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    

Old Antique French Bisque Head Unis 301 Bebe Doll Boxed Clothes Hats Items Etc ~ As Found!! Beautiful Antique Closed Mouth 16" Bebe Tete Jumeau Child Doll ~Gorgeous Jumeau Bebe Size 3Gorgeous Jumeau Portrait DollArtist Reproduction Of Paris France French Jules Steiner Antique DollArtist Reproduction Paris France French Bru Jne Antique Doll & Beautiful DressAntique Tete Jumeau 23" French Bisque Open Mouth Doll Dep 9 Wooden & Compo Body Antique French Or German Bisque Doll String Moving Head And Arms Orig ClothingSize 5 Antique/vintage Blue Leather French Marked Jumeau Doll ShoesAntique Bisque Doll German Head French Walker Body 2xStunning 1800's Francois Gaultier French Fashion DollVery Rare Early French Boudoir Smoking Male Composition Doll - Original ClothingAll Bisque French Type Mignonette Doll - Swivel Neck - Brown BootsArtist Reproduction Of Paris France French F G Francois Gaultier Antique DollRare Antique French Cloth Paper Mache Uncle Sam Patriotic Smoker Boudoir Doll Beautiful Victorian Lady Dress For Antique French Fashion Poupee Doll Tiny 9"antique French Doll - Body And Shoes Marked 0, Head Marked DepBeautiful Reproduction French Fashion DollAntique Ribbed Corset For Your French Jumeau China Fashion Or German DollComposition Doll Marked Ideal Flirt Eye Vintage Antique Silk Cameo French BonnetAll Bisque French Type Mignonette Doll - Swivel Neck - Painted EyesBeautiful Artist Clairmaid French Bru Doll Darling Artist Reproduction Of French Antique A T Thullier Doll Bleuette FriendAdorable S.f.b.j Laughing Jumeau Character DollAntique Fashion Doll Small Hump Back Travel Trunk Antique French Bisque Doll 18 "composition BodyAntique Marked G.m. Leather Covered French / German Fashion Doll's Travel TrunkArtist Reproduction Of French R D Rabery & Delphieu Antique Doll Bleuette FriendAmazing French S.f.b.j Bluette DollAntique French Jumeau Bebe Gold Tone Pin Plus Tortoise Gold Tone Hair Comb Doll7" Antique Bisque Doll German ? French ? Composition Body Great OutfitAmerican Girl Doll New In Box Grace's French Bulldog Dog17” Reproduction *french Fashion Doll* By Gillie CarlsonAntique French Mystery Bisque Socket Head Lovely Antique Dress For A Bisque French Or German DollSize 5 Antique/vintage Blue Leather French Marked Jumeau Doll Shoes As IsExcepionally Rare Expedition Size 36” French Mothereau Bebe W/stunning Outfit LrBeautiful Antique Strawberry Blonde Human Hair Large Doll Wig~ Tlc!!! Doll Hospital Needed... 19" French Sfbj 60 Child Doll22" Antique Socket Head French Doll As Is Wood & Compo Body, Needs Eyes, Compo HFrench Style Silk Dress & Hat To Fit 21"/23" Antique/reproduction DollA Maryland Doll Collector's Photo Album Antique French Kestner China MilnersSmall 12" French Flapper Boudoir Bed Felt Cloth Doll Original 1920s-onOutstanding Hard To Find Ant 21" French Sfbj Chubby Toddler Named Twirp AdorableAntique Tiniest Miniature Child's Or Doll's Sewing Thimble & Hm Shoe, Rare!~ Hard To Find!! Antique 14" French Bru Body... Needs Works ... As Is ~Antique Simon Halbig #550 Bisque Head Only Antique Fashion Lady Doll Brown Kid Slipper Shoes Antique Fashion Lady Doll Pink Kid Slipper Shoes Adv Postcard Jumeau Dolls 1900 Paris France Exposition~doll Tea Party~black DollAntique Fashionable Lady Doll Brown Kid Slipper Shoes Vintage Reproduction French Doll Neva Wade Garnett Calli Lou Mixed Lot Antique French Bobbin Lace Doll Trim. Insertion Yardage..Darling Doll Props! Antique? Vintage? Need Tlc ��Antique /vintage French Fashion Doll DressReproduction French Ej 8"mignonette Doll W Jointed Comp. Body, Glass EyesLovely Antique Black/brown Ethnic Hawaiian Simon Halbig Doll All OriginalAntique Reproduction 1984 - French Albert Marque 12 Doll - K Azuma - 19 InchRare Antique French? Boudoir Doll Smoking Cigarette 27 1/2 InchesAntique & Vintage Lot Of Doll Shoes For French & German Fashion Dolls, 1950's D