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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Author – Linda Edward
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