Q: I have a porcelain doll with leather arms and legs. It is 11½ inches tall and is marked on the back of the head “V M 810.” I would like to sell it. Who would buy it and for how much?
A: It is strange how quickly times change. When we first started our careers in antiques and collectibles, dolls were hot. We went to auctions where we saw collectors paying $40,000 or more for a rare example, but today that is a fairly unusual occurrence.
Currently, we hear many of the younger collectors offering the opinion that “dolls are creepy.” They often hate the feel of the bisque porcelain skin that reminds them of cold human flesh, and the opening and closing of dead glass eyes can really freak them out. We suspect they may have been watching too many horror movies.
Looking at the photographs you supplied we note that the signature is actually “A.M. 810,” for Armand Marseille, and the doll is an example of the company’s mold No. 810. The name sounds French, but the firm is actually located in Sonneberg and Koppelsdorf, Germany.
Armand Marseille was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1856, but the family immigrated to Germany around 1860. The information we found says he bought his first porcelain factory in 1884, which formerly belonged to Mathias Lambert and was located in Sonneberg.
A year later, Marseille purchased the factory of Liebermann and Wegescher in Koppelsdorf, and he was on his way to becoming the world’s most prolific maker of doll heads. Marseille put his doll heads on bodies he purchased from other manufacturers. The bodies were made from either cloth, composition (an amalgam of such things as wood pulp, glue, flour, rags, sawdust and so forth) and kid leather.
Dolls started at about 6 inches and went up to 42 inches tall — 9 to 11 inches is most common — with the general rule being that bigger was more valuable. Marseille mold numbers 370 and 390 are the most commonly found, and some of the mold 370s have names on them such as “Rosebud,” “Lily,” “Alma” and “Mabel.”
The list of Armand Marseille mold numbers runs into the low triple digits, and mold number 810 is among those style numbers used so we feel it was probably made during the first quarter of the 20th century and is possibly pre-World War I.
We found one Armand Marseille 810 that has been sold in the past six years. That one was a tad larger than this example and brought $60 at auction. If the example in today’s question was in perfect condition, it should retail in the $85 to $110 range, but its fair market value is less than $50.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques.