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    

#1199, C. M. Bergmann, Simon & Halbig German Porcelain Doll 1889 On#1200, Simon & Halbig Shoulder Head With Leather & Composition Jointed Body Germ##1197, 15 Inch 1880's-90's Parian German DollOld Antique Bisque French Fashion German Closed Mouth Simon Halbig Doll Rare HtfGorgeous And Rare Antique Ernst Grossman / Not PerfectAntique Bru Jne R Doll In Original Box Size 9Award Winning Original Angelic Parian 17" Antique Young Lady Doll W/glass Eyes!Nr Antique 20" Rare Kestner No Damage Pouty Square Teeth German Bisque Doll19"antique 168 Kestner Doll 8 1/2 Brown Sleep Eyes~ Pretty! Antique 29" German #949 Simon Halbig Child Doll As Is ~~*~*~estate Find~**~ Antique Bisque Doll French?? German?? Outstanding 14" Kammer & Reinhardt 100 Kaiser Baby Antique Character Doll Cute!24" Old Vintage Antique Bisque Head Composition German Heubach Dolly Face DollAll Original~one Antique Simon Halbig Reinhardt Bisque Socket Head Doll 8.5" All Original~one Antique Simon Halbig Reinhardt Bisque Socket Head Doll 6" Limbach Antique Doll With Swivel Head And Two Faces **very Rarely** /1622" Gorgeous Old Antique Bisque Head German Alphabet Series Kestner Doll For TlcAntique Rare French Mechanical(centrifugal) Spinning Top Bisque Head Doll C187023" Old Vintage Antique Bisque Head Composition German C.m. Bergmann Child DollKammer & Reinhardt Mein Liebling 117 A German Bisque Doll 27.5" Simon & Halbig18" Jdk Kestner German Composition Bisque Jointed Vintage Baby DollFantastic Antique 19" German #136 China Boy Doll With Great ClothingNr Character Kr Kammer & Reinhardt 114 Gretchen Very Rare 6 1/2" Blue Stocking!18" Antique German Kestner Doll #164 Original Marked Kestner Composition Body! Antique Steiner French Bisque Doll- Perfect Bisque- 25" TallAntique 30" Bisque Head Doll C. M. Bergmann Simon & Halbig 14 Pierce EarsBo - Lot Of 5 Antique Bisque Dolls German Armand Marseille Alma SpbjC1890 German Bisque Doll Head Simon & Halbig Dep Jumeau 13" Circumference NrHuge 33.5'' Heinrich Handwerck Doll!!!! Beautiful!Vintage 1920s Antique German Bisque Doll Composition Jointed Body & Clothing Stunning And Rare Galluba Hofmann German Bisque Bathing Beauties Original Hair*rare + Radiant* 18" German Mystery 182 Antique Doll In Original Day Dress!Nr Antique Adorable All Original Am Armand Marseille Character Toddler 996 C1890 German Bisque Doll Head Simon & Halbig 1249 Santa 12" Circumference NrDarling Blue-eyed 19" Kammer Reinhardt Antique German Doll C1900 So Pretty-look!Antique Beauty 30" Queen Louise German Child Doll 30" In Excellent Shape Wow!18 1/2" J.d.kestner # 257 , Great & Excellent Condition ,head & Body MarkedGorgeous Antique French Mignonette Parian Bisque Doll Head Glass EyesBig Lot Of Vintage Small Bisque DollsHeubach Kopplesdorf 32" Antique German Bisque Character Child Doll #267-9 DrgmBs - Lot Of 3 Antique Bisque Baby Dolls 11" 14" 17"Antique German Dollhouse Doll All Bisque 5 1/2" Tall Glass Open Close Eyes *newborn Angel* 17" Hertel And Schwabb 151 Antiq Character Doll Display Ready!Pretty Antique Bisque Kestner Mold 171 , Large 26 Inches , No ReserveAntique Solid Dome - Closed Mouth Bisque Doll Orig BodyFab! Repro Antique All Bisque Doll Dress & Hat Bru Style In Antiques Blue ColorEarly Painted Bisque Storybook Nancy Ann Doll*demure Blue-eyed* 18.5" Revalo By Ohlhaver C1912 Antique German Doll So Pretty13" Cutie-pie Antique Toddler Flirty Kr 126 Antique Doll-what More Could U Ask 4All Bisque HeadMarvelous Antique Doll Dress, Dusty-blue Velvet, Silk Satin, Lace, French Bebe Vintage 5 1/2" Bisque Bye-lo Doll W Label Grace S. Putnam GermanyAntique Kestner Bisque Doll With Original Body Large Lot Of Antique German Bisque Dolls Lot-wigs, Eyes, Clothes & Parts Antique Bisque Jointed 7" Recknagel R/a Dep Doll Socket Head *xlntLarge Antique Kestner Dep 154 Bisque Shoulder Head Only W/ Mohair WigOutstanding Htf Petit Size 13” Sfbj 251 Toddler Named Twerp W/amazing Outfit LrAntique China Head Doll, With Alphabet Cloth BodyAntique Jdk Bisque Headed Doll #257-16 In. LongOutstanding Heinrich Handrick & Simon & Halbig 29" Doll

