer, lower face than that of the "Bourgoin" or the baby, as well as a higher forehead. She has the interesting wire mechanism to operate her blue eyes which do not have the depth of permanent paperweight eyes because they are set into what appears to be a bisque eyeball which is not as fragile as the glass eyeball of the German weighted eyes. Also the eyes must be flatter to allow room for opening and closing which is not possible with bulging eyes. She has her original purple cardboard pate, typical of many Steiner dolls. Also there is a little more detail in her ears, which are also pierced. Her eyebrows are soft. Her mouth is typical with two peaks on upper lip and turned up corners. Her body is unmarked but has Steiner characteristics including the short, fat fingers. She is later than the "Bourgoin" since she has jointed wrists, probably dating from the late 1880s. Her long, blonde, human hair wig appears to be original.
Marks on head (incised):
Red stamp: "LE PARISIEN"
Marks on body (purple stamp on hip).
BÉBÉ "LE PARISIEN"
Finally, here is "Mamselle," easier· than the others to date because her trademark, "Le Parisien" was registered in 1892. She is typical of the Steiners with the rectangular face, with just a hint of a chin. Her eyes are dark blue paperweight with good depth as she does not have the wire type. Her eyebrows are darker brown and more pronounced than those on earlier Steiners; eye sockets are wider, not as almond-shaped as earlier ones. Her neck is longer. Her mouth has the same soft color and shape. Her nose is longer with a more defined shape. One of the most interesting changes is in the intricate modeling of her ears which contain a large, deep canal as well as more intricate folds. Another unusual aspect is her original cork pate as most Steiners have cardboard ones.
Her body is similar to that of the "Bourgoin" and a comparison shows three major differences: fingers are longer and thinner; wrists are jointed; and the big toe is separated. She is wearing her original clothes, a deep red velvet dress in Kate Greenaway style. Her shoes are marked Steiner. Her hair and hat are replacements.
EXPLANATION OF SOME TERMS USED IN STEINER MARKS
STE - probably society or company
BTE - patent registered
S.g.D.g - without government guarantee of the government
J. Bourgoin - unknown but perhaps an associate as here it is preceded by a J. Elsewhere it isn't.
J. Steiner - head of Société Steiner, 1855-1891