Antique European dolls, produced between 1850 and 1930, were originally designed to resemble the adult female form, rather than today’s concept of the quintessential “toddler-looking” doll. These early dolls were called “Fashion Dolls” or Poupées (the French term for “dolls”) as these dolls had the more mature female shape, and the purpose of these dolls was to showcase the latest fashions of the day (a la modern-day Barbie). Bisque – an unglazed porcelain which resembles a skin-like appearance — was the most popular medium for French doll companies during this period. (Two other similar materials which are often misidentified as bisque: (1) China dolls, which have a glazed porcelain head and (2) Parian dolls, which are made of a creamy-white, unpainted bisque (which resembles the look of marble).
The bisque doll’s body was usually made of leather, cloth, or a jointed (aka – movable) wooden body. Many of these dolls were finished with glass eyes and an attached mohair wig. (All-bisque dolls were made, but, due to their fragility, very few have survived.)
Toward the end of the 19th century, the Bébé doll, or “dolls in the image of a little girl,” took precedence over the Fashion Dolls.
Typically, antique bisque dolls (in decent condition) are worth over $2,000, with a doll in “excellent” condition worth even more. Mark Moran describes a bisque doll in “excellent” condition as follows: without cracks, hairlines, repairs, paint rub, or “wig pulls” (the improper wig removal which results in parks of the head paint being removed). The doll also still wears her original outfit – complete, and in good condition. An antique bisque doll, in excellent condition, from well-known companies could fetch up to $35,000!
Here are some of the most famous (and highly collected) French doll-makers (information from Moran’s book):
Jumeau (French company; c. 1840s): founded by Louis-Desire Belton and Pierre-Francois Jumeau, Jumeau was extremely well-known, at the time, for its high-quality Bisque dolls. Today, Jumeau dolls still command top dollar. Some identified model names include Deposes, E. J. Bébés, Triste, Portrait Bébé, Poupée de Modes, Bébé Phonographe, and Tete Jumeau Bébés.
Henri Alexandre (French company; c.1888-1895): lines include Henri Alexandre Bébé or Phenix Bébés (of which there are 30 models). In 1895, this company was later absorbed into the
Jules Steiner doll company.
Bru Jne & Cie (“Bru”) (French company; c.1866 to 1899): founded by Leon Casimir Bru. Famous lines include the Bru Poupée and the Bru Jne Bébé.
Francois Gaultier (French company; c.1860 to 1916): marked as “F.G. Bébé” or “F.G. Poupée.”
A. Halopeau (French company; c. 1881-1889): Aristide Halopeau’s dolls (the Halopeau Bébés) are some of the most valuable antique bisque dolls!
Huret; Schmitt et Fils (“Schmitt Bébés”); and Petit & Dumontier: three other French companies from the late 19th-century whose dolls are rare and valuable.
S.F.B.J.— Société Française de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets (“French Society of Doll and Toy Manufacturers”): in 1899 several well-known French doll manufacturers merged together to form this organization in order to compete in the doll market-place.
German doll-makers also produced beautiful, high-quality bisque dolls during this period. Armand Marseille; Heinrich Handwerck; Kammer & Reinhardt; Alt, Beck, & Gottschalck; and Simon & Halbig are some of the best-known German doll-makers.
(Interesting note: Antique European bisque dolls pop up quite often on Antiques Roadshow. Although most bisque dolls are tall – with most between 13″-21″ in height — in a 2016 episode, doll expert Floyd Jones indicated that the smaller-sized bisque dolls are becoming more popular among doll collectors.)
“Doll Portrait Jumeau #2.” Antiques Roadshow, appraisal by Floyd Jones, season 20, episode 16. PBS, 5 May 2016.
Moran, Mark F. Warman’s Doll: Antique to Modern (Identification and Price Guide). Iola, WI, KP Books, 2004.