Boudoir dolls are dolls that are made to sit on beds and sofas as decorations rather than being used for play. They are also called bed dolls, flapper dolls, and French dolls.
Years of Production
Although dolls that sit on beds are still being made today, the classic vintage boudoir dolls were made from approximately the 1920s through the 1940s. Some of the earliest dolls, made even earlier than 1920 in some cases, were made in France. Many of the dolls were made in an art deco style.
Sizes of Boudoir Dolls
These are generally large dolls, made to sit on their owner's bed. You can find dolls as small as 20 to 24 inches, although the vast majority of the dolls are over 26 inches in size. Boudoir dolls in the larger sizes seem to be in favor with collectors.
Materials for Boudoir Dolls
These dolls have been made with a wide variety of materials. Heads are most commonly made of composition. Many of the French boudoir dolls were made with silk. Some dolls have papier-mache faces, and some have faces made of cloth. Bodies of boudoir dolls are most commonly made of cloth, sometimes with composition lower limbs or molded shoes.
Later Boudoir or bed dolls have vinyl heads and limbs, and some from the late 40s have composition heads with painted features, but hard plastic hands and feet.
Companies That Have Produced Boudoir Dolls
Multiple companies have produced these charming, unusual dolls, including Lenci, Anita doll company, Blossom Company, Cubeb, Chad Valley and Nora Wellings. Companies were from countries including France, England, Italy, and the United States.
Lenci Boudoir dolls are very desirable. Several in the "Love, Shirley Temple" auction sold for thousands of dollars. One of these, a doll dressed in rose pink, appeared as a movie prop in a film with Jane Withers, who was an avid doll collector, and Temple. Withers wanted the doll, but Temple got it. Jane Withers visited this doll on the traveling exhibit that preceded the auction.
More About Boudoir Dolls
Unlike most dolls from the mid-20th century, which were made for children, boudoir dolls were made to grace the beds of grown ladies. The dolls today are sought after because of their classic artistic styling and, often, their art deco look. Many boudoir dolls can be found by collectors in the $50 to $200 range, although desirable examples can bring several hundred or thousand dollars (such as rare Cubeb smokers or rare Lencis).
Boudoir dolls were very popular and appeared in the Nick and Nora Charles series of films as props.
Some smoker dolls are made entirely of cloth, and these are more reasonable. A few Boudoir dolls with composition heads appear at yard sales, and doll shows for as low as $4.
During the 1920s to 1950s, there were patterns available for making these dolls; you can find them sometimes at craft fairs or stores. Unfinished dolls look like the stump dolls used for toaster covers, but when you see the complete doll, you realize it is meant to be a boudoir doll.
Boudoir Dolls Today
Around 1990 or so, boudoir dolls seemed to enjoy a renaissance. This was, for many, the Golden Age of doll collecting, with prices for dolls breaking records, and dolls made just to collect enjoying a heyday. Art Deco-inspired clowns hit the market in all sizes. Some malls had entire shops that sold these dolls. Many looked like they came from the Commedia Dell Arte, while others were inspired by the French Pierrot and his love, Columbine. Quality varied, but like all doll fads, their day came and went. Even expensive dolls now appear for very little, sometimes under a dollar, at thrift stores. Most of these dolls had porcelain or china heads and limbs.