Mariquita Perez

I just looked up “Mariquita Perez” on Wikipedia and had the Spanish site google-translated, so while I´m at it, here´s the translated text, slightly edited to convert automatic translation into readable textt:

Mariquita Perez is a Spanish doll designed by Leonor Coello de Portugal in 1938. It was the most famous doll of the late forties and fifties, although its production continued until 1976. It is considered the best doll ever manufactured in Spain and is among the best in Europe of its day for his being handmade, the quality of materials used and the richness of costumes and accessories. It  was also a very successful in other countries such as  Portugal, Argentina, where it was also produced, and in Venezuela and Cuba, where it was known as the “Queen of Cuba”.


Leonor Coello,  daughter of the Count of Portugal, was a noble lady who lived in Madrid´s San Sebastian during the Spanish Civil War and was inspired by her two year old daughter, Leonor de Gongora, to create a doll. Leonor used to take her daughter on strolls to the Playa de la Concha (San Sebastian), on which the little girl carried a German porcelain doll that she had won in one of the frequent charitable raffles that were held to raise funds for the front. This doll, dressed like its small owner, raised interest and surprise among the swimmers and bystanders. The success was such that in their tours of the beach,  people stood everywhere to see the blue-eyed blonde  girl with her doll who wore the same dress.  Leonor Coello herself drew, cut and sewed the suits for both.

Leonor was an entrepreneur with great business spirit, and she quickly had the idea to turn her child into a model that lent its image to a new doll,  a special one, unlike any other, a doll dressed exactly like girls were at the time. Lack of capital prevented her from starting a business, so she consulted her closest friends for help to cover the project until she finally found the capitalist partner in her former school mate at Sacred Heart, Maria del Pilar of Fagalde Luca de Tena, who provided the starting  money to found the company that was to become Mariquita Perez SA. While the business was now established and had the necessary capital, what still remained to be done was to find the name, invent a biography and more importantly, design and manufacture the doll itself.

Leonor wanted a Spanish household name for his creation, so she did not hesitate to consult friends and colleagues of her husband’s among which were quite a few intellectuals and artists such as Manuel de Gongora, writer and editor of the magazine Black and White, intellectuals size of Luis Escobar, playwright and theater director, Jacinto Guerrero, musician and author of operettas, Felipe Sassone, novelist and diplomat, Eugenio d’Ors, philosopher and scholar and Victor de la Serna, Journalist. Leonor explained that the doll should have its own personality, history, a catchy name and a family.  Astonished to hear the unusual request, these men with many years of study and erudition tried to think up names for a doll. Finally, they came up with the very popular Spanish name Maria, but in the end they settled on the diminutive Mariquita. For the surname, they chose Perez because it was the most common and widespread in Spain, which was consistent with the familiarity sought.

The name “Mariquita Perez” has its German counterpart in “Lieschen Mueller”, or the English “Jenny Jones” or “Mary Smith”.

After the civil war, Leonor, together with  her business partner and her daughter, travelled to Onil (Alicante), the workshop of one of the most prestigious toy makers, the craftsman Santiago Molina, to commission the manufacture of a thousand dolls. The two women insisted that they should look exactly like the daughter of Eleanor. The craftsman took the first steps and started to work on the sculpt.

 The first thousand dolls were offered in November 1940 at a price of 85 pesetas. They were a luxury item,  accessible only to the wealthy, at a time where the average monthly wages did not reach the $ 1.50 and Spain was going through a period of economic hardship, famine and autarky.

Social Phenomenon: 40s and 50s

The opening party of the first Mariquita Perez store, where the doll was introduced, was held on 11 November 1940 in a small shop located on the first floor and without a window, on the Avenida del Generalissimo number 12 Current Paseo de la Castellana, becoming a huge social event in post-war Madrid.

The success of Mariquita Perez was so big that, six years later, the space was too small and the shop moved to the Calle Serrano number 8, where an artistic showcase would be exhibited to the delight of children and adults, in which the dolls with their rich costumes were changed with each season, becoming a true reflection of the prevailing fashion at any time for decades.

Shortly thereafter, as the business grew again, the company headquarters moved into a three-story house on the street Nunez de Balboa 52, Madrid, where the doll-making workshop and garment manufacturing plant was located in the lower floors while the upper floor had a clothing store for girls, so they could dress like their dolls. At that time the company already had 25 employees: designers, cutters, seamstresses, and so on.  To this we must add a laundress and five workers who were fully devoted more fully to the doll costumes. It must have been very similar to the American Girls Stores today.

