Alexandre Nicolas Théroude was born on 25 February 1807 in Saint-Pierre-en-Val. In 1823, at the age of 16, he came to Paris. In 1828, he became the associate of a certain "Monsieur Varin," and the two kept a toyshop at number 12 on rue Tiquetonne. In 1831, he founded his own firm and opened a shop, moving to 257 rue St Denis.
On May 1832, Théroude married Adelaide Elizabeth Bassot. The young bride had an 18,000-franc dowry, which enabled her husband to start his business a good footing. It was at this period that Theroude first began to make toys himself, although a good portion of his business consisted in wholesale toys selling. Certain items he offered were imported from Germany,
In 1835, Theroude moved to larger premises at 217 rue St Denis. At the time, the toy and luxury goods industry in France was going through a major crisis, brought on by the July Revolution of 1830. Five years after opening of production, in 1840, A. Theroude had to declare bankruptcy. He lost over 30,000 francs. During the proceedings, he was allowed to keep the company on the condition that he repaid at least 20% of his debts within the next 5 years.
Paradoxically, this failure was the key to A. Theroude subsequent tremendous successes. Under the new circumstances, he refocused his enterprise: he stopped buying toys from Germany and, as the trade directories of the era point out, "completely stopped making ordinary toys and devoted himself exclusively to the creation of large automata". Moreover, his new orientation proved so popular that Theroude soon was able to not only his bankruptcy charges but also almost the entire sum he owed. His reputation grew quickly, and in 1845 he moved his workshop to 14 Rue de Montmorency. The report of 1849 Industrial Exhibition in Paris stated the Monsieur Theroude was one of the foremost mechanical toy-makers. His products were sold in Paris and exported; he had no rival in the foreign market. Many of his elaborate toys were “marvel”. He perfected the various parts and components of the barrel, the working on the valves, and composition of the dolls’ “flesh”.
In 1854 Theroude seeking larger quarters, moved to 3-5 Rue de Montmorency. The General Directory of Commerce and Industry gave his own description of his stock: “Workshop specializing in the manufacture of automata and mechanical toys for children; Inventor of the Child in the Cradle which distinctly sais “Papa” and “Mama”, bleating sheep and goats, the Acrobat, the Ill-mannered Rabbit, the hen that lays golden eggs, etc. Horsed whose harness can be removed, barking dogs, goats and other animals made od authentic animal skin.
In the course of the next two decades, Theroude became one of the star attractions of the International exhibitions, his displays always drawing an admiring crowd. In 1855, the spectators marveled at ‘bleating goats, monkeys that play the violin, all the while contorting their cheeks and lips, a rabbit that rubs its mustache with the greatest composure. The jury of this Exhibition particularly appreciated the natural movements of the life-size animal automata, and praised the talent of Théroude in applying his mechanical skill to toys’ making. It is worth mentioning that along with large complicated automata, which were expensive, Theroude offered a selection of spring-activated mechanical toys that were much simpler and within the reach of modest budgets.
At the London Exhibition of 1862, Theroude an organ embellished by a scene with automata. The jury noted that display of Monsieur Theroude showed not only incontestable superiority, but also real progress over what he had done previously. Perfection of his automata consisted in the imitation of nature. Previously, the mechanisms were placed inside the base or pedestal that spoiled the illusion. Theroude managed to find the possibility of placing the mechanism inside the automaton body. Even at the height of his success, Theroude was never content with what he had achieved, but always sought to improve his creations. At each Exhibition, he strove far a display more spectacular than the previous.
After unprecedented successes in the 1850s and 1860s, the firm of A. Theroude gradually falls into decline. The defeat of France in the war with Prussia and the Revolution of 1871 lead to another major economic crisis. In the early 1870s, Theroude reduced production and stopped making luxury automata, and in January 1878, he was declared bankrupt again. This time A. Theroude failed to save the company. The complete inventory of the workshop has been preserved. It featured more than 95 different models of automata, without mentioning their endless variations, and covers 36 pages. More than 20 unique patents recorded in the name of Theroude. The Inventory also provides information about Theroude suppliers.
After the process of bankruptcy, Theroude lived at 187 Rue de Temple for a time. He died on February 25, 1883, on his 76th birthday, in the Paris suburb. At the end of the 1870s, Alexandre Theroude nephew Adolphe Theroude set up his own automaton company, in which he was assisted by his sin Emile. In 1885, the firm of Theroude and son was advertising mechanical toys and automata for museum and displays.
Adolphe Theroude died on 10 March 1892, apparently quite poor. His son Emil Theroude continued to run the firm for several years. He sold the company in 1897. This ends the story of the famous automata maker and his descendants.
Bailly C. Automata. The Golden Age. 1848-1914. London: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd. First published in 1987. P. 27-39