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 13" Jumeau French Fashion, Poupee Peau Doll W/trunk & Wardrobe Nr Antique Fg French Fashion Poupee Peau Doll Perfect Head & Mkd Shoulder Plate Nr Gold Doll Chatelaine Red Leather Purse Sewing Scissors Awl Thimble Hook Egg BoxMystery Origin 29.5" German Antique Doll Bisque Girl W/original Blue Set EyesAntique French Paper Mache Bulldog Growler Nodder Pull Toy Wood Wheels C 1890sAntique 19thc Miniature Louis Xv Parquetry Inlaid Bombay French Dolls Chest NrPrecious 24" Sfbj 236 "laughing Jumeau" French Antique Character Toddler Doll!Antique French Magasins Reunis Etoile 22" Silk Face Boudoir Fashion Bed DollNice Bleuette Unis France 301 1/4 Perfect Bisque HeadAntique Cotton Tambour Tulle Lace Trim French Doll Dress Ecru Patina Flapper HatReplacement Vintage Body For French Fashion Doll W/original Bisque Arms NrBeautiful Bleuette 60 8/0 French Bisque Doll 10,8 Inches TallSpectacular 29” Swivel Head Block Letter Fg French Fashion Poupee W/coutureoutfi*holidays* Red & Cheery 20" Unis 301 French Antique Bisque Doll!!Antique Tiny Cotton French Passementerie Button French Doll Dress Crochet EcruAntique Cotton Dot Lace Panel Silk Ribbon Cranberry 61"sweep French Doll DressVintage Millinery Small Forget Me Not Lot Hat Trims Tiny French Doll Hat TrimPretty S.f.b.j. 60 In Cabinet Size With The Classic French LookExquisite Antique Style Doll Dress & Hat....antique French/german DollsAntique Cream Wool Lined Silk Cape & Bonnet For French Fashion - China Head DollAntique Silk Tulle Applique Lace Wide Trim French Doll Dress 1.5y Blonde CreamAntique Early Big Wooly Putz Sheep - Perfect Addition For French Fashion Doll Cathy Hansen 8" Bisque French Doll Compo. Body Glass Eyes- Mohair Wig DressedAntique Au Louvre Paris French Chalk Half Doll For Lamp Lady Nice Hair Boudoir Robert Best French Setter Silkstone Barbie Doll Bfmc Signature Nrfb Year 2003Antique Tiny Metal Rosette Trim Blue Pink Gold French Doll Dress Flapper RibbonVintage Millinery Lot Small Pastel Hat Trims Tiny French Doll Hat TrimAntique Silk Batiste Panel 51"wide Dotted Flapper Dress Hat French Doll Dress Incredible Large Mint 24” Sfbj 247 Character Toddler Wantique Silver Rattle LrVintage Metal Trim Dresden Christmas 1 Yard Gold French Doll Bear Flapper HatAntique Metal Ombre Flapper Lace Ribbonwork Ruffle Trim French Doll Millinery Antique Silk Tambour Tulle Lace Wide Trim French Doll Dress Airy Blonde CreamAntique Cotton Tulle Lace Trim Ruffling 2yard Schiffli Net French Doll Dress HatVintage Tiny Ruffle Ribbon Lettuce 2.9yards French Dolls Eggplant RibbonworkFrench Milette Rd Mora Reproduction Antique French 10" Porcelain Robin TaylorAntique/vintage Doll Clothing..brown Wool Dress..french/german DollsVintage Cotton Batiste Soft Rose Floral French Doll Dress 37 Wide Pink Rosebuds26" Dep 11 Jumeau French Market Bisque Head Doll NiceAntique Cotton France Lace Trim Intricate Tulle Dot French Doll Dress FlapperAntique Pair Hand Blown Blue Glass Eyes For French Bebe Or Fashion Doll Nr Antique Inspired (new) Rosebud Bonnet Hat For French / German Bisque Doll Antique French Silk Tulle Chantilly Lace Trim Bonnet Edge Doll Dress France HatAntique Cotton Whitework Tiny Trim Dots 4.3yards French Doll Mignonette DressVintage Tiny Glass Buttons Blue Flower French Doll Dress 7/16" Intricate Czech Antique Cotton Lace Trim Lot Tulle Airy Pieces French Dolls Small Projects BearsAntique Silk Satin Fabric Cranberry Red French Doll Panel Flapper Dress LineBeautiful French Style Costume - Fit 10" To 10 1/2" Antique/reproduction Doll.Beautiful Antique Tete Bebe Jumeau Vintage French Bisque Head DollAntique Dimity Corded Cotton Fabric 30wide Blue White Stripe French China DollDamaged Dolls House Miniature Furniture Walnut French Victorian Etagere CabinetAntique Fine Cotton Doll Dress For German Or French Bisque Doll NrAntique Fine Cotton Doll Dress For German Or French Bisque Toddler Doll NrAntique Cotton Tulle Panel Trim French Doll Dress Airy Net Ecru SheerAntique French Tiny Glass Buttons Black 1/4" 36 Pieces Mignonette Dolls FranceAntique Cotton Bird Trim Lace Puffed Pieces French Doll Dress Millinery Hat BearAntique Victorian Art Nouveau 1901-1919 Chain Mail Mesh French Doll Coin Purse.Petite Mere Et Ses Petites Filles - French Raphael Tuck Paper Dolls - With BoxAntique Cotton Lace Trim Lot Tulle Airy Pieces French Dolls Small Projects BearsAntique French Doll Accessories Beautiful Black Velvet Ribbons Hand EmbroideryAntique Vintage Cotton Trim Lot Blue And White French Dolls Yardage Picot Tulle