The story begins during a town festival in celebration of a new town bell that is due to arrive in the coming days. Anyone who wants to be married on that day will be awarded with a special gift of money. Swanilda is engaged to Franz and plans to marry during the festival. Swanilda asks Franz if he loves her and he answers yes, but she senses a lack of sincerity in his reply. She becomes unhappy with her fiancé because it seems he is more interested in getting another girl’s attention. The girl is Coppélia who sits on the toy-maker Dr. Coppelius’s balcony reading all day long, paying no heed and showing no care for anyone trying to be social with her. Franz is mesmerized by her beauty and is determined to get her attention. Swanilda is deeply hurt by his distractions and feels he does not love her despite his answers. Because she doesn’t trust his words, Swanilda decides to turn to an old wive’s tale for guidance. She holds up an ear of wheat to her ear; if it rattles when she shakes it, then she will know that he loves her. She shakes the wheat furiously, but no rattle can be heard. Confused and upset, she has Franz do the same thing. He tells her it does rattle. She does not believe him and runs away heartbroken.
When Dr. Coppelius leaves his house, he is heckled by a group of small boys. After running them off he finally goes on his way not knowing that he dropped his keys in the process of chasing the boys away. Swanilda finds his keys and is determined to find out more of Coppélia. She and her friends decide to go inside Dr. Coppelius’s house. Meanwhile, Franz develops his own plan to meet Coppélia. He climbs up a ladder to Coppélia's balcony.