The success did not stop with the first store in Madrid, Leonor traveled throughout the provinces of Spain in a van decorated with red and white stripes driven by a chauffeur.  They visited the major cities and investigated which were suitable as locations for boutiques, to then offer selected doll store owners the ability to sell the exclusive doll. For the privilege, the store had to offer a good selection, wrapping paper in red and white stripes and the Mariquita sign was placed at the most prominent spot of the storefront. The franchise quickly reached 40 stores in as many provinces.  Other stores followed in Dallas, Chicago and Colombia, achieving significant profits.

Another initiative of Leonor was to conduct children´s parades with girls wearing the same clothes as their dolls. Many girls were invited, among them was Marisol, the Spanish child star (*1948) who wore Mariquita Perez dresses made especially for her in two of her films. Fashion shows were repeated in some Spanish provinces, culminating in a Mariquita Perez collection offered at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.  These parades were held for charitable purposes.

The first Mariquita model, made in 1940, was made of papier mache, both head and body, based on a mixture of plaster, talcum powder and adhesive, which, once dry, was given shape with sandpaper. It had a natural hair wig, glass eyes fixed with painted eyebrows and upper lash line and a closed mouth. As for clothing, she was wearing a red and white striped vichy dress,  two hair ties in the same fabric, slippers and underwear, this set was called My Apron. The red and white stripes became an emblem of the house, from the boxes being sold to the interior of the trunks where girls kept the doll and her wardrobe.

Between 1941 and 1942 new models hit the market, still manufactured in Onil by Santiago Molina, with some changes such as  sleeping eyes, eyebrows and lower lashes painted by line, while the upper lashes were applied, an open mouthwhich showed the two front teeth. At this time there also appeared walkers and jointed dolls. The doll already cost 110 pesetas in 1942.

The wardrobe of the doll was expanded with new dresses, coats with matching gloves, socks, felt hats, leather shoes and underwear sets. Moreover this model of Mariquita Perez had two interchangeable wigs, one with short hair and a slightly longer.

Mariquita soon became well-known through stories and radio: her father, José Antonio Pérez de la Escalera, was an Andalusian military man, and her mother, Basque, named Marta Carvajal y Goicoechea. She studied at the College of The Sacred Heart of Madrid, next to her friend Mariví, their stories were collected in the Adventures of Mariquita Perez, written by Juan Cuentista (Google translated this as “John Storyteller”. Nice pen name.)

 Leonor Coello decided to create siblings for Mariquita Perez. She got a baby brother named Juanín Perez. The name came spontaneously, was attractive because it was popular, and the materials used in manufacture should be the same as those of the sister. Baby Juanin first appeared in 1941 at a price of 77 pesetas with an initial run of over a thousand.  He had eyes that did not move, painted hair and eyelashes. His costume, which covered all the needs of a newborn, was very elaborate, with embroidery of all kinds: cross stitch, scallops, green beans, lace, entrees, etc.  The baby soon got a mechanism to make it cry and on the next run, sleep eyes.  Later there was  a  mechanic baby that sold for 300 pesetas.

Later came other models: the luxury Juanín, eight months old with curly hair and Juanín cadet, about eight years, which appeared in 1942, when Leonor changed her manufacturer and chose Florida. Juanin cadet wore knee shorts, shirt, tie, hat, coat of English cloth, leather gloves, vest, long woolen socks and brown leather shoes with rubber soles. His hair was razor cut parted on one side.  He shared the same mold as Mariquita Perez. Juanín also came to having a large wardrobe and just like his older sister provided an articulated version and a walker.

 In 1950 there was a new model called Juanín de acortar (Juanín shortening), a baby of eight months which had a mechanism to move arms and legs in certain models, flirty type acrylic eye with natural hair combed to a straight blond bowl.  Some had a closed fist while other versions had an open hand. Over the years the appearance of cadet Juanín was amended several times, but not as much as that of his sister. In 1953, he had stylized doll eyes made of glass fiber in place and in the sixties he appeared with blonde wig, fringe and more slender.

In 1943, Mariquita Perez, made in Madrid by Florido, changed again, her skin tone became darker to improve the quality of the paint bath to simulate the color of skin, called the duco. The blush of the cheeks was deeper and hair fashionably combed into  the bucletón: a loop at the front as a fringe, two horizontal, smaller, on both sides of the face and a larger one in the neck.  There are other more subtle changes such as the eyebrows drawn with airbrush.

