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 French Bisque Jumeau Doll Portrait Tete Bebe Fashion Poupee Wood SignedAntique Jules N. Steiner 22" French Bisque Mechanical Walking Wind Up Bebe DollOriginal Antique Victorian French Or German Bisque Head Doll Dress All WhiteworkAntique Bisque Dep 249 Doll French Or German For French MarketAntique Original French Factory Dress F/jumeau,bru,steiner Or German Doll 21-23"Antique Sfbj 301 French Bisque Mechanical Walking Bebe Doll ParisBeautiful Doll Hat/bonnet, Wired, Velvet, German, French Bebe, Antique DollAntique French C1930 Raynal Cloth Sailor Boy Doll Ex Orig Cond Lenci Type Outstanding 30" Chunky French Dep Jumeau Antique Bebe Doll-gorgeous In Every WayAntique 1890's French Breton Carved Wooden Miniature Doll Open Hutch Buffet YqzBespaq Occasional Chair, French Style 1/6 Scale, Barbie/fr, Lightly Usd..*beautifulbudget Bebe*20"sfbj 60 Antique French Doll-lux Sleep Eyes+auburn CurlsAntique French Original Bonnet Hat For Jumeau Bru Steiner Or German Doll 23-26"Marbled Halls Connie Lowe Kaye Wiggs Outfit French Victorian Dress OoakAntique Doll French Broken Beauty Stunning Face Rare Needs .t. L. C. Pair Of Large Reproduction French-style Composition Bodies For Antique Dolls!About 11.75" French Antique Bisque Doll W. Leath Body Marked "8"? On Head RepairTiny 8" Ej Bru Doll~ Repro, With Wig, Shoes, On Compo French Style Seeley Body~Victorian 1890's Toy Pocket Watch Paris Accessory 4 Jumeau Doll Hh Paris French Vintage Shell Purse For Bisque Dolls Hand Painted German Bisque French Bisque Taller Targioni Filled Dolls Curio Cabinet Shabby French Dollhouse MiniatureAntique German Bisque Head Doll French Straight Wrist Body Adorable!!Ltd Toy Stamp & Antique S.f.b.j. French 8.5" Afro American Bisque Head Doll BUgly. Antique French 9" Jumeau Doll...truly!...bisque Head, Wooden Body & Limbs#d1110, 17 Inch French Fashion Doll Reproduction By Jolyn 1991 Texas PainterAntique French Carved Mother Of Pearl (mop) Coin Purse.suitable Antique Doll?Old French Boudoir Doll.paris Circa 1900Rare Version, 14" French Fashion Lady Doll Ready To Dress, By Beth GoldingAntique French German Fashion Raffia Straw Silk Floral Bouquet Doll Hat Bonnet Antique Great Dress For French Or German Bisque Large Doll Bru Jumeau Kestner NrReproduction Long Face Jumeau Triste French Doll (cody) 20½" 1989 Estrimly Beautiful Antique Doll Wool & Silk Taffeta Dress & Hat For 12" DollAntique 19 Th All Bisque French Doll Mignonette Joan Of ArcBeautiful Costume For Antique French Fashion Doll 18-19 Inch.(1860years)Gorgeous Reproduction French Fashion DollAntique 1920s French Boudoir Bed Adult Doll Original Clothes 27" Tall No ReserveTiny Enamel Pin For Antique French Or German Bisque Doll Bleuette MignonetteAntique Art Deco 1920's French Boudoir Doll 32" With Eyelashes Composition ShoesSize 14/15" Vintage Doll Wig For Antique French Or German Bisque Doll NrCotton And Laces Dress For Antique French German Doll 22" - 23"Antique *human Hair Wig* For German Or French DollBig 24" Porc.bisque Repro New Composition Doll Aqua Silk French Dress Glass EyesUgly Antique French 8" Jumeau Boy Doll~ Bisque Head, Oilcloth Body & Wood LimbsVintage Crepe Dress For French Or German Bisque Lg Doll Bru Jumeau Kestner Nr29in Early, Jumeau Bebe French~ Doll. Applied Ears ~~georgous ~~ Antique Tete Jumeau Doll Head **as Is**Vintage Reproduction Composition French Doll Body 9"Pretty 10" Bru~ Repro By Demaris Alves On Compo French Style Body~French 100% Human Hair Wig Light Golden Brown Size 9-10 Only 1 !!!Antique German, French ??? China Head Doll Without Head Broken Foot - Dress!*chunky Delight* 19" 267 Heubach Koppelsdorf Antique Bisque Character Baby!Antique French Paper Dolls Belles Dames En Grande Toilette Hachette & Co. UncutAntique Linen Factory Doll Dress Clothes German French Bisque China Paper MacheVintage Lacy Couture Dress For French Or German Bisque Doll Bru Jumeau NrLovely Signed Unusual Antique French Bisque Or Porcelain Half Doll25" Antique Boudoir Bed Doll French American Italian 1920s Art Deco Flapper LegsLong French Antique Blonde Human Hair Wig - 12" - About 18" Long 27cm Sweet French Jullien 14 Undressed All Bisque Reproduction Doll Unis-france-- French Bebe Doll--made By Sfbj--Lots Antique French Valenciennes Insertion Lace Trim Edging Dolls Vintage Floral