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”)



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 German Psh Mystery Antique Doll Kestner Simon & Halbig Type Antique Nice Bebe Jumeau Closed Mouth T. 8 - 18,90 Inches Perfect ConditionRare Antique Character K & R Kammer Reinhardt 114 Gretchen Doll Bleuette FriendAntique Bisque Doll Simon & Halbig 11 1/2 Mama Papa BodyRare Antique 137 Belton Bru Face Sonneberg Type Closed Mouth German French DollFrench Bisque Bebe Poupee Doll Or Early Simon & Halbig Mignonette 8" Rare C1880Antique Bisque Doll Armand Marseille Germany Baby Betty Lot 3 Antique German Miniature Doll House Dolls In Original Foreign Ethnic DressAntique Kestner 18" Bisque Doll 167 Crier Compo Body Wonderful Antique ClothesAntique #4 French Bisque Head Doll - All Proceeds Pancreatic Cancer Purple StridRare Hairstyle Antique China Head Doll W/ Antique Lace Dress 12" Antique French All Original Fashion Fg Francois Gaultier Fisherwoman Doll Rare Antique German Or French Parian Belton Type Lady Fashion Doll Antique Bisque Doll Belton Cabinet Size 12" Germany7" Antique All Bisque Doll Wrestler Type #44-17 Gebruder Kuhnlenz Square Teeth Small Antique Bisque Head Doll 700 7/0Rare Large Antique China Type Parian Lady Doll W/ Decorative Shoulder Plate Antique German Bisque China Head DollBig Doll! Antique Simon & Halbig 90 Bisque Germany 34"Tall 19" Sfbj 60 / 3 Paris Jointed Bisque Doll With LabelKestner 185 German Bisque Head Character Doll Rare 11" Antique W Molded SmileAntique Asian/oriental *bisque Doll Head #220* By Bahr & ProschildAntique Bisque Doll Cm Bergmann Ii Germany Pretty Pink Dress!16 Delightful Black Nippon Japanese Bisque Head Antique Doll W Glass Eyes ~wow~J. D. Kestner Toddler Doll, Mold 245 , 19in. Perfect Bisque Antique Large Nice Bebe Jumeau Open Mouth Size 10 (22,83 Inches)2014 Ufdc Antique Reproduction All Bisque 6" Darlene Lane Bluebonnet DollLenci!!!!! 17"pouty School Boy 300seriesc1930s..all Original Clothes!!!! Kammer & Reinhardt Bisque Doll Brown Complexion7 1/4 Inch German Bisque Head Cutie!Simon & Halbig Oriental Child , Mold 1329 , 15 In. Tall Outstanding Lovely Antique Dress For A Bisque French Or German DollAntique Original Dress Gown For French Fashion Doll, As Is, C.187031" Simon Halbig 94913" German Bisque Doll On Composition BodyBeautiful Victorian Lady Dress For Antique French Fashion Poupee Doll Antique German All Bisque Miniature 4.5" Doll In Candy Container Cardboard TrunkGebruder Heubach German Bisque Head Character Boy Doll 6688 3/0 Antique 11.5"Rare Antique German Recknagel Character Doll Kestner Simon Halbig Type Antique Original Simon Halbig Black 1o09 Wearing Pink Dress 16''Gorgeous Jumeau Portrait DollAntique German Bisque Character Doll Kestner #143 Made In Germany 13" NrAdorable!!!!! 15"antique Bisque Head Kestner Baby 211 Jdk... 23" Bisque Head Walking Doll With Flirty Eyes S.f.b.j.Antique Bebe Jumeau24" (60 Cm) Antique French Bisque Bebe Doll By Sfbj With Pull Crier Strings Antique All Bisque German Heubach Doll 8 1/2" With Winter Outfit27 Inch Kestner 154 1415" "french Bru Style" Belton Antique French Or German Fashion Doll Closed Mouth~ Sweet Face!! Antique 352 Am 19" Character Toddler Doll ... As Found ~Antique Bisque Doll Heubach Koppelsdorf 30 Nice Wig!Antique Bisque Doll Schoenau & Hoffmeister 1909Exquisite A/o Swivel Head 19" Jumeau French Fashion Poupee W/marked Body Lr Antique German Heubach Little Girl With A Book Piano Baby Doll Bisque FigurineAntique Bisque Doll Kestner Original Marked Kid Leather Body 154 DepAntique 19th Century Miniature Madison Doll China Head, Bisque Limbs, Cloth Body26" German Bisque Shoulder Head On Leather Body S 12 H 1010Antique German Bisque Head Doll As IsAntique Victorian Trunk W/ German Dollhouse Dolls &victorian Xmas Parlor Scene!!Antique Huge Chunky 32" German Bisque 1894 Am 14 Dep Doll Sleepy Eyes Mohair Wig