When bisque dolls began appearing in France during the 1850s, their matte finish offered a trendy, realistic alternative to the glossy china dolls popular at the time. Though both were made from porcelain, collectors refer to unglazed tinted dolls as bisque and shiny glazed dolls as china, while the term porcelain is often reserved for contemporary dolls.

Most bisque dolls were manufactured in France or the Thuringia region of Germany, an area famous for its natural clay deposits. Successful German firms like Kämmer & Reinhardt, Kestner, Heubach Koppelsdorf, and Simon & Halbig competed with French producers such as Bru Jne, Jumeau, Huret, and Steiner.

Early bisque doll heads were pressed into molds by hand, but eventually, this thick clay paste was improved with a thinner, pourable slip that resulted in a smoother surface texture and more intricate detailing. Most items had a mold number marked into the interior portion of the head, and sometimes a company name was stamped on the head or chest, too.

Bisque dolls were generally fired once, then painted to create skin tones and facial features, and finally fired again. These dolls are sometimes referred to as “blonde bisque” as they were typically produced with a light blonde shade of molded hair. However, a smaller segment of bisque products, called Parian dolls, were made from unpainted white porcelain. The first Parian mixture was developed in the late 1850s, possibly by John Mountford of the Copeland & Garrett company (later known as Spode).

Also called stone china, statuary porcelain, or carrara, Parian became fashionable for its similarity to expensive white marble: When finished, Parian dolls have a silky smooth surface and are semi-translucent. Most Parian doll heads were manufactured in Germany, and their porcelain parts were mounted onto cotton or leather bodies filled with fabric and sawdust. These expensive dolls were often purchased to decorate adult drawing rooms, rather than as playthings for children.

Though Parian dolls had a brief moment of success alongside tinted bisque, their popularity declined in the 1880s. Meanwhile, the market for skin-toned bisque dolls continued to boom, in part because of their heightened realism.

Bisque figures fall into three types—adult fashion dolls, bébé or baby dolls, and character dolls, which imitated a certain costume or personality. The most common bisque dolls f...

The first bisque dolls came with molded hair, eyes, and mouths, but eventually incorporated glass eyes that opened and closed, complex wigs made from human or animal hair, and even inset teeth. While some bisque heads and limbs came already attached to a stuffed cloth body, often the finest porcelain parts were sold separately for home assembly. These ornate heads were made with small holes below the neckline so they could be hand sewn onto bodies made from fabric, leather, composition, or wood. On some Parian busts, the careful treatment of the shoulders and neckline suggests that these were actually packaged as decorative art objects to display in the home, for these details would have been obscured if a doll was fully assembled and clothed.

Originally, the most intricate heads were produced in Germany and shipped for sale in France and the United States, though toward the end of the 19th century, French companies began manufacturing their own detailed heads to match their dolls’ ornate accessories. Many of the most innovative design advancements also occurred in France, like Ainé Blampoix’s patent for applying glass eyes or Mlle Huret’s swivel neck that made heads easy to tilt and turn.

Besides their delicate facial features, doll heads were lavished with decorative touches, including miniature flowers, combs, feathers, lace, and jewels. In keeping with prevailing trends of the Victorian era, the most exquisite bisque dolls came with elaborately styled wigs of real hair pinned to a cork pate, or pierced ears with tiny glass earrings. Other dolls were made with carefully painted feet, sometimes covered in patterned stockings or trendy leather boots.

In Paris, the Passage Choiseul became the locus of doll fashion, where milliners, wig-makers, corset and dress designers, and cobblers all produced exquisitely detailed accoutrements. Known as “fashion dolls” or “Parisiennes,” the bisque dolls assembled here wore elaborate outfits mirroring current trends. These dolls also acted as miniature mannequins, which could be exported abroad so that affluent women could keep abreast of clothing styles in France.

Despite the prevailing belief that fashion dolls were only for adult women, the introduction of doll advertising and display stands aimed directly at children suggests that many of these high-priced bisque dolls were actually meant for kids, albeit very wealthy ones.

In the late 19th century, the first significant numbers of male dolls were also made with bisque. These included the small, six-inch versions used as butlers in doll houses, but also larger varieties imitating elegantly dressed gentlemen in fanciful foreign costumes. Because these figures typically utilized the same molds and patterns as female dolls, it was easier to disguise them as young boys rather than men, whose rounded faces more closely resembled a female doll.

