A Brief History of Bisque Dolls

Bisque dolls (more commonly known as porcelain dolls) have a polarizing effect on people. For example, I have always loved dolls and find porcelain dolls to be lovely and endearing, almost overarchingly. On the other end, there is a mythology to antique dolls where people attribute them to appear “haunted,” or “creepy,” and attribute Halloween-like qualities to them. However, if you notice, antique dolls don’t set beauty standards. I think there is merit to all sentiments around antique dolls (being mindful this is in part due to scary movies that have unkindly characterized dolls in a certain way which has contributed to the sentiments people hold), but in my personal opinion, there should be so much reverence and appreciation towards bisque dolls, rather than holding onto any fear-factor. Held at auction, antique dolls of this sort can fetch very high prices. The most expensive bisque doll ever sold at auction was for over $200,000 at Bonhams in 2014.

The bisque doll originates between the years 1860 – 1900, mainly produced in France and Germany. Interestingly, most all of the doll heads were manufactured in Germany. Doll production companies during this time include Jumeau, Bru, Gaultier, Rohmer, Simone, and Huret. There was even a dedicated area in Paris to solely produce doll clothing and accessories! This area was the “Passage Choiseul.” A fun fact regarding the monarch, Marie Antoinette, she likely developed her love of fashion very early in life because she adored dressing her dolls in different outfits. It is likely that she acquired a unique sense of fashion because of the early psychology involved with her doll play! This is of historical importance because Marie Antoinette boldly rebelled against the system she was apart of by wearing fashions that nobody else dared to wear! She set trends and she also believed in her own sense of style. I know I felt a deep sense of joy dressing and styling my American Girl doll, Samantha, when I was a child. I also loved that Samantha had a miniature bisque doll of her own, which fit the time period that she is set in, the Victorian era (it was like doll inception!)

The Nutcracker miniature bisque doll for the original Samantha Parkington doll

Bisque is unglazed porcelain with a matte finish, which gives the porcelain a realistic skin-like texture. In the 1980s, there was a revival of the collectors market for these dolls, which is intriguing. Much of the popular culture of the 1980s is having its own revival today, so it only makes sense for these dolls to have their own place in how we appreciate and understand doll history. While bisque dolls may not be nearly as enticing as contemporaries, such as Madame Alexander or American Girl, these porcelain dolls have a rightful place of historic appreciation because they are the beginnings of what would become a large doll market (i.e. a glass case for display!) For me, I started to appreciate and understand the value of bisque dolls because of my American Girl doll. Many of the features and face shape of the American Girl doll is actually reminiscent of the early bisque dolls. In addition, understanding and having reverence for the past enables us to bring forward what is exciting and valuable for the future. Doll history is fascinating and appreciating bisque dolls is a key facet of its storied history!

Sources: Wikipedia and Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore To The Revolution by Caroline Weber

A Marie Antoinette doll by Madame Alexander

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