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    

Antique French Bisque Head Doll By Francois GaultierEarly Portrait French Jumeau Antique Bisque French Doll 17.5" 2nd Series 13" (33 Cm) Antique German Bisque Fashion Doll W/original Costume, Bisque Hands6.5" Antique German Bisque Head Kestner Mignonette W/blue Glass Sleep Eyes 15511" (27 Cm.) Antique All Original French Bisque Bebe "dep", Bleuette-size DollRare Antique Doll Bonnie Babe Georgene Averill 5" Germany17" French Eden Bebe Bisque Antique Doll Paris W/ Paper Label, Human Hair WigAntique German Bisque Doll #224 Pierced Ears Open Mouth 10 " Jointed Orig ClotheAntique Bisque Head Doll 949 By Simon & Halbig20" Beautiful Antique Jd Kestner #174 Doll19" Beautiful Antique Bisque Child By Kestner Mold 129Ultra Rare & Precious 15" Erika 1489 S & H Antique Character Doll-oh Wow-must CRare Antique Beautiful 13" Simon Halbig Doll 1039 Dep 3 Mama Papa Pull String Rare Antique Bisque Kestner Doll 143 10" Character Doll16" Fancy Molded Blonde Hair Antique Bisque Doll With Pierced Ears.Diminutive Darling 11" Bahr & Proschild 375 Rare Mold Antique Tinted Bisque DollC.1900 Antique 7.5" K * R 101 Marie German Bisque Doll With Trunk And Clothes~ Fab!!!antique German Lemon Blonde Child Doll Mohair Wig W/silk Bow Setting ~~little Rose Red~14"gebruder Ohlhaver Antique Bisque Doll Rare Revalo Character!The Enchanting 23" "special" Antique Bisque Doll C1900-a Blue-eyed Angel-look!Heubach-koppelsdorf 14" 320-6/0 Stiff Wrist Doll - As Is - Needs Tlc*bright In Blue* 15" H K 300 Antique Character Baby-a Guaranteed Joy -- Look!Rare Francois Gualtier 12" Antique French Fashion BrideLtd Toy Stamp & Antique German 13" Parian Bisque Shoulder Head DollAntique Sfbj #236 Laughing Jumeau Bisque Toddler Doll 19"Incredible 12.5" Black German Antique Fashion Lady Doll-a Standout Presentation!17" Kammer Reinhardt K&r 118a Antique Bisque Character Baby Doll Simon HalbigLtd Toy Stamp & Antique Pair Of 8" Belton Type Asian Indian Bisque Head Dolls10.5" Wonderful Cabinet Size Bisque With Molded Hair & Glass EyesAntique Handwerck Bebe Baby Emma 20" All Original Doll In Original BoxAntique German Two Face Bisque Head Doll Simon & Halbig , Mold 1079 , 16 In. Tall Sleep Eyes , No Hairlines Antique German Simon & Halbig 1160 Little Women Dollhouse Doll To Dress & WigDarling Antique All Bisque Doll -as Is- Really Sweet Tiny Doll!Rare Large 171 German Kestner Doll Wearing Original Antique Dress & Bonnet Hilda DollLrg 25inch Antique Armand Marseille Queen Louise Bisque Head Doll NrAntique Civil War Era German Bisque China Head Old Doll Rare One2 Antique Kestner All-bisque Dolls With Yellow BootinesAntique German All Bisque Miniature 4" Dollhouse Doll To Dress #5000 Pretty!Rare Antique Googlie / Google Eyed Doll With Original OutfitGerman DollTiny Dress For Antique French Or German DollAntique 12" Kestner Character Bisque Doll, Mint Kid & Composition Torso BodyRare Tiny Antique Fully Jtd Body For German Bisque Doll Like Kestner, K*r 14" Antique Bisque Or Parian Fashion Doll Black Glass Pupiless Eyes19 Turned Head Solid Dome Bisque Doll With Kid Body Possibly Abg Or Kestner?Lot Of 5 Vintage Antique Bisque Dolls Made In Germany Jointed Arms Legs~sweet Lil'find~15" Hertel & Schwabb 151 Character Baby Doll In Antique Costume!28" Antique Heinrich Handwerck German Porcelain Bisque Dolly Face Victorian Doll20 1/2" (52 Cm) Antique German Kestner Doll For French Market21" Civil War Style Molded Hair Bisque DollHeart Melting Kammer Reinhardt Mein Leibling Beauty- Gorgeous 40" Tall!Antique French Tulle Lace Bonnet For Jumeau Bru Steiner Eden Bebe Doll 22-23"Stunning Huge Early 30" Jumeau 1907 W/orig Jumeau Body/gorgeous Outfit LrA Bright Delight 25" Mystery 63 Antique Bisque German Doll-c1910-pretty In Pink!Ltd Toy Stamp & Antique Pair Of 9" Damerval Frs. & Laffranchy Bisque Head DollsLarge Antique Jointed Doll Made In Germany 142 For RepairAntique French 20.5" Tete Jumeau Bisque Doll Bebe Restored Character VintageAntique All Bisque Chunky Toddler 6" Miniature Doll Layers Of Original Clothing!

