Small sale barracks and New Year’s Eve in Paris

Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Fernand Martin’s toys were often sold by street vendors and vendors in market stalls on the Paris promenades at the end of the year at Christmas and New Years, but life was hard for these vendors and during the bad weather of that year, practically earned nothing. Read this newspaper article.

Magazine: La Fonde December 1901

Poor street vendors! how sadly they spent the Christmas night that had not turned out to be what they had been waiting for weeks. The long faces, the dull eyes, they watch the rain fall slowly on the asphalt of the sidewalks, driving away the few little walkers. He cries in my heart when it rains on the city, they could have repeated with “Verlaine” (a French poet). Sales were indeed not very fruitful, the day was desperately gloomy yesterday and the evening was hardly more lively. So much effort, energy, patience and ingenuity that these brave people put into this traditional sale for months.

Picture from the magazine L’illustration Noël 27-Dec. 1902 (Magazine in my collection)

The toy competition organized by Mr Lépine had given the small manufacturers some hope; the public seemed to be interested in these humble inventors, and there was every reason to think that Christmas Eve would be a happy one, bringing a little joy and well-being to the households of the cheap-clothed toymakers. The more than gloomy weather has spoiled all these beautiful hopes, and we must hear the grievances of these poor devils who have made great sacrifices of themselves to promote these people. Small barracks, ugly and clumsy, but part of the old Parisian traditions. “But you managed to make some profit the day before yesterday,” I said to a tall, pale woman, who cast a sad look at the gaudy colored dolls lined up on the edge of her sales bench. “No ma’am. Although the weather was beautiful, and a really big crowd on the boulevard earlier in the evening, it was not the day of shopping. – What do you mean? – I mean by this: The custom is that on Christmas Eve we buy our presents, the day before we will only look, we make our choice, we compare the prices of the toys, but then don’t buy it yet. And lady, the hour of the sale may have come, when the weather is as bad as tonight, you understand that customers are in no rush to visit our stores. “Oh shit, we always think we’re going to make some money and instead we go home with more debt.” It is very unfortunate that instead of this ugly sad rain we did not have a nice evening, cold but very dry. Everyone would have benefited from it: the rich in gaiety, the poor in large pennies. Perhaps the stalls on New Year’s Day had never been so stocked with new and varied trinkets. Several toys had been exhibited in previous toy competitions. But then most were just more or less rough-edged models, here they are fresh and finished in their beautiful bright colors. It is the Santos-Dumont that doubles the platforms of the Eiffel Tower, it is the fighting

Courtesy Bertoia Auctionhous

Boer ( Le vaillant Boer Martin number 174-176 ? ) in question, who is so ingenious in its simplicity, the latest locomotive,

Courtesy Toymuseum in Soltau Germany

the automatic city police, ( Les agents Martin number 178).
It is the Englishman fighting an invisible enemy

Courtesy Bertoia Auctionhous

(Le Gentleman Khaki Martin number 175)
That still others must be mentioned among the mechanical toys. The few shoppers are told what’s new, they ask about the toys seen in the competition; For example, last night an old lady insisted that a merchant tell her where “Le Singe a la marmite” the monkey in the pot, by Frémiet, was sold.

Source Le Figaro 24 November 1901

—”It’s for my grandson,” she said, “he will enjoy it very much.”  

— In vain, the shopkeeper offered her the most recent creations of articulated toys. The grandmother persisted. – No, no, it’s “the monkey in the pot” I want, I promised to bring it… “But I tell you I don’t have it,” replied the merchant angrily. Do you know that in order to produce this toy well it would have to be sold very dearly and then not for 2 fr. 95 which we could ask for like for all these dolls. And then, I don’t really want to say it, but this famous monkey is not that beautiful and to amuse children, there is still nothing like these old dolls… I had to smile at this naive joke which failed to convince the grandmother, for I saw her resume her pilgrimage in the rain past the little huts, dimly lit by the dim lights and quivering from the smoky oil lamps. I imitate her and continue my traditional visit to these varied displays, some of which are arranged with taste. Among the toys I find old acquaintances:

My collection

the goose that wobbles when he nods his head, ( L’oie Martin number 169)

My collection

the laundress who puts her arms in her bathtub,(La Blanchisseuse Martin number 171)

Courtesy Toymuseum in Soltau Germany

the mower that rhythmically shakes its small scythe (le Faucheur Martin number 170)

Street vendors who can’t afford to “stand on the boardwalk” send swarms of articulate beasts running down the muddy sidewalks: ladybugs, lizards, frogs, cockchafers, seals, it’s as if someone just knocked over Noah’s ark. There’s something for everyone, for all budgets, from the modest two-cent piece to the two-franc piece. Huddled under the porches or shrunk behind the canopies of the shops, the poor devils make a terrible noise to attract the attention of buyers, while looking out for the city police, the “police” as they call them in their own picturesque language. — Ask for the Christmas Angel — The latest novelty of the year. “What doesn’t this Christmas present have?” It’s deafening. And the raging wind violently shakes the huts and blows an icy rain in the faces of the few passers-by. Soon the boulevards are deserted and gloomy. The cafe terraces are empty and it is raining. It’s New Year’s Eve. Groups of night owls trying to be merry still roam as they sing choruses of café music, and as the gusts double their violence, a few revelers are still eating their dinner on New Year’s Eve. – We’re not eating now, I had to say to an old lady yesterday, we were bickering. “Oh! I should be ashamed, she moaned, if, despite my age, I had a stomach as weak as the one my daughter’s friends complain about. And in this connection I remembered the funny song “New Year’s Eve in two parts”, from Charles Monselet, – ( a French journalist, novelist, poet and playwright, nicknamed “the king of the gastronomes”) – But it doesn’t matter, it took hard vices to sustain this earthly lavishness.


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