In the early 20th century, bisque was gradually replaced by a variety of other materials, like composition and plastic, as the baby-doll fad dominated the market. During the 1970s and '80s, a revival of interest in classic bisque designs inspired many expensive reproductions aimed at adult doll collectors. Today, typically the most desirable antique bisque dolls are the early products of reputable French companies like Jumeau, Bru, and Huret, or German-made character dolls.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Dollreference.com

Dollreference.com

This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare All Bisque Antique German Kestner Wrestler Doll Closed Mouth Pink BootsRare Antique German 109 Simon Halbig Antique Doll W/ French Look Antique 26" French Bisque Head #11 Doll Bebe Jumeau A.c.d.g Blue Eyes No Reserve18" TetejumeauGorgeous Antique Kestner #150 Blue Sleep Eyes Kestner Label 7" All Bisque Doll.22" Jules N. Steiner, Figure A Bébé Le Parisien,Rare 26" Beautiful Antique Doll Marked #1000 - Paperweight Eyes - French?Antique 29" French Bisque Head Doll Bebe Jumeau Diplome D'honneur 13 No ReserveMarvelous Antique Doll Silk Dress , German Or French Antique Bebe DollBeautiful Rare Size 1 Antique Leather French Jumeau Bru Doll Shoes Or KestnerAntique 22" Simon & Halbig Bisque Socket Head Doll #1078 Mb2Antique German All Bisque Kestner 111 Doll Googly Googlie Blue Glass Sleep EyesAntique 24" Koenig & Wernicke Bisque Socket Head Character Baby Doll #98 Ma44~ Gorgeous!!! Antique 24" 1079 S&h Child Doll In Antique Clothing & H.h Wig ~ Antique Miniature Bisque Antique German? French? Miniature Dollhouse Dolls Antique French Francois Gaultier Fashion Lady Head And Shoulder Plate Marked 3Antique Vintage German Kestner Bisque Head Doll E 9 Made In Germany RareRare Antique German # 126 Black Bisque Doll Kammer Reinhardt Simon & Halbig 10"Fabulous Ant French Busque Doll.. Unis France..21".. E(r In A Circle) T... Antique Kestner 15 Doll, Bisque Head, Composition Body, Pouty Mouth, W/ CostumeRare Gebruder Heubach 8244 Antique Character Sailor German Doll Bleuette FriendAntique Original Silk Gown With Metallic Braid For Doll About 26-27" Tall24" Beauty !!! Rare Antique German Bisque Flirty Eyed Kley And Hahn Doll Wonderful Antique Bebe Doll Hat, German Or French Antique Doll, Small Doll 12" Closed Mouth Gebruder Kuhnlenz (s & H 949 Lookalike)4 3/4" Mignonette Tiny Antique All Bisque Doll Germany Doll Kestner? Glass EyesAntique Kestner 32 Inch 171 German Bisque DollAntique Bisque DollMarvelous Antique Doll Fashion Outfit, Cotton Antique Germany Handwerck Doll Head And Body, 19"15" Willem DehlerSo Rare Antique 1914 Jdk Black Baby Hilda #245 Doll Kestner Bisque Excellent 16"Antique 29" French Bisque Head Doll Bebe Jumeau Diplome D'honneur 13 No ReserveAntique 30" C.m. Bergmann / Simon & Halbig Bisque Socket Head Doll Mb3Wig, Human Hair, Light Brown, Long Curls For French Doll, Size 12.5 To 13Big And Rare 33” Beautiful Bebe Tete Jumeau Size 15 French Bisque Doll16 1/2 Kammer Reinhardt 116a ToddlerAntique Armand Marseille Doll-germany-huge! Moving Eyes-a.14 M. Duchess-31 Inch-15" Jutta Toddler By Cuno Otto Dressel22” Antique Doll Simon & Halbig Flirty Child 1039 Walk –cry For The French TradeAntique French Original Woolen Coat For French Or German Doll 17-18" (43-45 Cm)~ Beautiful Face!!! Antique #214 Jdk Child Doll Stamped Body..as Found ~Antique Pre 1940's German Miniature Jointed Porcelain Doll Figurines Beautiful Antique German Bisque Head Victorian 18" Doll Original Highland Dress~ Cute!!! Antique All Bisque Almost 5" Doll ... As Is ~Antique Porcelain Bisque Germany Demalcol Doll 5/0Antique French Original Pique Cape For French Or German Doll 17-19" (43-48 Cm)Old Paris Sfbj Doll Bisque Head & Composition Body 12 Inches Sailor Suit 60 8/0Rare Antique 21" Revalo Doll By Gebruder Ohlhaver Factory Germany 1922Lovely Antique Bisque Doll... German Armand Marseille.. 23 1/2"..13" Limbach BoyAntique Bisque Doll Head~simon & Halbig~1250 Dep 6~brown Glass Eyes~pierced EarsAntique Vintage Bisque String Jointed Sleepy Eye German Doll. Marked 357.12.Large Artist Reproduction Of Paris France French A T Thullier Doll Antique Antique German Doll Simon & Halbig 719 DepBig & Precious Kley & Hahn 167 Character Antique Bisque Doll With Big Blue Eyes!Antique Vintage German Kestner ? Doll Body Made In Germany Parts Or RepairBeautiful! 19" Antique German Bisque China Doll~glass Eyes~unusual Molded HairAntique 21" German Heinrich Handwerck Doll Bisque Head "109 7 1/2 H I"comp BodyAntique French Original Cotton Pinafore Dress And Blouse For Doll About 26-27"