Recent News: Bisque Dolls

Source: Google News

Bulgarian Dolls in Doll Festival in Japan
Focus News, July 29th

This year the exhibition is devoted to France and will harbour hand-made dolls from different regions in the country: ancient bisque dolls, a rich collection of santons from Provence, dolls wearing the traditional garments from different regions, and...Read more

5 more things to do in Phoenicia
Times Herald-Record, July 23rd

She's also set up displays, including The Creepy Doll Exhibit. Summer ... Diners can choose from small-plate selections such as sweet potato bisque, Hudson Valley smoked duck breast quesadilla, Key West style lobster and asparagus fritters. There are ...Read more

For what it's worth, HAHS plans antique appraisal fair Aug. 5
La Crosse Tribune, July 23rd

windmill weights and others; toys such as dolls (bisque, composition and plastic), windups and mechanical banks; metalware such as iron, bronze, brass, pot metal, silver and silver plate; clocks; costume jewelry such as brooches, bracelets...Read more

Car Telematics Market, Wireless M2M and China Passenger Car Telematics ...
SYS-CON Media (press release), July 22nd

Dolls of particular interest include: Karl Hartmann mold 28 doll 1911-1926, German Bisque Pansy II doll 1898-1910, CM Bergmann Walterhausen Germany 1916 7a, Morimura Brothers doll World War I 1915-1926 and an Effanbee Lovums doll 1928-1937...Read more

Antiques and Collectibles: Old tool chest a beautiful piece
Press of Atlantic City, July 17th

Although Butler Brothers did not make dolls, it was one of the largest distributors of dolls in this country until the mid-1930s. Butler imported dolls and bisque doll heads from German and French companies and purchased dolls from American companies...Read more

Shirley Temple's belongings set for auction in Kansas City
The Guardian, July 11th

In a booming market, Theriault set the auction record last year at $300,000 for a 1916 bisque porcelain doll. Nothing in the Temple collection is expected to go for that kind of money, but prices could become stratospheric when passions trump...Read more

Etsy Is Moving Into Kickstarter Territory
Racked, July 10th

For Tushiez Popz, the EarthSeaWarrior team applied their popular porcelain sculptures (inspired by the lower half of collectible German Bisque dolls) to candy. "It's appropriate for kids but it's also funny for adults," said Manaf. To have make...Read more

Floating fence surrounds house and doll-making atelier by UID Architects
Dezeen, July 25th

A narrow white wall appears to hover around the perimeter and garden of this house and atelier – the third project on Dezeen this week by Japanese office UID Architects (+ slideshow). Atelier-bisque doll by UID Architects. UID Architects – the ...Read more