By Anne Gilbert

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, October, 2003

     "Fashion dolls" were aptly named. Long before Barbie, some 18th and 19th century dolls had extensive "designer" wardrobes with matching accessories that included wigs and dresser sets. Depending on the doll maker and the quality of the wardrobe they can fetch big bucks at auction. At a recent Skinner doll auction a Jumeau B'eb'e Mabel Rose Welch 11, Franc, c.1880, with an extensive original wardrobe sold for $28,200. A rarity.

     European dolls, made as early as the 14th century displayed the latest fashions and were gifts to royalty. Forget children playing with them. They were so highly prized that even kings displayed them in special cabinets. By the time of Louis XIV the dolls made for his castle came with their own doll's house and even market shops with enameled shopkeepers, and a sedan-chair for royal shoppers, along with attendants. Marie Antoinette and later Empress Eugenie gave gifts of dolls dressed in the latest Parisian styles. In fact, Eugenie had dolls made in her own likeness with duplicates of her gowns. By the late 18th century dolls were shipped abroad to display the newest fashions from Paris or Dijon.

     By the late 19th century, producing clothes for dolls had become an important industry in France and America. As late as 1910 dolls were sent abroad to show the latest fashions. While many were "lady dolls", child-form dolls also showed French children's fashions.

     These fashion dolls had a serious purpose, by the late 1870s. By then, dress and good taste were all important requirements for the socially correct, monied class. The dolls taught young women the proper dress for every occasion, along with accessories. They also showed the proper accessories such as opera glasses, writing sets and desks, sewing kits and playing cards.

     CLUES: A 'fashion doll' isn't really a type of doll, but instead a functional use of dolls. Nearly any type of doll could, and was, dressed in the latest adults or children's fashions, and traveled to show current fashions. They were of different sizes and some were quite small. Heads were both bisque and china.

     Many of the doll-size fans, hats and furniture you see in shops and at shows may once have been part of a fashion dolls furnishings. Value of course, depends on condition and being in as close to original from parts to costume, as possible. Unfortunately, many fashion dolls labeled as "all original" may be wearing new clothing and wigs. Look for the maker's mark on the back of the head, neck or back area. Since quality can vary within one doll maker firm, don't pay too much for the name.

     The Jumeau B'eb'e Mabel Rose Welch II that sold for $28,200 had important documentation. The doll was named for her original owner, Mabel Rose Welch who bought it while on a European trip with her parents. The body is stamped "Jumeau Medaille d'Or Paris." While the trunk and some of the clothing is original, many pieces were added by later owners.

     There are many talented designers specializing in doll clothes and accessories. They used materials of the period. When well done this adds value to a doll without an authentic wardrobe. Don't pass up an old doll without clothing.

     Attending as many doll shows and auctions as possible is a must for collectors. Investing some of the books such as 15th Book of Doll Values, by Jan Foulke. And, The Beautiful Jumeau by Florence Theriault.

If you have any questions, you can Email us at

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