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A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANTIQUE DOLLS--Part II, Chinas and Parians through German Dolly Faced Dolls

Part one of this series covered early dolls--from the Queen Anne wood dolls through papier mache and wax dolls.  Now, we turn to some of the jewels of antique doll collecting--Chinas, Parians, French and German fashion dolls, and the French and German child dolls.  Although this is mostly a historical series, general price ranges have been included for many types of dolls.

China Dolls and Parians

china2.jpg (5809 bytes)The first first type of antique doll that is widely-known among non-doll collectors is the, the china doll, and her close cousin, the rarer parian. The china doll had her heyday between 1840 and 1880, before bisque dolls became preferred by children, although china dolls were still mass-produced as late as the 1920s. China dolls have heads of glazed porcelain, and parians have heads of unglazed porcelain, and the majority were produced in Germany from 1850 on. China dolls are often identified by their hairstyles--be it a covered wagon style (hair flat on top with sausage curls around the head, 1840s), an Alice in Wonderland (molded head band, 1850s) or the Dolly Madison (curls all over and a molded ribbon)--whatever was fashionable at a certain time. Most china dolls represented ladies, and were fashionably dressed in up-to-date fashions. After about 1880, china heads were often sold separately, leaving the doll owner to make her own doll body and costume. The more elaborate the hairstyle and decoration on a china or parian doll, generally the higher the value--from about $300 for a common 1860s Highland Mary, to several thousand for a rare, elaborately decorated parian with a swivel-head and glass eyes.

German and French Fashion Dolls

Finally, we come to the best known group of antique dolls--the German and French bisque dolls. These dolls were produced from the 1840s until after World War I, with the amount of production and number of manufacturers increasing significantly around 1860. The years from 1860 through 1890 were dominated by fashion dolls. These dolls were made to represent ladies, and they were dressed in exquisite, elaborate reproductions of current fashions. Most were made in France (frequently from heads produced in Germany, although Jumeau and Bru, Huret and some others produced their own heads) with inset glass eyes and woman-shaped kid bodies, by companies such as Jumeau, Bru, Gaultier, Rohmer, Simone and Huret. Fashion dolls, despite their elaborateness, were definitely playthings. Little girls (usually affluent since these dolls were quite expensive) would perfect their sewing skills by sewing wardrobes for their dolls, as they learned about the importance and substance of fashion for mid 19th century women. Often these dolls would come with entire trunks of clothes and accessories! In fact, an entire industry existed to costume and accessorize these dolls, in the Passage Choiseul area of Paris. These businesses included seamstresses, milliners, shoemakers, jewelers, and shoemakers! Magazines instructed girls on the proper fashions, and also provided patterns for making clothing. Today, fashion dolls are very expensive to collect, varying in price from around $2,000 for unmarked or later dolls, up to $20,000 or more for Hurets and rare examples in original outfits.

French Bébés

Bébés, or dolls made to represent children, were quite revolutionary for their time (starting with some representations about 1850, but not really heating up and hitting their zenith until the late 1800s), since most dolls up until that time were made to represent adults. Eventually, Bébés would overtake fashion dolls in popularity, and would lead to their demise. French Bébés, made by the master doll makers Jumeau, Bru, Steiner, Rohmer and others would have their ascendancy from the 1860s to the 1880s, followed by the German doll makers, who basically took over the industry with their quality, but lower priced products in the 1890s.

French Bébés were the pinnacle of the dollmaking industry. These dolls, with their kid or composition bodies, fine bisque heads, and beautiful expressions, were again expensive toys made for upper-class children. Bébés were usually sold exquisitely dressed, in doll-sized fashions worn by children of that era. Today, prices for French Bébés vary widely, depending on quality. Expect to pay several thousand at minimum for Jumeau or even more for Brus. Later French Bébés, by the S.F.B.J (which was formed by French doll makers in 1899 in response to the threat from the German manufacturers) are not as fine quality, with more heavily tinted faces, and lesser clothing, can be had for several hundred dollars, especially for post-WWI examples.

German Dolly-Faced Dollsdollyface.jpg (29045 bytes)

BébésThe German "dolly-faced" child dolls are the ubiquitous antique bisque dolls that collectors today are most likely to find, produced from 1890 to about 1930, from such manufacturers as Armand Marseille, Simon and Halbig, K*R,  and Kestner. Most of these dolls came from the Thuringia region, which had rich clay deposits used to make the porcelain. Many of the German dolly-faced dolls are unmarked as to manufacturer, and there are many manufacturers that had their names and other details literally obliterated by the World Wars. The most sought-after of the German dolls of the early 20th century are the character-faced dolls, produced in response to consumer demands for more realistic-looking children dolls. Kämmer and Reinhardt, Heubach and Kestner produced many high-quality expressive character dolls which are eagerly sought by collectors today. Also eagerly sought by collectors are all-bisque dolls (head, torso and limbs all made of bisque) from manufacturers such as Kestner, Heubach, and Simon and Halbig.

For German bisque dolls, as with all antique dolls, remember that quality varies widely even within one manufacturer's products--dolls with finely detailed features (such as feathered brows and individual upper and lower eyelashes) and pale bisque are always preferred over dolls with single-stroke or other simplified features and darkly tinted bisque. Also, today's collectors prefer closed-mouth bisque dolls, since many fewer of them were produced than open-mouth dolls. Common German bisque dolls of average quality which are unmarked or from Armand Marseille can be found for as little as $200 or $300, with prices for sought-after German characters soaring into the thousands.

Part I:  Early Dolls Through Papier Mache

by Denise Van PattenAll photos (china doll and German dolly face doll) by Denise Van Patten.
Portions of this series first printed in County Lines Magazine March, 1999. 

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