Speaking of Dolls: A family with an eye for business

In the doll world, the name Armand Marseille is a familiar one. According to The Collector’s Encyclopedia, “The popularity of the Armand Marseille heads is attested by the fact that a greater number of their bisque heads are found on dolls than of any other identifiable manufacturer.” Whether it is a doll auction, an estate sale or a doll show, Armand Marseille dolls will show up in large numbers. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. It shows that the Armand Marseille Doll Company had an eye for business and knew how to be successful in a very competitive area.

Armand Marseille established a porcelain factory in the Koppelsdorf area of Germany in about 1865. The family was originally from Russia and the mysterious French surname cannot be explained. What is known is that the porcelain factory in Germany was very successful. It not only produced dolls with the Armand Marseille name but was the major contributor of doll heads for many other doll companies and importers. These included George Borgfeldt, Louis Wolfe, Otto Gans, and Amberg.

The United States was Germany’s largest doll customer and most of the Armand Marseille dolls made their way to the United States. Armand Jr. was sent to the United States to study American business methods. One thing he learned and carried back to Germany was to produce products of different grades and quality that would appeal to all incomes. He also learned that in order to be successful, you had to produce what the public wanted. When babies came into fashion in the ’20s, Armand Marseille did not miss a beat. An open mouth Dream Baby 341 and a 351 with a closed mouth were produced to compete with the popular Byelo Baby and babies produced by Kestner, Kammer and Reinhardt and others.

What made the Dream Baby a great success was that its price was lower than most other baby dolls on the market. It also came in every size from a few inches to life size. The Dream Baby came on both a cloth body and a bent limbed baby body and was produced in both Caucasian and black.

The 370 shoulder head child and the 390 socket head child continued to be the “bread and butter” for the Marseille Company. Introduced in the early 1900s, these two models continued to be produced at least until the late ’20s. These two sweet-faced models had been perfected by the firm. They could be produced in any size from a few inches to over 40 inches. Bodies could be leather, cloth or kidolene for the 370 and the five-piece papier mache, fully ball jointed or an inexpensive stick body for the 390. The dolls were sold in general stores and through catalogs. They were affordable and were the doll of the working class American family.

While producing the 370, 390 and the babies proved very profitable for the Marseille firm, they also did not neglect the market for the more unusual and more expensive dolls. In 1910 when character children and babies caught the eye of the public, the firm produced some wonderful expressions. The AM 400 and 401 with slim mature bodies and fine molded features are a treasure for a collector. The 230, 231 and 500 series are rare examples of character children and toddlers. The character movement was short lived but, not to worry, the firm still had their 370, 390 and Dream Babies.

The doll world is forever changing and another new doll type was introduced in about 1911. The googly-eyed doll with its large side glancing painted or glass eyes became an overnight sensation. Along with many other doll firms, the Armand Marseille firm met the challenge. They produced a googly with painted eyes, with glass eyes, with molded hair and with a wig.

The googly was followed by a child called “Just Me” in about 1925 which is a favorite of collectors today. Even this little character was made to fit the pocketbooks of everyone. She was produced in fired bisque, which was more expensive, and painted bisque, which was less expensive. She was even produced in a painted low-fire ceramic in the early ’30s, which was very affordable.

The dolls mentioned in this article do not even scratch the surface of the variety produced by the Armand Marseille firm. They were one of the most, if not the most, versatile of the German doll manufacturers. They produced both quality and quantity. Some of their dolls remain very inexpensive on the market today both because of their great numbers and because of their ordinary appearance but some of the rarest and most charming German dolls can also be found bearing the name Armand Marseille.