During the 14th century, dolls modeled on adult figures were popular among the most affluent families of Europe, and the exquisite craftsmanship of French dolls made them among the most desirable. Children of wealthy aristocrats were given entire rooms filled with sets of dolls whose attire and accessories were as ornate as if they'd been made for real people.

France’s most lasting contribution to doll development was the creation of the fashion doll or “Parisienne.” Though popularized during the 19th century, these dolls had actually been used for more than 400 years to display clothing samples being considered by the royal court. By the 1800s, women far from Paris were ordering French fashion dolls to be sent by mail so that local tailors and dressmakers could re-create royal clothing styles.

Parisiennes generally had heads and hands made from bisque or porcelain, with bodies of cloth, leather, wood, or composite materials. Fashion dolls typically came fully dressed in clothes of luxury materials like silk, cashmere, or velvet. They also frequently included undergarments, shoes, jewelry, and accessories, along with wigs made from real human hair. A commentator at the Paris Exhibition of 1849 remarked that these miniature mannequins had become “indispensable for the general export of fashionable novelties, for it has been realized that without the aid of the doll the tradespeople do not know how to sell their goods.”

The renowned Jumeau doll company, founded in Paris in 1842, produced superior fashion dolls with leather bodies and heads of wood, papier-mâché, or wax. By the 1860s, Jumeau was creating elaborate dolls with porcelain heads as well as simpler dolls marketed to less-wealthy families. Jumeau dolls were known for their skillfully executed glass eyes, whereby the translucent glass pupil was inset into a white form, then coated with clear glass to increase its depth.

Like most French doll makers, Jumeau imported its heads from Germany until 1873, when the company opened its own porcelain factory. Although many French companies relied on bisque parts made by German doll makers, the neighboring industry represented a strong challenge to the French doll market. In fact, the intense competition between German and French makers led to the 19th-century equivalent of attack ads, as seen in a Jumeau advertising pamphlet which was written from a doll’s perspective and mocked the inferiority of German products.

A few other French doll makers crafted Parisiennes to rival Jumeau’s, yet were managed by groundbreaking female entrepreneurs, like Adelaide Calizte Huret and Leontine Rohmer. Huret eventually forced Rohmer out of business on the basis of copyright infringement, since Rohmer’s detailed dolls and pivoting-head designs bore a remarkable resemblance to Huret’s.

In addition to fostering female business leadership, the French industry also produced some of the first dolls with darker skin tones, ranging from those with completely black bi...

In 1855, former clockmaker Jules Steiner obtained a patent for a new style of doll incorporating “automata” which allowed the toy to walk and speak on its own. As the craze for windup dolls spread among adults, other companies like Bru, Theroude, and Jumeau produced a variety of these figures. One of the most astounding automata creations was Roullet & Decamps’ “Fumeur” or “Smoker,” which could actually smoke a cigarette using a piping mechanism in its right arm to pull smoke through the body and exhale it out the mouth.

Though Jumeau did sell some complete automata dolls, the company primarily manufactured the heads for these dolls, while the more complicated mechanical parts were produced by others like Lambert or Vichy. Gustave Vichy’s highly realistic mechanical dolls, which were designed to play music and perform complex movements, won the Grand Prize at the Paris Exposition in 1900.

By the 1880s, however, a new form had begun to overtake these adult doll styles: the bébé. Francois Gaultier’s business was one of the first to produce these detailed baby dolls, which allowed children to play the role of parents. In 1899, Bru, Jumeau and several other companies merged to become the “Société Francaise de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets,” or SFBJ, a trade organization which would last through the 1950s. Though their dolls were often still labeled by the traditional company names in addition to the new SFBJ imprint, their quality greatly declined.

Shortly after the turn of the century, the French developed yet another new adult doll called the boudoir doll, which followed in the footsteps of the Parisiennes. Boudoir dolls were never meant as toys, but were designed explicitly as decorative objects for adult women to display in their bedrooms.

The onset of World War I finally brought an end to the heyday of French doll manufacturing, though the industry continued to produce smaller numbers of dolls in response to worldwide trends throughout the 20th century, like the Shirley Temple character dolls of the 1930s.

