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    

Jumeau Bebe Antique French Bisque Doll, Size 4 - No Reserve~ Beautiful! Antique 13" French Fashion Lady Doll As Is ~French Bisque Fashion Lady By Gauthier Superb Antique French Bebe Bru Brevete Doll, Casimir Bru 1879, 1538~ Phenominal! Antique 1890's French Facotry Child Doll Velvet & Taffeta Dress ~C. 1860's French Francois Gaultier Jolie Petite French Poupee Peau Fashion Doll Lovely French Bisque Emile Jumeau Ej Near Mint Antique Doll Mauve Eye ShadowSize 7 Closed Mouth Tete Jumeau19"rare Jumeau Portrait Of British Princess Margaret Closed Mouth Antique Doll!Charming 24" Antique 1880's French Bebe Jules Nicholas Steiner Doll Fire A 15 Sh Large Lot Vintage Antique Variety French Lace Trim Insert Dolls EdwardianTiny Antique French Tea Set For Dolls House Hand Painted C1900Dress For Antique German Or French Doll, (15"/17") , Sj Large Lot Vintage Antique Variety French Lace Trim Insert Dolls EdwardianFrench Boudoir Doll 1930'sGorgeous Antique Doll Dress, Silk, Silk Satin, German, French BebeBed Boudoir Half Doll Head Hat Stand Mannequin 1920s French Style Vtg Antique?Antique French Cotton Tulle Point D'esprit Lace Panel Doll Dress Mignonette BearTiny French Bisque Head Doll All Original C1920Antique Silk Ribbon Roses Watered Flapper Ribbonwork French Doll HatsPetite Size 2 JumeauFashion Model Barbie French Maid Gold Label Silkstine28" Antique Frence Fabrication Francaise Limoges France Jb 13 French Bisque Doll19 1/2" (50 Cm) Antique French Bisque Doll By Unis France Vintage Antique Doll Boots Shoes French Marked J J Leather 1800's ? Old French Style Silk Dress & Hat To Fit 14"/15" Antique/reproduction DollAntique Cotton Tulle Panel Apricot Dot Lace 140"sweep Ruffle French Doll DressAntique Silk Tissue Fabric Dress Panel Pintuck Pink French Doll Dress 61"sweepFrench Silk Baby Bonnet Hat Cocarde Rosette Ribbon Work Trim Fashion Doll VtgAntique Cotton Ecru Lace Applique Lot Small French Doll Dress Millinery Trims12" French Fashion Antique Kid Doll Body Bisque ArmsJan Mclean Odette French Floozy Porcelain Doll 26" Tall No Coa EucAntique French Ribbon Ombre Pink Trim Edging 82 Feet Dolls Millinery WiredAntique Original White Cotton Dress For French Or German Doll 15-16" (37-40 Cm)Antique French Bisque Head Doll - Jumeau 1907- 25 In. W/ ProblemsIncredible Near Mint 17” Unis / Sfbj 251 Character Toddler LrFeltman Brothers 3m Pink Batiste French Lace Dress W/slip, Bib, Socks~nwt'sAntique French Ombre Ribbon Trim Edging 82 Feet Lavender Dolls Millinery WiredAntique Original Cotton Dress For Tiny French, German Doll 13-14" Antique French Ribbon Ombre Green Trim Edging 75 + Feet Dolls Millinery Wired1y Vintage Dusty Rose French Silk Pleated Ribbon Trim Fashion Antique Doll DressAntique French Ombre Ribbon Trim Edging 82 Feet Sunset Dolls Millinery WiredBleuette Outfit Au Jardin 1932 & Pour Le Jardin Tablier 1927 ~ Tres Belle Poupee9" Artist Antique Reproduction Bisque Porcelain French Bru Jne Doll By Brenda Antique Silk Cotton Applique Trim Lot Small French Doll Dress Millinery TrimsAntique 16" Unis France Bisque Socket Head Doll #60 & Ltd Doll StampAntique Cotton Whitework Lace Trim Ecru 2.5yard Lot Fine Semi Sheer French Dolls*stupendous* 22" French Tete Jumeau Antique French Bebe Doll In Stunning Antique19" Belton Type - #8 - Closed Dome - French Market?Antique Cotton Lacy Dress For German Or French All Bisque Doll NrDarling Pair Miniature Antique Victorian Leather Doll Gloves For French FashionAntique French Mignonette Bisque Doll 7.5 InchesFrench Boudoir Doll Mask Face €17" Fg French Fashion Doll, Marked Fg, 3, Leather Body, Bisque ArmsAntique French Or German Wood Composition Jointed Doll Body For Bisque Doll Antique French Original Chemise For Fashion Doll Or Small BebeAntique Silk Lace Satin Fabric Dress Panel Layers French Doll Dress 61"sweepAntique Minature All Bisque 4" Jointed Doll W/ Wig And Ornate Chair Vintage Antique French Lace Tulle Panel Tambour Flower Doll Dress France Intricate AiryAntique Marked Jumeau Composition Body Only, Tlc