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    

1026, 1880's - 1890's German Fashion Doll Bisque Head1032, 5 Inch Rose O’neal German Kewpie Doll1029, 1894 Armand Marseille Bisque Doll ProjectAntique Doll Steiner French Gigoteur Mechanical Works! 2 Rows Teeth!Rare Simon & Halbig 719 Character Doll, Beautiful Face, 17" Tall, Old ClothesLarge Antique French Doll Jumeau Medaille Paris France C1890's Fg 9 Gaultier2 Antique Bisque French Dolls Sfbj Markings Paris Early 1900'sAntique German Bisque Doll 8" Composition Body Original Clothes Mold 0Antique Jointed 9" Bisque Kestner? Sleepy Eyes German Original Old Kid Baby DollAntique All Bisque Miniature German Baby In Easter Egg Sleigh Candy Container! Adorable German Antique Googly All Bisque My Fairy Or Wide Awake Doll Antique German Bisque Doll Pouty Face Kestner 620 620/3 1/2 MignonetteAntique Large All Bisque Doll Sleep Eyes Kestner 208 10 White Blue Socks 10.5"Vintage French Baby Doll Carriage Pram Buggy Ponfa Made In France Miniature Red Tete Jumeau Bebe Bisque French Doll - All Original 17.32 Inches (id7769)Rare Sfbj 235 Floqued Hair, All Original In His Sfbj Box 19,5 Inches Collection 4 Antique Bisque Composition Black Doll German Wooden Whistle Doll Simon & Halbig 1159 Antique German Bisque Doll HeadSweetest 19.5" Heinrich Handwerck Antique Doll C1900 In Crispy Pink Antiq Dress!*enchanting* 29" Fine German Mystery Antique Doll In Crispy Whites C1900 Must CNr Best Curls & Bangs Antique Mohair Blonde Bisque Doll Wig 12" Jumeau Kestner Antique 1875 Dep French Original Outfit Bride DollFab 18" Swivel Head Bru French Fashion W/brevette Stamp/chemise/coat/stole/muffChunky Huge 35" French Unis 301 Antique Bebe Doll In Extraordinary Presentation!Simon & Halbig K&r Antique Doll In Adorable Antique Dress And Matching Bonnet 16" Antique Simon & Halbig Doll Bisque Head Jointed Body VgcAntique German Bisque Armand Marseille 351 Baby Doll Tiny 8" Wonderful Clothes+ 6" Antique All Bisque German Mignonette W/ Swivel Neck & Glass Eyes Simon & Halbig Dep. , Mold 1079 , 26 In Tall ,perfect Bisque 1920s Century Doll Baby Bisque Head Compo Hands Cloth Body Marked Sleep Eyes Simon & Halbig 1249 Santa Doll Mold Bisque Head Germany Pierced Ears Brown EyesAntique Doll Petite K&r Simon And Halbig Beautiful Broderie Anglaise Dress 15" Smiling Antique Schoenhut Character Doll Molded Hair Blue Bow Mold 101 RareAntique German French Bisque Doll Dress Pink & Lace Mignonette For 10" DollOutstanding 16" Flirty Eyed Simon Halbig 1039 W/working Rd Key Wind Body LrLovely Antique German Heubach 5920 Bisque Screaming Scottish Boy Head Bust18" Handwerck Known As Daisy Antique Doll By Simon & Halbig C1911 Exc. Cond.Charming All Antique(except Wig) 27" Kestner 260 Character Antique Doll $1nores!Antique Sailor Costume Dress For Jumeau French Bebe About 23-24" Adorable! Antique! German Bisque Piano Baby Figurine With Bonnet!17" Heinrich Handwerck Bisque Head Ball Jointed Compo Body Germany #79 TlcAntique Simon Halbig Character #1428 9 Closed Mouth Freddie 14'' Baby Doll Antique Bisque Doll Head Dep Germany Handwerk Nice ConditionJumeau - Tete De'pose 12 Marked On Head & Lower Back - 26" French Beauty !! Twin Antique Bisque 1894 Am Dolls W/ Composition BodiesAntique Germany Armand Marseille 390 Doll 24" A 9 MEarly Kestner Turned Shoulder Head~closed Pouty Mouth~beautiful Oily Bisque15" Simon Halbig Kammer Star Reinhardt #121 Bisque Antique Character Doll Antique German Toy Doll Carriage Buggy Marklin? With Bisque DollSo Sweet! Framed Miniature Doll Bisque With Wardrobe ClothesAntique German (?) Bisque Composition Doll 11"Antique German Bridal Doll 18" Kestner ? Dress Shoes Jointed Arms Legs Bouquet *impressive* 29" Early Queen Louise Antique German Child Doll Display Darling!Limbach Antique Dolls With Cat And Little Pig Head /german 1900/ 6J.d. Kestmer All Bisque 8 In. Twins , Identical Twins ,perfect ConditionArmand Marseille Antique Doll 390 A.6.m. Creepy Doll Steampunk Composite Body Swaine & Company German Antique Doll HeadAntique Doll Hat & Box German French Bisque Bru Jumeau Jdk Kestner Silk LaceLate Jumeau Antique French Bisque On Compo 15" (38cm) Petite Cabinet DollDarling 21" Closed Mouth Gebruder Kuhnlens 32-30 Antique Doll C1890 Starts $1n

