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Bisque Dolls

Sunday, July 19, 2009 @ 08:07 AM Karen Hood

A bisque doll or porcelain doll is a doll made partially or wholly out of bisque porcelain. Bisque dolls are characterized by their realistic, skin-like matte finish. They had their peak of popularity between 1860 and 1900 with French and German dolls. Bisque dolls are collectible, and antique dolls can be worth several thousand US dollars. Antique German and French bisque dolls from the 1800s were often made as children’s playthings, but contemporary bisque dolls are predominantly made directly for the collectors market.

Colloquially the terms porcelain doll, bisque doll and china doll are sometimes used interchangeably. But collectors, when referring to antique dolls, make a distinction between china dolls, made of glazed porcelain, and bisque dolls, made of unglazed porcelain. When referring to contemporary dolls the terms porcelain and bisque are sometimes used interchangeably.

Most bisque dolls have a head made of bisque porcelain and a body made of another material. It is usually tinted or painted a realistic skin color. The bisque head is attached to a body made of cloth or leather, or a jointed body made of wood, papier-mâché or composition, a mix of pulp, sawdust, glue and similar materials. Doll bodies are only rarely made entirely of bisque because of its fragility and weight. Bisque dolls usually have eyes made of glass. They vary widely in size, from lifesize down to half an inch.


The earliest European porcelain dolls were china dolls, made predominantly in Germany between 1840 and 1880. China dolls were made of white glazed porcelain, giving them a characteristic glossy appearance, and their hair was painted on. Parian dolls were made in Germany of white unglazed porcelain from the 1850s onwards.

French and German bisque dolls began taking over the market after 1860, and their production continued until after World War I. These dolls wore wigs, typically made from mohair or human hair. Between approximately 1860 and 1890 most bisque dolls were fashion dolls, made to represent grown up women. They were intended for children of affluent families to play with and dress in contemporary fashions. These dolls came from French companies like Jumeau, Bru, Gaultier, Rohmer, Simone and Huret, though their heads were often manufactured in Germany. In the Passage Choiseul area of Paris an industry grew around making clothing and accessories for the dolls.

Up until the mid-1800s, most dolls were made to represent grown-ups, and when child-like dolls first appeared it was a big shift. By the late 1800s child-like dolls overtook the market. Foremost among these were the French Bébés from doll makers like Jumeau, Bru, Steiner and Rohmer, which grew in popularity between the 1860s and 1880s. These were high quality dolls made with great skill. Like the earlier fashion dolls, they were made for children and dressed in contemporary children’s clothing. In the 1890s German doll makers began taking over the market with less expensive dolls. In response, the French doll makers began making dolls as a consortium under the name Société Française de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets (S.F.B.J.) but these later French Bébés were often of lesser quality.

German child-like dolls were predominantly produced between 1890 and 1930. The earliest ones are often referred to as dolly-faced dolls and were made by companies like Armand Marseille, Simon and Halbig, K*R, and Kestner. Many came from the Thuringia region, which has significant deposits of kaolin, which is needed for the manufacturer of porcelain. In the early 1900s companies like Kämmer and Reinhardt, Heubach and Kestner began making more realistic and expressive child-like dolls, often called character-faced dolls.

Small lower-priced all-bisque dolls known as penny dolls were common from the late 1800s to the 1930s. They were unarticulated and made of a single piece of bisque. A few German manufacturers like Kestner also made more detailed dolls entirely of bisque with articulated necks. Bisque was the most common material for doll heads until the turn of the century, when composite material took over. In the early 1900s the bisque doll production began moving to the United States. American Kewpie dolls from the early 1900s were made of bisque, before celluloid became more common.

In the 1980s bisque dolls had a revival with the growth of the collectors market and towards the end of the 20th century production began to move to China.


Antique bisque dolls are collectible and can be quite valuable. The most expensive bisque doll ever sold went for US$200 000. But prices vary widely depending on the quality and condition of the doll. The bisque should be slightly translucent without spots or holes and have well painted detailed features. More articulated bodies that allow for a wider range of posing, like jointed wood or composition bodies, are valued higher than stiffer papier-mâché or leather bodies.

French 1860-1890 fashion dolls are commonly worth over US$2000, and dolls from well-known doll makers like Jumeau, Bru and Huret can be worth over US$20,000. Among the French Bébés early dolls from Jumeau and Bru generally go for several thousand dollars, while later S.F.B.J dolls may be worth only a few hundred. Among German dolls, the character-faced dolls are the most collectible, with rarer dolls fetching several thousand dollars. At the lower end of the price range are dolls that can be found for a few hundred dollars, like dolls from Armand Marseille and common types of dolls from Kestner. Unmarked dolls that can’t be identified as coming from a specific manufacturer also fetch lower prices. Small all-bisque penny dolls can be found at low prices as well.
Source: Wikipedia

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