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    

Antique Beautiful Bebe Steiner Fre A17 Closed Mouth 24,8 " (62cm) Circa 1885Antique French Or German Closed Mouth DollAntique Beautiful Bebe Jumeau Reclame T. 14 33,2 " - 83 CmAntique Original White Batiste Dress For Jumeau Bru Steiner Eden Bebe Doll 25"Antique 13" French Leather & Bisque Head/shoulder Bundle DollSuperb! Antique French Jumeau Flawless Pink Bisque Head Tete Jumeau 16 J Antique...fabric...doll__shoes__victorian__silk__german / French__vtg Home Decor26" "mon Cheri" French Bebe Antique Doll By Leon Prieur W/orig Shoes-chunky Bod!Beautiful Antique Ernst Bohne French Colonial German Porcelain Half Doll #515Antique French Bisque Jumeau Doll *ej* Brown Eyes Stamped 8 Ball Jointed Body Beautiful Silk Antique Lace Dress German French Doll Jumeau Kestner Bru ClothesAntique Musical Marrot Francois Gaultier Circa Xixème Attic Condition !Antique French Poupee Parisienne French Fashion Doll L. RohmerPretty 16" Antique Bisque Head French Doll Size 1Antique 19th Century French Boudoir Wood/composition DollAntique 1920's French Silk Face Boudoir Doll Lashes Blond Hair In Lingerie 31" Delicately Hand Painted Antique French Arms Away Half Doll In Purple CamisoleAntique 19thc French Bisque Dolls Miniature Leather Travel Trunk Chest, NrRare Antique French Original Bru Leather Shoes And SocksAntique French Small Rare Straw Provincial Bonnet Hat Fashion Doll Deux BonjourAntique Original French Silk Dress For Jumeau Bru Steiner Bebe Doll 13-14"Antique Boy Character Doll Bisque & Composition 14 Inch French German NiceSmall Wool 2-piece French Doll OutfitAntique 1920's French Cloth Face Boudoir Doll Dusty Rose Gown Blond Hair 28" Antique Mohair Doll Wig Size 10 1/2" Jumeau Bebe Poupee Antique French German Antique Type Vintage Dress & Hat German French Doll Jumeau Kestner Bru ClothesBeautiful Sisters Lace Fashion Check Dress Bisque Doll Toy Steiff DogAntique Original Straw Hat For Jumeau Bru Steiner Eden Bebe Or German Doll Small 10.5" Antique C1900 French Or German Bisque Head Doll W/ Original ClothingStunning A/o C/m 19” French Belton 137 Bebe W/flat Head/3 Holes/blu Ribbon LrAntique French Doll Wash Dressing Table With Porcelain AccessoriesAntique French Wax Bust Circa 1900 Head DollLovely Antique French Doll Cane Hat12" Antique French Sfbj Doll With Original Costume American GirlBeautiful Antique Lace Doll Bonnet Fits Jumeau,steiner,bru,french DollsBleuette Friend? 9 1/2" Antique French Head On Quality Repro BodyPretty Antique French Poupee Doll Gown 13-14"Gold & Blue Glass Doll Chatelaine Perfume Bottle For French Fashion DollsBeautiful Antique Lace Doll Bonnet Fits Jumeau,steiner,bru,french DollsAntique Sfbj 60 Paris 13/0 Bisqie Head Doll Appx 8"Vintage Gray Silk Dress For French Fashion Doll About 17"Useful Real Hair French Blonde Doll WigTete Jumeau Open Mouth French Bebe 16 Inch Doll Sfbj 301 Paris Mohair Wig Lashes Antique Doll Bisque Head Arms Legs Molded Blond Short Hair 12" French ? Bru?Sweet Little 17" Antique Bisque Head Dep #6 For French Market DollTheriault's Dollmasters Velvet Doll Bonnet-jumeau Bebe Poupee -repro Antique Antique Jumeau French Doll Leather Shoes Socks 7Antique French Bisque Jester Doll Mon Tressor Late 1800s Mechanical Voice Box?Barbie Gold Label Silkstone Fashion Model French Maid Doll Nrfb Circa 2005Vintage High Quality 9" Tall Replacement Body For German Or French Bisque Doll Unis France 60 Antique Bisque Head Doll Darker Coloring 11"American Girl Grace Thomas Grace's French Bulldog New In Box!!!Vintage Couture Outfit W/cape For French Or German Bisque Fashion Doll NrTiny Fg Antique French Doll HeadSmall Antique Reproduction French Or German Doll Body~compositionAntique Vintage Doll Fur Shoes Leather German Kestner Simon & Halbig Bru Jumeau Antique Doll Hat For Antique Bisque Jumeau Bebe Poupee French GermanAntique 207 Mold Tiny French Or German Bisque Doll Head, 1" NrOutstanding 19" All Bisque French Jumeau Mold E14j Doll Artists Antique ReproAntique "1894 Am 7 Dep" Made In Germany Bisque Head Doll