Certainly no story of early Lenci doll production is complete without taking into account the social and political factors at
play in the world at large, from the Great War, when in 1918, Madame Lenci experimented wih her first dolls in her
kitchen while her husband Enrico was at war, to the impact of Fascist movement in Italy, through the dynamics of the" Roaring
20's" and the Great Depression which almost closed down the factory, and later on when the factory was bombed during WW2,
destroying much of the building, including irreplaceable archive items.
According to Wikipedia, the name Balilla originates in the story of an Italian historial character, a brave Genoese youth called Giovan Battista Perasso, and his part in a local revolt of 1746 against the Habsburg forces that occupied the city of Genoa in the War of Succession. For his youth and revolutionary activity, Perasso became a symbol of the struggle of Italians for independence and unification. Italy's Fascists named after him the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB), a youth organization functioning between 1926 and 1937. If you have been following Lenci auctions on eBay, you may occasionally come accross a Lenci child doll referred to as the Balilla.
This doll is dressed in the uniform of the fascist youth movement, which was a reality in the lives of Italian school children
of the day. School books at the time, promoted fascist ideals and both boys and girls had a special uniform.
A child's school book printed in 1930 (Image2) shows a picture of a school boy on the cover dressed in the Balilla outfit, in the center pages of the
book are color pictures of Lenci dolls. The appearance of Lenci dolls in the book no doubt a reflection of the national pride in Italian culture and heritage that was being
promoted by the government in the educational system, together with the ideals and propaganda of the Fascist movement.
Some Lenci models are found wearing the typical uniform of the youth organization. A 300 series boy doll appears dressed in the uniform of the Balilla in the 1929 Lenci catalog with a detailed outfit including insignia and wearing the dark jacket and blue gray pants, and on his head, the
typical Fez with a tassel and pin.
Following are some examples of Lenci dolls and related items. For further reading on Lenci specifc history you can read a
well researched account of Lenci History from the earliest beginnings up to the present day in Nancy Lazenby's new book.
A while back I received an email from a reader with an interesting story with links to wartime Italy, which I will share with
you next time in Part II of this series.
2. Child's book "Per Le Vacanze " printed in 1930 (Private Collection)