A story about Jean Marie Phalibois "The unknown about the well-known"

A fascinating story of Jean Marie Phalibois is published in the recently opened column “The unknown about the well-known”. J.M. Phalibois was the family business founder, famous for its advertising automata and animated music boxes. He began his business activity by creating mechanical or animated pictures and scenes, which were particularly fashionable in the 1870-1880s. One can get an idea of these mechanical items from the report of a journalist who visited The third Paris World's Fair in 1878. In his review, he paid particular attention to "Conversation on the Roof" by J.M. Phalibois, mechanical scene that was very popular with visitors: "... There is a night scene on the roof. Cats walk on the tiles, chimney stacks turn. A student on the attic sings a serenade to a young lady, a Spaniard in traditional costume with a guitar behind his back climbs up a rope trying to reach the young lady's balcony. The noise made by cats, wind and young lovers wake the poor old man, who sticks his head out of his attic window and casts disgruntled glances to right and left".

In addition to mechanical paintings and scenes, J.M. Phalibois created items that Parisians called "musical fantasies" - bottles, mugs, glasses, decanters, cigar holders, biscuit makers, photo albums, cases, inkstands and other everyday objects equipped with miniature musical mechanisms that were activated when the object was in use. They were relatively simple to produce and provided the firm with a high and steady income.

Soon after his participation in the Universal Exhibition of 1878, while continuing to produce mechanical paintings and "musical fantasies" in large quantities, Phalibois began creating the first automata – separate papier-mache figures equipped with musical mechanism and a mechanism that set the figure in motion. Between 1884 and 1888, Phalibois produced full-human height automata, which was very rare among Parisian manufacturers of that era.

Since 1887, the son of Jean Marie son, Édouard Henry Phalibois, had been playing an increasingly important role in the firm business. He possessed creative temperament, played the clarinet, and in the documents of the 1880s, he called himself a "musical performer". In 1893, J.M. Phalibois retired and the firm and all its assets passed to Henry.

In the 1890s, under the direction of Henry Phalibois, the company changed its policy in line with the new tastes and demands of the era. It stopped producing mechanical paintings and concentrated on automata. Henri managed to create a very special kind of automaton, different from his competitors' products. His models were large figures, ranging in height from 69 to 119 cm, with an accentuated and caricatured grimacing face. Trade guides, describing the products of Henty Phalibois in 1895, mention "figures playing instruments, talking, singing, whistling and laughing" as well as groups of them. At this time, the firm launched its icon, the Whistler automaton. He looked like a Parisian Gavroche, playfully whistling and moving his head to the beat of the tune. The figure was utilized on Phalibois firm documents and served as a kind of 'logo' of the firm.

By 1905, H. Phalibois was producing, as he himself put it, "animated automata for shop windows, powered by an electric or winding mechanism, figures and groups of all sizes". Gradually advertising automata, decorating showcases, become so popular that the firm almost stopped producing anything else. Already in 1910, H. Phalibois, describing his company, proudly pointed out that he was "the designer of the figures for “Phoenix” washing powder, “Star” shavers and “Valda” lollipops". Amazingly, the Phalibois firm also produced mechanical singing birds from its establishing until its closure - this distinguishes it from all the Parisian automata manufacturers of the era. J.M. Phalibois and later his son created mechanical singing nightingales, chirps, hummingbirds, canaries and other types of birds. They were mounted in cages, on perches, ceramic vases, on windowsills and even in groves.

In 1925, the son of Henry, Raymond Phalibois, took over the company. He stopped making automata and concentrated on the automata trade rather than manufacturing them. Thus, the Phalibois enterprise ceased to exist.

Nowadays all preserved automata that were created by Phalibois, became the basis of the Le musée de l'Automate Soulac-sur-Mer, Gironde and Museum of Window-Actors in Falaise, Normandy. Besides those two unique French museums, the works by Phalibois are presented in the museum “Collection”. All sides of Jean Marie and Henry Phalibois talented works are represented in the museum exposition in the section “Amusing Automata”: mechanical singing birds, mechanical scenes and pictures, automata and groups of them, as well as the famous "Whistler".

On the cover:
Musical automaton “Whistler”. France, Paris. Circa 1900. Henry Phalibois, Jumeau