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    

Antique Bisque 1889 Depose S.g.d.g. 24" Jumeau Doll Stamped Head & BodyAmazing Huge 28" Size 13 Triste /long Face Jumeau W/applied Ears Orig Chemise LrAntique Little Bb Dep Size 1 Circa Xixeme Attic Condition Antique Sfbj 301 French Bisque Doll - 23"Nice Portrait Jumeau Fashion DollVintage Cotton Lace Trim Lily Of Valley 2.3 Yards French Doll Dress Ecru BearsAntique Rare Gorgeous Handmade Point De Gaze Lace French Doll Rose Brussels TrimDivine Antique Original Mib Bebe Jumeau...remarkable Condition!Rare Antique French Sfbj 60 Paris Doll Wearing Antique Dress Stunning5" Antique French Bisque Mignonnette Doll All OriginalAntique Bisque French Christmas Tree Fairy Angel Doll Boxed DecorationAntique Bleuette Type 301 All Original Very Nice Beautiful DollAntique Silk Lace Bodice Trim Satin French Doll Mignonette Victorian JacketWonderful French Vintage 1920s / Art Deco Boudoir Doll Superb Find From FranceFrench Fashion Adorable Head Unmarked F.g.,body, Mohair Wig Corset Many Goodies21" 1860s Jumeau/french Steiner Type Chunky Composition Doll BodyRemarkable Early 28" Tete Jumeau Flawless Bisque Head, Applied Pierced Ears,Antique Silk Lace Bodice Wool Taffeta French Doll Mignonette Victorian JacketAntique Silk Lace Bodice Tulle French Doll Mignonette Victorian JacketAll Original Lenci Type - French Raynal 19 Inch Doll From 1920's -stunning!Vintage 1920s French Cloth Face Boudoir Doll All Original 30" Made In FranceMystery Antique Cloth Netting Doll Head! French Boudoir? Italian? No Reserve! 19thc Victorian Era Hand Painted Bisque Head Leather Body 19" DollBisque Antique Doll. Jumeau. Circa 1890. Gorgeous Baby Doll Child's French Victorian Silk Tulle Ruffled Bonnet Hat Rare Antique Putz Sheep With Pink-red Painted Eyes And Silk Bow22" French Bisque Doll In Need Of Tlc6" Antique Reproduction Porcelain Bisque French Millicent Character Doll LotWonderful Old Silk Flapper Dress & Hat For Antique French Cloth Boudoir Bed Doll3 Princess Dolls Of The World India, China & French Court 2001 MattelReplica Antique French J. Steiner Paris Bebe A15 Doll Antique Composition Body 17" Artist Antique Reproduction Bisque Head French Sfbj Laughing Jumeau DollVintage Cotton Batiste Soft Rose Floral French Doll Dress 34 Wide 1930 RosebudsAntique Metal Ombre Flapper Lace Ribbonwork Ruffle Trim French Doll Millinery 19thc Victorian Era Hand Painted Bisque Head Leather Body 14" DollAntique Blonde Silk Lace French Doll Flowers Airy Tulle Bears TrimAntique Handmade Lace Pieces 1.75 Yard Lot Intricate Bears French DollsAntique Tiny Glass Buttons Cranberry Red French Doll Dress 5/16" Intricate Antique Silk Fringe Trim 1.5yards French Dolls Blue Cocoa Civil War FlapperAntique French Made Toy Pocket Watch For Jumeau Bru DollAntique Cotton Tatting Lace Trim 1.75yd Tiny Picot French Doll Dress Ecru BearsAntique Cotton Guipure Lace Applique Swags French Doll Dress Millinery TrimsAntique German Bisque Doll #219thc Victorian Era Juno Hand Painted Bisque Head 6" DollAntique Silk Panne Velvet Purple Violet Flapper Dress French Doll Dress Trim Beautiful Antique Doll Bonnet Organdy, Lace, German, French DollVintage Metal Trim Dresden Christmas 1 Yard Gold French Doll Bear Flapper HatAntique Cotton Lace Pieces Lot Intricate Bears French Dolls Tambour TulleRare Early Small Bisque Antique German Or French Dollhouse Doll - Leather BodyAntique Silk Passementerie Ball Trim Tiny Button Dangle French Doll Dress CreamJumeau French Doll 19" Marked 7Antique 6.5" Sfbj Unis France Paris Bisque Doll International Costume All OrigVintage Mohair Terrier Dog For Antique Doll With Label Made In GermanyDoll 21" Madame Alexander 1986 W Box Toulouse Lautrec French Home Interior DecorAntique Composition Boudoir Hand Painted Doll Cloth Body Hand Painted French VtgRare !! V Elvet/velour & Silk Geniune 1850s French Fashion Jumeau Type VestBeautiful Jumeau French Bisque Bebe, Size 12 Antique Boudoir Doll"atelier Baronne Belling"Voile Drop Waist Dress Antique Fabric 4 Old Compo Bisque Doll French GermanAntique China & Composition Cloth Doll French Flapper Googly Eyes Vintage Cute