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    

*elusive* 28" Bru Jne Size 14 French Bebe Reproduction -better Than The OriginalAntique Doll Rare French Or German 300 Belton Beautiful Antique German Miniature Dollhouse/french Fashion Candlestick Telephone Movable Antique Gilt Bone Stanhope Binocular Charm 4german French Fashion Bisque Doll! 20" French Fashion DollAntique Miniature Carved Bone Domino Set 4 German French Fashion Bisque Doll! Antique Miniature French Fashion Bisque Doll Accessory Jewelry Trunk Fan Dome Size 7 Closed Mouth Tete JumeauAntique German Suitcase Candy Container French Fashion Bisque Doll Display! Lovely Antique Blonde Mohair French Doll Wig Jumeau Bru Steiner Or German DollAntique Silk Metal Trim Rosette Rose 33 French Doll Dress Millinery Flapper HatAntique Toy Doll Bisque French Sfbj 10 Paris French 21" TallArtist Reproduction Antique French Bru Jne Bebe Doll Large 27 Inches TallTrio Antique Italian Miniature Micro Mosaic Dollhouse Frames French Fashion Antique Nursing Bru Doll, Original Leather Body, Bebe Teteur , Original Dress*delectable*23" Rare Bahr & Proschild 224 Antique Doll C1900 For The French TraAntique 11"blue Silk &lace Parasol French Fashion German Bisque Doll Accessory Antique Silk Tiny Flower Applique Lot French Doll Dress Trim Mignonette RosesAntique Miniature German French Fashion Bisque Doll Accessories Crown Album +! Dress For Antique German Or French Doll, (15"/17") , 2 Antique Papier-mAntique Tete Jumeau Dep 26" Bisque Doll ~sleep Eyes~marked Head & Body20" Antique Bisque Repro French Fashion Doll Kid Body Swivel Head Pierced EarsTiny Skin Wig For Your Rohmer Or Other French Fashion DollAntique Original Lace Dress + Chemise For French Bebe Jumeau Bru Steiner 25-26"Truly Fabulous! Antique...simon & Halbigmm. Dep 156. Made In Germany 29" JumeauGorgeous Antique Doll Hat / Bonnet, Aqua, Wired, French Bebe Orig French Antique Dolls House Furniture Pram/piano/dressing Table/settee/+ TwoAntique French Small Woolen Red Dress +hat For Tiny Jumeau Bru Steiner Doll 10"Antique Factory Original Cotton Print Dress For French Or German Bisque DollsBeautiful Dress For A French Fashion DollVintage Ribbon Work Applique Silk Flowers & Bow Sewn Onto Netting ~ French DollNoreserve! Ice Blue Antique/vintage Doll Dress For Antique French & German DollsAntique Rare French **miniature Leather Purse** For Bebe Or Fashion DollsAntique French/german Fashion Doll? Wax, Composition, Straw Filled (glass Eyes)Antique French Card Lace Cotton Paisley Trim 12 Yards Bolt Doll Dress France PMini. French Antique Stanhope Field/opera Glasses 4 Dolls House C.19th C 3/4"hAntique Victorian Signed French Limoges Character Bisque Doll 18" Fully ClothedAntique French Original Aqua Stay Corset For Jumeau Bru Steiner Eden Bebe Doll18" Bisque Vintage Doll Kid Body Original Clothes French?Antique Cork Pate From Jumeau Doll, Wig Remnants RemainingWonderful Antique Beige Cotton Dress For German, China Or French DollAntique French Brevete Sgdg Walking Belton Bisque Head Doll, Tlc, Nr!Lot Vintage Tiny Millinery Flower Forget French Doll Bonnet Hat Velvet Trim RoseAntique 1920s French Felt & Silk Boudoir Military Doll, Hand Painted Cloth FaceSmall 8 7/8" Long Doll Parasol Umbrella Fabric Needs Tlc Mechanism Works WellLovely Vintage Doll Bonnet ~ Hat For Antique French Or German DollAntique Silk Metal Lace Rare Strawberry French Doll Dress Millinery Flapper Hat20cm Sweet French Br U Jne Undressed All Bisque Reproduction Doll,Antique Silk Grosgrain Ribbon 2yard+ Rose Pink Faille French Doll Hat Millinery Antique Sfbj Unis France 301 Doll Bisque Sleep Eyes Hand-painted Needlepoint French Costume Doll By Dede & ThreadsAntique Repro Of French Bru Jne 6 Outfit For 18" Doll...jumeau, German TlcAntique Original Cotton Checkered Dress For Tiny French Or German DollVintage Tiny Tiny Button Lot Pink French Doll Mignonette Dress Bear TrimAntique Silk Tiny Flower Applique Lot French Doll Dress Trim Mignonette DaintyAntique Cotton Guipure Lace Applique Lot Small French Doll Dress Millinery TrimsCathy Hansen 5" All Bisque Bru French Doll Glass Eyes- Mohair Wig Painted ShoesAntique Vintage Human Hair Doll Wig For French Doll Or German Doll Ringlet CurlsSweet Olive Green Dress For Your Antque German Or French Doll