 Over time the outfit was multiplying: chest, furniture, wallets, umbrellas, medals, purses, fans, camera, missal, school books with slate pencils, sunglasses, and even a fox terrier dog breed named Ole. Mariquita Perez’s life was a reflection of girls from wealthy families of the time, she attended a convent school, spent Sundays walking with their dogs in the parks of his city, in the summer traveled to the beach and mountains, and practiced throughout the year all kinds of sports: skiing, tennis, sailing., and developing hobbies. Besides academic training, she received a solid Catholic religious instruction, and instruction in the home so in the future she could take over the responsibilities that an adult would have to assume as a homemaker, wife and mother in the context of a upper-class Christian family.

In 1945 Mariquita Perez began to wear an exceptional collection of Spanish costumes with a wealth of details, quality fabrics and variety that makes them unique.

In 1946 the husband of Eleanor, for work reasons, had to go and live in Argentina so Eleanor and children accompanied him, staying in that country until mid-1949. Their own restless and enterprising character attempted to set up a Mariquita Perez franchise equal to the Spanish but it was quite impossible due to the cost, so they had to settle for a much smaller option in the materials, ceramic that caused the doll to be heavy, as well as in the wardrobe, with less care in the design, manufacture and quality. With a slightly higher stature and marked point on the back, she was different to the Spanish Mariquita, so Eleanor was never involved with the same enthusiasm and the result was not successful.

Meanwhile in Spain Mariquita Perez continued to flourish. During her absence, Leonor Robles, trusted in Emilio de la Cruz and Carmen Perez de Aragón, people of her confidence, to keep her informed on any issue, while Maria del Pilar was responsible for the company.

 In 1947 on the occasion of the visit to Madrid of Eva Duarte Peron, the Women’s Division would present her with a complete collection of dolls wearing traditional costumes from different regions of Spain, these were acquired in Mariquita Perez SA. Years later Mrs. Lodge , wife of the U.S. Ambassador in Spain, received a similar collection gifted by Caritas.

 The popularity of Mariquita, Juanin and their costumes Juanín continued until the closure of the company.

A smaller type of doll named Mariví was added, suited for European tourists visiting Spain  to take home as a souvenir in their suitcase.  The most important dress that was made for this model were the different costumes that excited foreigners. 

 The frantic demand for clothing and accessories was too much for the store on Nunez de Balboa, which lacked the cutting machines to make clothes in series, however Leonor always rejected mass production.  The entrepreneur sought convents and home seamstresses, where dresses for the doll were made. She prepared the work and cut the material before sending it to the convent of San Miguel or San Pascual de Madrid.  The nuns were especially careful when preparing the wardrobe of Mariquita Perez, that marked the prevailing fashion clothing until the sixties. This production’s success even led the company to seek help in women’s prisons.

Relations were not always so good between the two partners, Eleanor and Maria del Pilar, although production continued to increase, both decided to separate and terminate the business relationship. Maria del Pilar sold her share in the business to Leonor Coello, who retained all of Mariquita Perez SA, they said at the time that everything was due to a lack of understanding between the two.

 In 1953 there was a further change in the doll: a stylized body, eyes of artificial fibers, hair combed to the garçon, with short hair, the skin was pink and facial expression softened. From this stage, the dolls manufactured in the workshops of Balboa street had their number engraved on the back,  but not those by Florido Dolls. It is suspected that this measure was taken by the entrepreneur, after discovering that the manufacturer was marketing other Florido dolls of different sizes to Mariquita but with equal expression.

 The dolls made of the 40 and 50 are the most popular, but the unique costumes, made of the best fabrics and exquisite design and making, made the Mariquita doll unique and different from the competition until the end of its days in 1976.

Decline: late 60-1976

 The industrial development of Spain in the sixties also showed itself in the toy industry, and therefore in the manufacture of dolls, as competition became increasingly greater.

A new stage in Mariquita´s history began. In 1959 the company began manufacturing in hard plastic, with eyes that were endowed with a mechanism that allowed them to move from side to side (flirty eyes). The mouth was open, showing four teeth, her stature grew an inch and hands had sculpted fingers and nails.  That same year, a model with peach skin came out, made by a technique called flocaje, which aims to mimic the texture of human skin,  and while successful in other European countries, in Spain it was a failure. These three versions still retained the natural hair wig.

From 1965 Leonor Coello let her daughter Leonor and her son-in-law Gongora take over direction of the company. The daughter involved Asuncion Robles, an experienced employee who had been in the company for a long time, and  held his position of responsibility at the express wish of Eleanor until the end of the business .

