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    

Kestner Alphabet? Mystery K Antique Lady Fashion Doll W Human Hair Wig A BeautyAntique J.steiner Paris Bisque " Head Only " Around 1900s(5) Antique Miniature Bone Stanhope Binoculars~french Fashion Doll Accessory YqzAntique French Sfbj 60 Fairy Doll (bleuette Size 8/0 Head)Old Antique German French Unknown Bisque Head Doll W/ Cameo And Paperweight Eyes13" Tete Jumeau #4, Closed Mouth, Blue Paperweight Eyes, Not Perfect, No ReserveAntique French Art Deco Paris Edwardian Silk Madame Pompadour Boudoir Bed DollAntique Large Tambour Lace Shawl 48x51 French Doll Dress Ecru Tulle Net Wedding16" Beautiful Emile Duillet By Jumeau French Bebe C1889 Antique Doll Antique Ca. 1890s Miniature French Fashion Doll Purse W/ Metal Studs Fabulous!Antique German French Bisque Doll Dress Cotton Lace Ruffles Factory Original Wonderful C1930 Lenci Alma Raynal Type French 20" Doll All OriginalAntique Silk Chiffon Doll Dress For Lady Doll Lace Hand Beading Its Gorgeous!French Silk Satin & Silk Lace Couturier Bebe Dress For Antique Bru Jumeau DollAntique German French Bisque Doll Dress Cotton Lace Ribbon Factory Original Antique Special 7.2" Mignonette,composition Body,bisque Swivel Head,french TypeAntique Bisque French Fashion Doll Clothing Jacket & Skirt Brown Velvet & LaceAntique Bisque French Fashion Doll Clothing Jacket & Skirt Blues, Blacks & PlaidFine Antique German French Porcelain Marquise Lady Half Doll Figure Pin Cushion12" Smiling Bru Reprod. French Doll Artist "chunkycherubs", Artist DressedStunning Antique Blone Mohair Doll Wig 12.5'' Head Extensions!!!Antique French Jumeau Bebe Doll Numbered 13 Ca 1890Antique Ecru Handmade French Alencon Lace Needlelace Trim 44" 4.5" Wide * DollsAntique French Faux Bamboo Doll Armoire For Fashion Doll Or China DollAntique Cotton Tulle Lace Trim Ruffling 4yard Schiffli Net French Doll Dress HatAntique Bisque French Fashion Doll Clothing Jackets Only Lot Of 3 Fab 11 3/4" Bleuette?? Style Marked 9/0 French Or German Antique Bisque DollAntique Silk Tissue Embroidered Gauze Flower Lace Trim French Dolls Lot BearsAntique Bisque French Fashion Doll Clothing Jacket & Skirt Old Silk Fabric Antique French Tan Leather Button Up Doll Boots Shoes W Heel Marked Jj 3Antique German Or French Ball Jointed Composition Doll Body 17" Parts RepairVtg Old Marie Antoinette Silk Dress +bonus For Antique French Cloth Boudoir DollExquisite Authentic Antique French Fashion Couture Doll Dress Factory Original Antique Depose Jumeau Doll Body Only For Parts Around 1900s..18th/19th Century French Miniature Doll FanWonderful Blonde Mohair Doll Wig For Antique French Or German Doll15" Gebruder Kuhnlenz #38.24 Closed Mouth French Fashion-type Doll~$1 Nr AuctionAntique Cotton Tambour Tulle Lace Intricate Pattern French Doll Dress Dainty Rare Antique German Or French Art Deco Porcelain Flapper Lady Half Doll FigureDoll House Miniature Antique French Porcelain Lidded BoxAntique German Or French Composition Ball Jointed Doll Body 12" Parts RepairNew Barbie Collectors Club French Quarter Limited Edition Outfit Dress B2518Antique Tiny Sheep - For French Fashion Doll - Putz? - Glass Eyes Antique Original Cotton Dress For French Or German Doll 14-15" (35-38 Cm)Vintage Cotton Dimity Fabric 1930s Pink Stripe Flower 34 Wide French Doll DressAntique Tiny Silk Soutache Black Trim Lot Wide Victorian Goth French Doll22" Sfbj Depose Jumeau In Antique CostumeOld 16-1/2" French Composition Doll BodyAntique German French Bisque Doll Dress Factory Original White Cotton SmallAntique Silk Ribbonwork Guipure Lace Collar Trim Intricate French Doll Dress HatAntique Silk Panne Velvetslate Blue 18"w Millinery Hat French Doll Dress Trim Antique Doll Dress, Vintage, Wool, Satin, For French Or German Doll.~ Wonderful! Antique Style Vintage Child Doll French Cheveux H.h. Wig & Hat ~Gorgeous Antique Doll Hat / Bonnet, Wired, Silk Satin, Lace, French Bebe Antique Cotton Ruffle Tulle Lace Intricate Pattern French Doll Dress Dainty Antique Dorset Button Card Great Graphics French Doll Dress Display Trim17” Jumeau Dep 6, Lovely Blue Sleep Eyes, Perfect Bisque, No Reserve!Antique Doll Sfbj France Paris Orig Bisque Head Composition Body 8" #301Old French Bru Jne Antique Bisque Head Reproduction Artist Adelle Doll Nr5.5" Lovely Antique French Fashion Doll Lady Head Beautiful Reproduction