By Jan Foulke

Q: I really like small dolls, especially the all-bisque ones. I found one that I just loved and was told that it was a French doll. It was about 5.5 inches tall and priced at about $2,000. The dealer said it was not marked, so I thought I’d better find out more about it before I spent that much money. I know from reading your articles that you also collect all-bisque dolls, so thought that I would ask about this doll.

A: Yes, collectors do refer to this all-bisque as a French doll. 50 years ago, when I was first into collecting, the only thing we knew about dolls like this was that most often they were found in France, so everyone assumed that they were French dolls. Through the years, due to dili­gent research, more information has come to light. It is now known that these sweet dolls were actu­ally made by the Simon & Halbig porcelain factory in Germany in the period from 1880 to 1900.

They were produced for the French luxury trade and were dressed and sold in France, most likely to customers who assumed they were made in France. Since the dolls themselves are unmarked, no one really knew where they were made. So many collec­tors today still refer to them as French dolls. The French label gives them a certain cachet that German dolls do not have, as even today French goods, not just dolls, are still considered luxury products.

Another term applied to these dolls is mignonette, which simply means a small doll. It can refer to any type of small doll, but many collectors reserve the term for this particular style of Simon & Halbig doll, as again it gives a French connotation. This is the term I will use in this article. An interesting aside is that small dolls were also referred to as pocket dolls, because little girls could just carry them around in their pockets wherever they were going.

Since these so-called French mignonettes were un­marked, they must be identified by their characteristics. The first thing to look for is the sweet face with a slight smile. Since the mouths are hand-painted, there is quite a bit of variation in the amount of smile, with some artists painting lips that curve up more at the ends than others. The head will have a swivel neck, likely lined with leather to prevent chips to the socket, a bald or closed dome, mo­hair wig, stationary glass eyes, and faintly modeled ears.

Next check out the body structure, which is a slender design with long limbs rep­resenting an older child or young lady. In the larger siz­es, the thumb will be separate. The body has pegged joints at the shoulders and hips, with small pieces of wood holding the elas­tic in place. When the dolls are restrung, the elastic is often pulled through the holes and knotted instead of glued in with wooden pegs, as it’s a much easier process than pegging.

Mignonettes measuring 5.5 inches, made by Simon & Halbig for the French trade. Courtesy of the Foulke Archives

Mignonettes have a variety of molded footwear, and collec­tors enjoy looking for variations in stocking length and color. Some have molded boots, which may be black, blue, peach or cream. Some have one-strap shoes, some have two-straps, usually black or blue with tiny heels. A few mignon­ettes are found with bare feet, and originally had silk ribbons twined around their feet in place of shoes.

The most commonly found sizes are 5 to 5.5 inches. The largest size is 9.25 inches; it’s a stunning doll, but probably I’ve seen no more than half a dozen in that size. As for varia­tions, some early models will be found with painted eyes or molded hair. The molded-hair dolls are very desirable. It’s most desirable to find a mignonette with original clothing. Dresses were often silk with trim of tiny lace and thread-cov­ered buttons. They were luxury dolls and beautifully dressed, as one would expect from an exclusive Paris doll shop.

As for pricing, on today’s market, if purchased from a dealer at a doll show, bisque perfect with correct parts and no cracks, chips, or repairs, a 5 to 5.5-inch all-bisque French mi­gnonette with all-original wig and cloth­ing would go for $1,800 to $2,200. A mignonette that had been appropriately redressed and rewigged might be priced at $1,300 to $1,600, while a naked doll would fetch $850 to $1,150.

Jan Foulke (retired) is an authority on antique and vintage dolls, with over 40 years of experience in the field. She’s the author of the full-color reference book “Jan Foulke’s Guide to Dolls.” Subscribe now to read Foulke’s columns in DOLLS online archive of past issues!