In 1966 he released two models: the first with a plastic body and face of stiff celluloid and the second made entirely of hard plastic. The appearance of Mariquita and Juanín was modified again: the body was more stylized, waist narrower and hips wider, the facial features also changed: raised eyebrows were shaped, green and honey-colored eyes and lips parted and thinner. . The hair was made of synthetic fiber and inserted.

 Finally in 1970 the company began to manufacture the latest model, which by then was little different from other dolls of the time.  It was made of vinyl, with artificial fiber sleeping eyes, open mouth with thick lips and inserted and combed hair in a long blond hair or brown with red stripe on the side.

Despite all these changes in the materials used in its manufacture and in its appearance, one thing which always remained unquestioned was the exclusive and luxurious wardrobe with some unique designs and cutting-edge addition to detailed and exclusive accessories of equal quality.

The advent of new materials and production methods, the arrival of multinationals, competition, changes in tastes for children and especially the impact the stormy separation between Leonor the younger and her husband (because in the 1970s the husband was the administrator of the marital property, in accordance with the then current Civil Code, and he tried to prohibit Leonor entry to the company that her mother had devised): All these factors, including mismanagement of Leonor´s husband, contributed to a gradual decline that would cause the cessation of production in 1976.

New Mariquita Perez: 1998

The former owners of Mariquita Perez tried to resume business in vain. In 1994 a doll factory in Alicante  – under new owners who have no connection to Leonor and her family –  assumed the name “New Mariquita Pérez SL”. Located in the town of Onil, it began production of their new doll in 1998.

 The current Mariquita Perez is made using different materials, these are,  paper-mache,  porcelain and vinyl. . All three versions have a different appearance based on that of the dolls of the 40s and 50s. The eyes and eyelashes are synthetic in all three versions, the hair is natural. The new Mariquita Perez is about 48 centimeters tall. Moreover, the new doll also has some additions and an assortment of models inspired both  bythe 40s, 50s or 60s and by current designs. As for her brother, Juanín Perez, is only made of vinyl, both as Juanín and Juanín baby.

Mariquita Perez in the culture

Despite being a luxury item reserved for comparatively few, this icon child became a symbol of an era.  Until then, never had a toy aroused so much passion, nor had captivated so many fans of all ages. There were monthly publications with titles such as “Mariquita Perez, the doll that looks like a real girl”. With slogans like “Mariquita Perez, the doll that dresses like a girl” or “the doll that is dressed in truth,”  this social phenomenon reached all levels of society and marked a whole generation.

Although many could not afford the doll, somehow everyone had a part of it in the form of songs, radio programs where girls could participate, shop weekly chats at Nunez de Balboa or as a visual spectacle, as the store windows were genuine fashion magazines. Mariquita even had her own song, composed by Jacinto Guerrero, a musician and composer of operettas. Leonor was in charge of supervising the recording, select the singers, the trio Gurruchaga and finally, even participated in the chorus. This song was broadcast on radio and later heard in theaters during breaks Later, there was Los trajes de Mariquita Pérez , composed by Bermejo in 1955 and releasedincluded in an album released in 1959 by Youth Radio in Spain entitled Adventures of Mariquita Perez.

In other fields, including painting, the social influence of the doll continues to today, such as the watercolor by Manuel Domínguez “The doll Mariquita Pérez” (1992) or the stamp issued by the Spanish post in 2006 as part of a series of 8 stamps stickers called toys.

There were books and two theatre plays for children. Mariquita shared the life of stars, being owned by celebrities such as Eva Perón, Grace Kelly, who during a visit to Madrid in 1956, chose the doll and clothing to give away when her daughter Caroline was born, Gina Lollobrigida, Queen Fabiola of Belgium, etc.

The store windows were always exciting and colorful scenes, mirroring festivals and other events. At the dawn of the fifties, Leonor had the idea to mount windows including film scenes. She got the producer MGM to lend her the models to reproduce the scenes of Atlanta and The Twelve Oaks, with a Mariquita Perez wearing the same dress as Scarlet O’Hara. After verifying the positive audience response, Leonor embarked on the task of  ingeniously putting together scenes from the most popular movies of the moment for her store windows. For the film El Cid, producer Samuel Bronston ceded models..

At Christmas, Mariquita Perez paraded on a float that was part of the retinue of the Magi. All around her girls and dolls were dressed alike and were surrounded by the iconic red and white boxes. The business also licensed  the Mariquita brand for advertising to promote products such as Lux toilet soap or Coca Cola.

Reproduction Mini Mariquita.

For some of the most beautiful pictures of antique and modern Mariquitas imagineable, check out: