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    

Old Antique Bisque French Fashion German Closed Mouth Simon Halbig Doll Rare HtfGorgeous And Rare Antique Ernst Grossman / Not PerfectAll Original Large Classic Dep Simon & Halbig Antique Doll French Trade NrAntique Bru Jne R Doll In Original Box Size 9~*~*~estate Find~**~ Antique Bisque Doll French?? German?? Antique Rare French Mechanical(centrifugal) Spinning Top Bisque Head Doll C1870Antique Rare Cotton Bobble Tulle Lace 69" French Doll Dress Ecru Intricate BearOld Antique Celluloid Petitcollin French Character Doll C.1920 Bebe France FineLarge Lot Antique French Lace Trim Tablecloth Collar Remnants Doll CraftsAntique Steiner French Bisque Doll- Perfect Bisque- 25" Tall 1920's-30's Boudoir Half Doll Lady Lamp.tlc Parts-restore German/french?Gorgeous Antique French Mignonette Parian Bisque Doll Head Glass EyesVintage Millinery Lot Velvet Violet Pansy Purple Tiny French Doll Hat TrimAll Bisque HeadOutstanding Htf Petit Size 13” Sfbj 251 Toddler Named Twerp W/amazing Outfit LrRobert Best Silkston Barbie Doll ~ The French Maid Gold Label ~ RareAntique Original French Bebe Cork Pate For Jumeau, Steiner, Bru Or Eden Bebe NrC1890 14" German Bisque Doll Simon & Halbig 1078 For French Market 8" Circ NrFabulous Antique 5 Piece Ensemble For French Fashion DollAntique 7" Wide Victorian Pink Roses Silk Ribbon 2.75 Yd French Doll Dress HatAntique French Limoges Cherie Shoulder Head For Antique DollMadame Pompadour Style Old Silk Shoes For Antique French Cloth Boudoir Doll 24" Rare Early French Juneau Vtn Doll Bisque Paris Frnch Dbl Row Of Teeth #301Vtg Antique Miniature Litho Victorian Candy Container-bisque Doll AccessoryAntique Vtg Flower Millinery Lot Shabby Silk Roses Hat French Flapper Doll DressAntique Large Cotton Tulle Panel Pintuck Lace 3.5 Yard Ruffle French Doll DressAntique Silk Lace Bodice Blouse Wedding Champagne Shade Gauze Cotton French Doll19" Antique Gaultier French Fashion Doll Antique French Bisque Doll Head "limoge" Stationary Eyes Open Mouth TeethPetitcollin French Celluloid Doll 13 Inches Old French? Bisque Doll / Mint Head Mkd 1902 1 / Open Mouth Wood Body Needs TlcAntique Vtg Flower Millinery Velvet Tiny Silk Hat Flapper French Bonnet Doll22" Artist Antique Reproduction Bisque Porcelain French Fashion Poupee Lady DollLovely Vintage Pale Pink Silk & Lace Dress For Antique French Or German DollSeeley's Doll Body French 10.5 Inches Minttagged Sfbj11osBebe Jumeau Silk Reproduction Antique Style Dress For French Or German DollAntique French Card Lace Cotton Trim 12 Yards Bolt Doll Dress France Bear CreamVtg Miniature Antique Folding Paper & Wood Fan-bisque AccessoriesMadame Pompadour Old Custom Pure Silk Dress For Antique French Boudoir Doll Antique Doll Suitcase Of Pewter Dishes Gl Paris Complete Never Used DollhouseAntique 1920s French Boudoir Bed Doll Blonde Hair Blue Eyes Coiled BraidsFrench Mystery DollVtg Miniature Dollhouse *2x3"antique Lithograph Picture-brass Frame* Bisque DollAntique French Silk Gauze Purple Roses Dress Panel Dolls France Ethereal SheerAntique Vtg Silk Flower Spray Bridal French Doll Dress Bonnet Hat Millinery 1980's Sasha Brunette 16" W/ French School Girl Outfit Marina #102s5 1/2" E.j.jumeau Repro- Ready To Dress Darling!Vintage Lot Flower Millinery Velvet Tiny Silk Hat Flapper French Bonnet DollAntique French Fashion Doll Sized Porcelain Soap Vanity Box W/lid Painted RosesAntique Vtg Duchesse & Point De Gaze Lace Panel Petalled Rose French Doll DressCathy Hansen 5 1/2" French Wrestler Bisque Doll - MignonetteSweet Antique All Bisque Jointed 5" Doll Closed Mouth Glass Eyes 357/7 DollhouseAntique Teeny Tiny Oriental Asian French Lilliputian 2 1/2" DollRare Found! Antique German Composition,bisque Head, Kathe Kruse?french? Mohair Doll Wig French, German Bebe Or Compo Doll Size 11-12Antique French Valenciennes 3.25yards Lace Handmade Trim Doll Dress Intricate Antique French Silk Lace Fine Tulle Trim 1.5 Yards Doll Dress France Bear CreamAntique Wood Buffet Cabinet For French German Bisque Doll Wonderful PieceBeautiful Old Vintage French Bisque Head H Closed Mouth Reproduction Doll NrAntique Fine White Cotton Embroidered/pleated Front Doll Dress/sm French Doll