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 text...
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 featured a so-called "dolly face," with oversized eyes and a small, open mouth. Other bisque dolls were modeled after popular celebrities, with names like Queen Louise, Princess Beatrix, or Countess Dagmar, though they usually reflected common ideals of beauty rather than the distinct characteristics of these women.
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.
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What's It Worth: Ceramic baby head, Japanese porcelain tea setRichmond Times Dispatch, June 15th
The head looks like a doll part, but your photographs did not include enough details to confirm it. I could not see a way of attaching it to a body and clothing. France's doll manufacturing industry was mostly centered in Paris and produced detailed...Read more
Sew Simple by Terry KovelBuffalo News, June 14th
One way to celebrate Flag Day is to put a vintage doll with a flag in your window. An “Uncle Sam” bisque doll made about 1918 by Handwerck, a German company, sold at a 2012 Theriault's auction for $2,350. The doll was holding an American flag with 48 ...Read more
Collection Of Dolls On Display At History CenterJournal & Topics Newspapers Online, June 13th
“They want to share a beautiful doll with their community, see it preserved and enjoyed by more people than just their immediate family.” ..... “From the late 1800s and up, we have a tremendous amount of dolls with porcelain or bisque faces, hands and...Read more
Even tattered flags can fetch big bucks at auctionHeraldNet, June 13th
An "Uncle Sam" bisque doll made about 1918 by Handwerck, a German company, sold at a 2012 Theriault's auction for $2,350. The doll was holding an American flag with 48 stars on it. Q: In 1945 I received six place settings of English "fish eaters...Read more
No hangover, no problem: Plenty to do in Sin City without sinningLas Vegas Blog (blog), June 12th
The three-course prix fixe menu included a delicious lobster bisque, a surf & turf with a petite filet & a crab cake, & a dessert of small cups of chocolate mousse & berries & cream. » Envy the - Steakhouse at the - Renaissance Hotel. Just off the...Read more
The Scene at Auction Napa Valley 2013Eater SF, June 4th
A French transplant recently married to industry scion Gina Gallo, Boisset even had his own bobblehead doll on display, as if to say "Why so serious, wine business?" · PASTELS FOOD FLAIR: Auction chair Shannon Staglin explained that planners...Read more
Alexandra and Sidney Sheldon's exceptional collection of dolls up for auction ...Art Daily, May 30th
Bonhams will offer the exceptional doll collection of Alexandra and Sidney Sheldon on June 24 at the Sunset Boulevard salesroom. Alexandra, a former actress, model, and advertising Bonhams will offer the entire collection of well over 450 dolls on...Read more
Mansion Hill MakeoverMetroland, May 23rd
She acknowledged the many Betty dolls and paraphernalia on a mantlepiece with a sweep of the hand, adding, “Since the day we opened last August, they've been bringing it in.” My last sight of the dining room, several years ago, was when it The...Read more