Phalibois, Jean Marie


Jean Marie Phalibois was born on 29 October 1835 in Paris. Since 1863, he had been listed in city directories as a cardboard box factory worker. He lived at No. 151 in the Rue du Temple together with the seamstress and modiste "Madame Phalibois" - presumably his mother or his wife. The firm of Borel and Taren, which produced animated pictures, occupied the same address. In 1871, Jean Marie Phalibois moved to The Marais ("the marsh"), the heart of Paris's mechanical toy industry, which included the automata businesses of Gustave Vichy, Leopold Lambert, Jean Roullet and Ernest Decamp, and opened his workshop and shop at 62 rue Charlo. In 1874, he moved to No.22 in the same street. There the firm of Jean Marie Phalibois reached the peak of its activity and became one of the key manufacturers of automata in France in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Jean Marie Phalibois specialized in creating mechanical or animated pictures and scenes, particularly fashionable in that period. The report of a journalist who visited the third Paris World's Fair (Exposition Universelle) in 1878 gives an idea of this unique form of mechanics. In his review, he pays particular attention "Conversation on the Roof" by Jean Marie Phalibois, a mechanical scene that was very popular with visitors: "... Here is a night scene on the roof. Cats walk on the tiles, chimneystacks turn. A student in the attic sings a serenade to a young lady trying to please her. At the same time, a Spaniard in national costume, with a guitar behind his back, climbs up a rope to get to the young lady. The noise made by the cats, the wind and the young lovers wakes up the poor old man, who sticks his head out of his attic window and casts disgruntled glances left and right".

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

Soon after his participation in the Exposition Universelle of 1878, while continuing to produce mechanical paintings and "musical fantasies" on a large scale, Phalibois created the first automata – several papier-mache figures equipped with musical mechanism and the mechanism that set the figure in motion. Between 1884 and 1888, he produced automata in full human size, a rarity among Parisian manufacturers of the time.

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 on 23 January the same year, the firm and all its assets passed to Henry. Seven years later, on October 4, 1900. J.M. Phalibois died.

In the 1890s, under the direction of H. 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. All his assets: inventory, stocks of parts as well as completed automata were sold to a competitor, Gaston Dekamp, who headed the firm of Roullet & Dekamp. This firm continued to build the automatas developed by Phalibois and enriched its own products with elements of automata by Phalibois.

In 1995, after one hundred years of history, Roullet & Decamp decided to close down. Its automata, including those made by Phalibois, became the basis of the Le musée de l'Automate Soulac-sur-Mer, Gironde and Museum of Window-Actors in Falaise, Normandy. Today the works by Phalibois are particularly rare and, in addition to these two unique French museums, they can be seen in the museum Collection. All sides of Jean Marie and Henry Phalibois creative work are represented in the museum Collection repository: mechanical singing birds, mechanical scenes and pictures, separate automata and groups of them, as well as the famous "Whistler".