Recent News: Bisque Dolls

Source: Google News

Antiques | 19th century drop-leaf tables
The Courier-Journal, July 18th

1850, 28 by 24 inches, $500. • Doll, Sonneberg, bisque dome head, paperweight eyes, human-hair wig, wood and composition body, low-waist dress, c. 1870, 18 inches, $510. • Indian storage basket, Pit River, California, geometric designs, c. 1920, 8½ by...Read more

Hungry City: The Gander in the Flatiron District
New York Times, July 17th

They sounded cute, brisket tots, and looked it, dark checkers of meat breaded and crisped, faintly ridiculous in their mini casserole dish. They made me laugh, and then I tasted one. It had the flavor of meat, rich and deep, but the near weightlessness...Read more

Antiques / by Terry and Kim Kovel
Buffalo News, July 11th

The doll originally had a wax head, but it was damaged in a house fire and couldn't be repaired, so it was replaced in 2001. The doll's body is made of ... A: Most dolls made before the early 1900s had bisque or china heads. Wax-head dolls were made in...Read more

Kovels: Drop-leaf table designed for house architecture
Winston-Salem Journal, July 10th

Doll, Sonneberg, bisque dome head, paperweight eyes, human-hair wig, wood and composition body, low-waist dress, c. 1870, 18 inches, $510. Indian storage basket, Pit River, California, geometric designs, c. 1920, 8 ½ x 12 inches, $595. Kutani porcelain ...Read more

Versatile, fashionable drop-leaf tables conserved space
HeraldNet, July 10th

J. and J.W. Meeks of New York City made this classical drop-leaf table about 1840. It has a stenciled label in the drawer with the address of the workshop from 1836 to 1855. It extends to 45 inches long. The table sold for $1,075 at Neal Auction this...Read more

Small keepsakes from generations long gone
The Telegram, July 7th

I was given this doll,” she laughed. “I guess it was to keep my mind off my sore throat.” There were thousands of toy dolls in uniforms during the Second World War, and from all sides of the conflict. They have varying values today, as we can see on...Read more

Inspiring live-work space: Portland artists exhibit city-themed prints at the ...
The Oregonian, June 27th

A crew of wide-eyed bisque dolls smile at Lyn while she's drawing at her desk in a small room off the master bedroom on the first floor. Pennants from childhood trips are geometrically arranged on a wall in Stephen's office on the second floor. Here...Read more

Kovels: Strange seats, other curiosities
Winston-Salem Journal, June 26th

No longer do the sales feature only furniture, glass, silver, ceramics, toys, dolls and paper ephemera. A unique item was an ejection seat from a Vulcan jet bomber made in ..... The doll originally had a wax head, but it was damaged in a house fire and...Read more