Recent News: Bisque Dolls

Source: Google News

Q&A with Artist Zteven on his Pop Culture Soup Can Artwork
Examiner.com, April 17th

Now artist Zteven has taken the soup can and created his very own Pop Art! Zteven turned to his love of iconic TV and Movies such as Dynasty, AbFab, Charlie's Angels, Batman, Valley of the Dolls, to created his very funny and fresh Pop Culture Soup Can...Read more

The man behind the filled-in face
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 7th

is to encounter a Brandt creation, a person whose skin is smooth and yet not freakishly taut, whose cheeks possess the firm curvature of a wheel of Edam, whose unblemished flesh calls to mind a Jumeau bisque doll, a baby's bottom or, perhaps, Madonna...Read more

£20000 for an auction Jaguar
Beverley Guardian, March 29th

Amongst the dolls and accessories was an unattributed German bisque head doll which realised £170 and two modern wooden doll's houses which each made £100 sold to an internet bidder in Athens Greece. There was strong demand for the diecast ...Read more

The Man Behind the Face
New York Times, March 28th

undoubtedly to encounter a Brandt creation, a person whose skin is smooth and yet not freakishly taut, whose cheeks possess the firm curvature of a wheel of Edam, whose unblemished flesh calls to mind a Jumeau bisque doll, a baby's bottom or...Read more

Osgood For Women's History Month: Dewees Cochran
Vermont Public Radio, March 25th

Dewees Cochran lived and worked in Norwich from 1947 to 1960, where she fashioned some of the dolls for which she is best known – her “portrait,” “look-alike,” and “grow-up” dolls. Life magazine and Vermont Life featured articles about her and her doll...Read more

Love of dolls stems from childhood
The Maitland Mercury, March 25th

Ms Fitz-Gibbon has more than 200 dolls at her Glen Oak Doll Hospital that she started 40 years ago. She believes her love of ... “Personally, with my collection and what I look for are antique French and German bisque dolls,” she said. “But in saying...Read more

Beloved dolls sure to steal the show
Green Valley News, March 24th

The Kewpie doll, patterned after a comic-strip character, was originally made of bisque and later manufactured in vinyl and rubber. Posted: Monday, March 24, 2014 12:00 am. Beloved dolls sure to steal the show By Ellen Sussman Special to the Sahuarita ...Read more

SOS: Where has my doll been for the past year?
Madison.com, March 23rd

So she took her doll to the doll show and fell into conversation with Jennie Sykes, owner of Porcelain Classics, outside of DeForest. Sykes restores and repairs porcelain, bisque, soft dolls, teddy bears and figurines, teaches classes on doll...Read more