Posted in Dolls

by Ruby Lane

The costume of a jester and his bauble as painted by Philippe Mercier (1689 –1760) entitled Jeune garçon en costume de folie. 

The origin of the Marotte is deeply rooted in the props used by entertainers of the medieval period. Court jesters employed the use of their fool’s bauble, usually in the form of a comic or grotesque head on a stick, adorned with ribbons and bells to add additional whimsy to their cavorting. These early simple forms became more elaborate over time. Jesters would often have the wooden heads for their Jester-sticks made in their own likeness to act as an alter-ego. 

The world of puppetry adopted the jester-stick into a type of rod-puppet. Alexis Robert Philpott in his 1969 Dictionary of Puppetry defines a Marotte as “Originally the medieval fool’s stick or sceptre, a short rod topped with a small head…. The heads are generally fixed.” Calling them “Stiff, but charming puppets good for dancing choruses.” In puppetry the marotte developed to sometimes include moveable parts such as arms, mouths, etc. to increase the puppet’s animation. Similarly designed puppets were used by many world cultures.

The Commedia dell’arte of the 16th to 18th centuries included a character known as Polichinelle. It is hard to say if the look of Polichinelle was inspired by the fool’s scepter or if the fool’s scepter was changed over time to resemble the character of  Polichinelle, but  by the 18th and 19th centuries  the look of this character was firmly planted in the public consciousness. The character influenced the designs used for Punch and Judy puppets, pantins (articulated paperdolls) and for marottes.
Photo of a 20″ marotte courtesy of Morphy Auctions.

By the 18th and 19th centuries the marotte had also become a musical amusement for adults and children. Early 19th century operas and ballets included characters which carried marottes. The ribbon and bell decorations gave way to the addition of a musical movement which played as the head was whirled around on its handle. German doll researchers Jurgen and Marrianne Cieslik reported that marottes, referred to as “party fancies,” became a popular accessory of the period in Germany, France and Italy with women carrying them at masked balls and as part of their carnival attire. The marotte was also sold as a child’s toy during this period with many manufacturers and retail catalogs including them among their offerings. The majority of French and German made marottes sought by collectors of antique dolls and toys were made between the 1860s and the mid-1910s.

 Many 18th and 19th century engravings of ballet and opera stars show them in character with marottes as part of their costumes. Shown here (L to R) a print by François Joullain (1697-1778) entitled Habit de Folie, ballet dancer Monsieur Jean Balon, 1676 – 1739, ballerina Mademoiselle Noblet ca. 1833.
A Polish cabinet card (L) and the ca. 1890 painting Bedtime by Paul Peel (R) both show the marotte as a child’s plaything.

In France makers which advertised marottes included:

A. Couturier
Masion Dehais
Doléac et Cie
Ph. Fauré
Hortier, Lindière & Lombart 
Blanche Pannier
Eugene Pavoux
Frederic Petite (patented one that induced a pivot mechanism and a crier)
Rabery et Delphieu

In Germany marottes (called marotten or schwenkelpuppen) were advertised by Sonneberg and Schalkau area companies such as:

Robert Carl Arm
Fritz Dressel
Adolf Grurling
Richard Metzler Jr.
Pjlipp Samhammer
Franz Schmidt
Adolf Zinner
Gottlieb Zinner & Sohn

During the decades of their popularity the marotte evolved from the early wooden or paper-mache heads, to those using bisque or celluloid heads. Many companies that made marottes bought heads from the large manufacturers of the day. Examples can be found with heads by Etienne Denamur, Armand Marseille, Limbach, Schoenau & Hoffmeister, Francois Gaultier, and Franz Schmidt, to name only a few.

French marottes used heads by a variety of makers; on left is an example with a head by Francois Gaultier, the head on the right is incised Paris.
Many German companies made marottes such as these examples. Photos courtesy of Rubylane shop A Touch of Class Antique Dolls.

Handles could be wood, ivory or metal and some variations included a whistle at the bottom of the handle.  A wide range of models, hitting price points from less expensive to quite costly, were available. Costumes included silk and cotton sateen fabrics with metallic thread, lace, ribbon, and bell decoration. The musical mechanisms on the more expensive models even played 2 different tunes.

Marottes came in a wide range of sizes and price points. Photo courtesy of Skinner auctions.
The Au Printemps Etrennes catalog of 1890 (L) included a marotte with bisque head. Photo courtesy of Rubylane shop Jean-Marc Calvo. By the 1912 Sears catalog (R) the heyday of the marotte was passing. Although the general form is recognizable, these offerings had celluloid heads and the musical component had been replaced with squeakers or rattles.

For the 21st century collector these charming Follys make wonderful props for our doll displays and many artisans and doll-making enthusiasts enjoy making modern versions of these toys, allowing the marotte to continue to bring a smile to our faces.

Even a modern artist-made dollhouse-scale doll enjoys playing with her own marotte!


Jurgen and Marianne Cieslik German Doll Encyclopedia. Cumberland: Hobby House Press, 1985

Jurgen and Marianne Cieslik German Doll Studies. Annapolis: Gold Horse Publishing, 1999

Dorothy S., Elizabeth A., Evelyn J. Coleman The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls Vol. I. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1968 

Alexis Robert Philpott dictionary of Puppetry. Boston: Plays, Inc., 1969
Francois & Danielle Theimer The Encyclopedia of French Dolls. Annapolis: Gold Horse Publishing, 2003

Author – Linda Edward

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