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”)

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    

#1211: Sfbj #301 French Jumeau Mark 1899 - 1910 Walking-kissing-flirting1880's French Triste Jumeau Bisque Head Closed Mouth Glass Eyes 28" Tall Doll23" Steiner C Antique Doll With Lever Eyes - Layaway! Original Wig!Antique German French All Bisque Open Close Eyes Vintage Mignonette 6" Doll24" Eden Bebe French Antique Doll - No Reserve - LayawaySatin Vintage 2pc Outfit For French Or German Bisque Fashion Doll, Any Doll NrAntique 1876 French Doll Miniature Papeterie Set With Original Accessories! Wow!Antique Rare Cotton Bobble Tulle Lace 81" French Doll Dress Ecru Intricate BearWonderful Antique French Or German All Bisque Miniature Dollhouse Doll 3 3/4" Antique Kestner 129 Child Doll W/ Jumeau Body FabulousOutstanding 23" Mechanical Steiner Gigoteur Kicking/crying/moving Character Lr French Fashion Doll, Swivel Head Early Pale F.g. Circa 1880'sLovely Antique White Doll Dress And Slip For Antique French Or German DollsAntique Mulatto Unis France 60 Bisque Doll - Cabinet Size- 10.5" TallAntique Long Mohair Muff W/fox Head & Purse For French Or German Bisque Doll Nr26cm Sweet French A3t Undressed Reproduction Doll Silk Costume Ensemble For Small 11.5" French Doll 12" French Fashion Doll Silk Godey Style Afternoon Dress. Nice Trims & Silk~ Beautiful Antique Style Vintage French Cheveux Doll Wig & Straw Rim Hat ~Antique Mother-of-pearl French Perfume Bottle W Finger Ring Great Doll AccessoryAntique 1890's French Breton Carved Wooden Miniature Doll Settee Chest Bench YqzAntique Tambour Lace Delicate Swag Tiny Flower French Doll Dress Bonnet MignonneGorgeous 11" Portrait Jumeau Head For French Fashion Or Child- Paperweight EyesRarely Found Sfbj Paris France Antique Doll 301 Black Negro Girl No ReserveVtg Antique 17 Doll Pattern Lot Dress Hat Coat Clothing Bridal French American Antique Passementerie French Cotton Net Silk Flowered Trim French Doll 2 Yards ~ Wonderful! Antique 15" French Dep Child Walking Doll ... Orig. Clothing & WigReproduction Signature Jumeau Dress French German Antique 18-19" Doll NewVtg Ombre Flower Millinery Lot Shabby Silk Roses Hat French Flapper Doll DressMattel Barbie Lot 18 International Countries World Dolls French Thai Polish Antique Vtg Flower Millinery Shabby Roses Hat French Bonnet Doll Dress JumeauReproduction Signature Jumeau Dress French German Antique 14-15" Doll NewAntique German? French? S R.47-5 Dep Mark Bisque Doll Felt Cloth Body 25" Tall HBeautiful Antique *pink Silk Doll Shoes * For French Or German DollVintage Antique Water Silk Moire Ribbon French Doll Dress Sash Flapper MillineryAntique-french-sfbj-ball Jointed-voice Box-#23-19" Tall-porcelain Bisque DollLot Vintage French Ivory Millinery Flowers Stamens Doll Hat Rococo Trim RibbonAntique Vintage Doll / Child's Hat / Bonnet For French German - Red /gray Antique French Silk Lace Fine Tulle Trim 1.75yard Doll Dress France Bear CreamShabby Country French Wood Miniature Doll House Hutch Artist Chris DukemanLot Of Antique/mixed Doll Wigs - Human Hair - Size 14 To Size 16 Antique Vintage Pretty Cotton Lace 2 Yds French German Vogue Ginny Dolls BearsAntique Vintage Doll Mignonette French German Vogue Ginny Pink Lawn & Lace DressCathy Hansen 8" French Fashion Bisque Doll- Leather Body- Glass Eyes-mohair Wig Antique Doll Dress 21" French Bebe Jumeau Steiner Bru Bustle Or German LadyAntique French Or German Mignonette Bisque Doll 6" Lined Satin Vintage 3pc Outfit For French Or German Bisque Doll, Any Doll Nr2 Antique Ecru French Lace Wedding Dress Sleeves Tambour Dotted Embroidery DollsAntique 18" Bru Bebe Jne French Bisque Socket Head DollMattel Barbie Lot 7 International Countries World Dolls French Thai Polish 19c. Antique Edwardian Cotton French Lace Trim Dotted Dot Net Doll Dress JumeauFrench Celluloid Doll - 15" Patsy Look-a-like Cutie !! All Original Marked !!Lot Vintage Pink Millinery Linen Flowers Stamens French Doll Hat Trim Flapper Lot 12 Antique Vtg Tiny Cut Steel Belt Shoe Buckle Button French Doll Dress ShoeAntique Ecru Fine Tiny Scalloped Tulle/schiffli Lace Panel 25" X 18" French DollAntique Vtg Hand Tatted Lace Trim 1" X 133" French Doll Dress Sheet PillowcaseAntique Vtg Tambour Net Lace Bobble Scalloped Flounce French Doll Dress Bonnet11y French Spool Golden Color Rayon Ribbon Trim Doll Dress Vintage Antique WorkAntique French Lace Cardsa Cotton Trim Lot Bolt Doll Dress France Bear Picot30s Flapper French Pink Ostrich Plume Feather Fashion Doll Dress Boudoir Vtg