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Armand Marseille

At the turn of the 20th century Armand Marseille was the largest manufacturer of bisque doll heads. For over 60 years his company would supply heads to a variety of German doll makers and wholesalers in Europe and America. His line included dolly-faced dolls, characters and googlies.

Armand Marseille was a Russian of French Huguenot ancestry, who took up residence in Köppelsdorf, Germany where he built a highly successful doll business. His story began in St Petersburg in Russia where he was born in 1856. His father was educated at the Imperial School of Art in St. Petersburg and worked as an architect. The Marseille family moved within the social circle of the court of the Russian Czar. Armand was well educated, spoke multiple languages, had a strong work ethic, and a sound understanding of the business world. With the assassination of Czar Nicholas II Armand's father chose to move the family out of Russia, eventually establishing a new home in Coburg, Germany.


The dolly-faced doll shoulder-head doll mold 370 and socket-head mold 390 (as seen here) were extremely popular with the buying public and were mainstays of the line from about 1900 right into the late 1930s. Differences in materials and paint techniques help the collector to narrow down the period of any particular example of these molds.


Armand spent some time traveling to various European cities before returning to Germany ready to establish a business of his own. He took notice of the thriving doll making industry in the Sonneberg area and decided to invest in that line of business. In 1884 he purchased the doll and toy making factory of Mathias Lambert. The following year he purchased the porcelain factory of Liebermann & Wegesche which had been making items such as pipe heads, whistle parts and other utilitarian wares. He began reorganizing the factory spaces, hiring skilled workers and in 1890 he began producing his first bisque doll heads.


Many inexpensive versions of the AM mold 390 were sold to other doll making firms that costumed their dolls in world-dress to be sold to tourists throughout Europe as souvenirs and to American collectors.


 A 10.5" mold 560 wears her original factory costume. These costumes were often made of inexpensive fabrics in very eye-catching colors and styles. Most were long ago changed by their child-owners or lost to deterioration making them a treat to find intact today. Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Lynette Antique Dolls and Accessories.


In 1893 Marseille's company had 200 employees and was advertising jointed bathing dolls and bisque doll heads. In 1896 an article in a Sonneberg newspaper on the state of bisque doll making in the area commended Armand Marseille for his company's use of careful production methods and well-molded doll shoulder-head designs. The article went on to relate that Marseille's efforts resulted in good quality doll heads made at a very affordable price. In 1906 Marseille purchased another porcelain factory in the nearby town of Neuhaus in which he used primarily to manufacture porcelain for use in electrical products.


Although many AM dolly-faced dolls are quite common today, character models such as this "Fany" mold with its sensitive sculpting are highly sought by collectors.


By 1910 the company had 800 employees. They also used items such as doll wigs and glass eyes made by out-workers in the region who specialized in such products. Reportedly they also made composition doll bodies. They sold complete dolls and supplied heads to many other German doll makers including Cuno & Otto Dressel, Otto Gans, Peter Scherf, Wagner & Zetzche to name only a few. They also supplied American doll wholesalers such Louis Amberg, Butler Brothers, George Borgfeldt, and Louis Wolf. Retailers such as Sears and Montgomery Ward bought from Marseille.


AM's character line included closed-dome models such as this mold 500 which has intaglio eyes and a closed mouth.


Other characters such as this mold 590 had open/closed mouths, glass eyes and wigs. Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Yesterday's Child.


It is reported that Armand was a dedicated businessman, overseeing all aspects of his company and seeing to the needs of his employees while maintaining high standards of production. From 1890 to 1929 the company would run two shifts a day at the factory. His language skills and family contacts assisted in his marketing of his products. Armand's family life was also important to him and he built his family home across from his factory. In 1915 his daughter Beatrice had married the son of doll maker Ernst Heubach, also of Köppelsdorf.


 AM infant heads were used not only on full dolls but were also often made up as "Pillow Puppets." An opening in the back of the pillow allowed the child to insert fingers into the head and arms to make the puppet move. Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Fine Things Store.


The AM line included many dolls depicting Asian peoples. Shown here left to right are the closed -dome baby incised Ellar in star // AM // Germany 3K, an 8" child marked Germany / AM / 8/o, and a closed-dome infant mold 353. Photos courtesy of Ruby Lane shops Lovely Faces, Kathy Libraty's Antiques and Tantelina's Dolls.


In about 1918 Armand suffered a heart attack and in 1919 he turned the running of the business over to his son Hermann. Against his father's advice Hermann entered into a partnership with his Heubach brother-in-law which was called Vereinigte Köppelsdorfer Porzelainfabrik (United Porcelain Factory of Köppelsdorf). Despite their partner agreement each factory was run as a separate enterprise and Hermann employed the same conscientious approach to running his end of the joint business. By 1926 Marseille was making 1000 doll heads per day. Reportedly Heubach's business practices were quite different from Marseille's and the partnership was dissolved in 1928 with each company becoming a separate entity once again.


This 18" example of the molded-hair shoulder-head doll, mold 372, is also incised with the name Kiddiejoy.  The name Kiddiejoy was used on AM heads made for the New York City company of Hitz, Jacobs & Kassler. Along with the mold shown here, other dolls bearing the Kiddiejoy name included the wigged shoulder-head mold 375, the infant style head mold 347, the character baby molds 991 and 993, and the doll mold 1321. Photo courtesy of Frasher's Doll Auctions.


"Nobbiekid" was made for George Borgfeldt and was one of many models of Googlie-eyed dolls made by AM. Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop Matrix by Mail Inc.


The style of dolls produced by the Marseille factory reflected the progression of popular doll styles of the day, running the gambit from simple dolly-faced socket-heads and shoulder-heads, to infants, character babies and character children. In the 1920s their offerings included lady dolls on flapper-style bodies. The color palette and painting style used on doll faces also reflect the changing aesthetics of each decade of production. Along with using mold numbers the company also named various models using epithets such as Baby Blanche, Alma, Floradora, Queen Louise, My Dream Baby and many others. Marseille's doll were generally marked with the name Armand Marseille or the initials AM incised on the back of the doll's head along with mold and size numbers, and model names (where applicable).


The name "Just Me" was registered by Borgfeldt in 1929 for the doll made for them by AM. It was mold 310 and was made in bisque and painted bisque versions. From 1929 through the '30s Jennie Graves of Vogue Doll Co. purchased some Just Me dolls from Borgfeldt which she then costumed as part of the line for her company. Photo courtesy of Ann Lloyd Dolls.


In addition to infants, babies and children AM also made some lady dolls such as this 9" doll on a slim flapper style body. The head is incised Germany / M. H. / 300 / 12OX". Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane shop A Touch of Class Antique Dolls.


Armand Marseille died in 1925. His son continued to run the company. Dolls now referred to as "painted bisque" came into production in the 1930s. During the WWII years doll production halted and the company turned to making utilitarian wares. After the war the company was again making dolls under the direction of the East German state. Many of these were a composition- like material referred to as "low-fired bisque." Hermann moved to West Germany in 1949 but the company continued making dolls under the AM name until about 1960.


This 18" low-fired bisque doll is marked AM // 2966 // 3 ¾./8. Her body, though molded like the earlier composition bodies, is made of a lightweight pressed-cardboard. The synthetic fibers of her wig and clothing would indicate that she was made during the 1940s or '50s.


Author - Linda Edward




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