Antique German and French dolls date from before 1930. Most were of ceramic or composition. The Germans, especially, mass-produced dolls in composition—a mixture composed mostly of glue and sawdust, but which often contained other materials, such as plaster or eggshells. Antique German dolls were typically sold naked or with only a simple chemise, or shirt. Antique French dolls, on the other hand, were known for their exquisite costumes. As they were produced largely by hand, and in much smaller numbers, antique French dolls tend to command higher prices than their antique German counterparts.
Determine the material from which the doll is made. Ceramic dolls have the texture or appearance of china or figurines, while composition more closely resembles plaster, or even the plastic of which modern dolls are made. Manufacturers almost always worked in a specific material. Antique German doll maker Armand Marseilles produced dolls with bisque heads from approximately 1885 to 1930. Bisque is a kind of porous ceramic that has only been fired once. The piece is glazed after being transformed into the form of a doll’s face. German doll maker Simon & Halbig also worked in bisque, as did French antique doll makers like Schmitt et Fils. Other French makers, such as Barrois, Jumeau, and Francois Gaultier used porcelain for their dolls’ heads. Composition dolls are not as fragile as ceramic dolls but may still show cracks or signs of wear.
Look for a manufacturer’s mark on the doll’s head and neck. Marks may include the full name of the manufacturer together with the date of production. They might also be nothing more than a single number that identifies a particular doll style. Doll Reference is a website that provides detailed listings of antique German and French doll makers’ marks. Written texts also provide listings and photographs of individual examples .
Identify unmarked antique German and French dolls by noting features typical of individual manufacturers. Most French dolls were marketed under the name Société Française de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets, actually a syndicate of private doll makers. Included were those by Bru Jeune with their distinctive low and full cheeks, and Jumeau dolls with their realistic heads modelled after adult fashion dolls. Jumeau later made triste (sad) baby dolls with long faces. In Germany, Heinrich Handwerk designed soft, sweet-looking child’s faces for its collection of bisque dolls. The actual manufacturing of the heads was carried out by Simon & Halbig.
Note the special features of dolls’ bodies and heads. Antique German doll maker, Simon & Halbig provided the heads for bodies by C.M. Bergman, Franz Schmidt, Kammer & Reinhardt, and many others. Armand Marseilles dolls almost always have glass eyes, rather than painted ones. And many French manufacturers, such as Jumeau, were highly innovative in developing “unbreakable” all-bisque bodies, some of which later had jointed arms and legs. Others, such as Eugene Gesland, improved cloth bodies by reinforcing them with metal frames, while Claude Joseph Blampoix was a pioneer of intricately joined wooden doll bodies.
Many dolls lack their original costumes. Missing doll wardrobes can be recreated based on known examples. As a less costly alternative, simply try dressing the doll in clothes appropriate to the particular period of manufacture. Many antique German dolls were intended to be dressed in clothes that would be made by their young owners.
Always check heads against bodies if the two appear to represent the work of two different manufacturers. Do not assume that a Simon & Halbig head means a Simon & Halbig doll.
Tips and warnings
- Many dolls lack their original costumes. Missing doll wardrobes can be recreated based on known examples. As a less costly alternative, simply try dressing the doll in clothes appropriate to the particular period of manufacture. Many antique German dolls were intended to be dressed in clothes that would be made by their young owners.
- Always check heads against bodies if the two appear to represent the work of two different manufacturers. Do not assume that a Simon & Halbig head means a Simon & Halbig doll.