Forms of porcelain items, made without the addition of color or surface glaze, came to the high-end market in Europe in the 18th century. Makers such as Severes, Meissen and Wedgewood among others, all produced decorative items in what was called “Biscuit.” In the second quarter of the 19th century a number of English firms began to develop a form of biscuit porcelain that closely resembled marble in both color and finish. The Copeland factory brought products with this new refined porcelain to the marketplace in 1845. This was developed by Thomas Battam and was called “Statuary Porcelain” by the company due to its use in creating small versions of famous marble statues to adorn Upper- and burgeoning Middle-Class homes of the era. However, several other porcelain makers were also developing similar porcelain formulations at this same time. Wedgwood called their product “Carrera,” while Minton coined the term “Parian” to connotate the product’s likeness to the marble from the Greek Island of Paros.
At England’s Great Exhibition of 1851, popularly referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition, a marble statue entitled The Greek Slave, made by American Artist Hiram Powers, caused a public sensation for its beauty and detail. The popularity of this art piece was a perfect opportunity for porcelain companies to showcase their new marble-look formulations. Companies such as Copeland, Goss, Minton and numerous others reproduced miniatures of this statue in porcelain. Although as previously mentioned each company initially had its own name for this new unglazed biscuit-ware, “Parian” is the name that came into general public use.
Dolls referred to as “Parian” have long been admired and sought by doll collectors despite years of confusion as to their origins and changing views on what collectors should be calling them. It is helpful to the modern collector to understand the material involved and the terminologies, both past and present, used to discuss the products made from these materials.
Throughout the remainder of the 19th century parian figures would be embraced by the public and generally thought to be the height of good taste in furnishing one’s home in both Europe and the Americas. Considering this trend in home adornment it is not surprising that doll makers would emulate this look in the dolls of the 1840s – 90s. Many companies that had already been making glazed porcelain dolls, which collectors now refer to as “China” dolls added unglazed porcelain dolls to their product lines.
In the early to mid-20th century collectors were calling these dolls by many names such as “Dresden,” ” Biscuit” and “Blonde Bisque,” but as with the statuary previously discussed the name “Parian” has stuck with the dolls for the longest period. Today “Untinted Bisque” or “So-Called Parian” are gaining favor in terminology. It should be said that although the parian statues were ivory-white in appearance the dolls referred to as parian do have fired-on surface color to blush the cheeks, color the lips, eyes, hair, etc. while leaving the underlying “skin tone” white or pale ivory.
But whatever term we use to discuss them, this niche within the history of dolls is a very exciting area to study and collect. By the1860s the German doll makers were embracing this style of doll. Although they would continue to be made into the early years of the 20th century the height of popularity and quality was the 1870s.
Trained artists employed by individual factories, or working as freelancers for multiple factories designed the doll heads which were then realized in 3-dimentional form by modelers. Plaster molds were made from the models and porcelain slip was poured into the molds. After the molding process the pieces were air dried. At this stage hand applied porcelain details such as flowers in the hair, ruffles around the neckline and so forth could be added to the doll head which was then fired in the kiln.
Many of these dolls were sold as just shoulder-heads, particularly those exported to the USA, which accounts for the vast array of home-made bodies they can be found on today. But other examples on commercially made bodies, wearing commercially made costumes can also be found.
German makers known to have produced these dolls include; Alt, Beck & Gottschalk, Conta & Böhme, Dornheim Knoch & Fischer Porellanfabrik, Eberlein, Goebel, Hertwig, A W Kister, Kestner, Kling, Mertz, and Simon & Halbig, and there were others. Again, just as with the terminology associated with this style of dolls, attributions over which companies made which models has continued to evolve as deeper research is conducted. Regardless of exactly who made each doll found in the marketplace today, collectors can enjoy the variety, detail and beauty of parian perfection found in dolls.
Author – Linda Edward
Jurgen and Marianne Cieslik German Doll Encyclopedia. Cumberland: Hobby House Press, 1985
Dorothy S., Elizabeth A., Evelyn J. Coleman The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls Vol. I & II. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1968 & 1986
Elizabeth A. Coleman, assisted by Kathy Turner Inside Porcelain Doll Shoulder Heads. Washington: Elizabeth Ann Coleman, 2018
Clara Hallard Fawcett Dolls, A New Guide For Collectors. Boston: Charles T Branford Co., 1964
Mary Gorham Krombholz Identifying German Parian Dolls. Cumberland: Reverie, 2006
John Darcy Noble Dolls. New York: Walker & Co., 1967
Eleanor St. George The Dolls of Yesterday. New York and London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948
Eleanor St. George Dolls of Three Centuries. New York and London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951
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