Yes, Yes Nanette and Others Arranbee Trasures
New York in the 1950s witnessed the Brooklyn Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the World Series, only to have the Brooklyn "Bums" depart for Los Angeles in 1957. Doll enthusiasts would also lose something wonderful as the Arranbee Doll Company, another New York institution, ended its reign as one of the most prolific doll manufacturers of the twentieth century.
BY HEATHER WASSERMAN
Dolls and photos courtesy of Heather Wasserman
Source: Summer 2018 • Doll News Pages, 98-106
Living in Brooklyn as a child, one would assume that Arranbee dolls were sold at the popular toy and department stores within the five boroughs of New York City. The company did advertise at times in the trade publication Playthings as well as store catalogs. Yet, Arranbee dolls never crossed our path. Fortunately, I have long since remedied that situation.
Within the first few years following WWI,
a 19-year-old Polish immigrant named William Rothstein and his associate,
Mr. Berman teamed up to form the Arranbee (R&B) Doll Company. The company would occupy a few different show rooms and manufacturing locations in Manhattan, New York, as it expanded and in later years there was a facility in Hicksville, Long Island, New York. In addition, there was a showroom in San Francisco, California. Partners had come and gone, and by 1947 Mr. Rothstein was the sole proprietor until his sudden death in 1957. The company had also been affiliated with the Vogue Doll Company from the 1920s; the early Vogue "Toddles" is believed to be an Arranbee doll. About a year after Rothstein' s death and a valiant attempt by the family to keep the company operating, Arranbee was sold to the Vogue Doll Company, which continued carrying their line. By the early 1960s, Arranbee dolls ceased to exist.
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As with many doll companies at the time of Arranbee' s inception, doll heads were imported from Germany, while the bodies, accessories, and wigs were typically made domestically. In this case, bisque heads were mostly made by Armand Marseille and to a lesser degree, Simon & Halbig. "My Dream Baby," produced in the 1920s, has Marseille markings and the numbers "341" and "351," depending on whether they had open or closed mouths. The dolls were produced as Caucasian and black, in various sizes, with composition or cloth bodies. As the company prospered through the 1920s, there was a need to produce their own dolls and apply for patents. With that feat accomplished, the next bisque-head baby dolls were then marked "Germany/ Arranbee." A version of "Dream Baby" would be on Arranbee' s roster for virtually their entire existence.
With the "Roaring 20's" era coming to an end and the Great Depression rearing its ugly head, the company secured a manufacturing facility with the capability of creating well-made composition dolls at competitive prices. It was at this time that Arranbee's "Nancy" was first introduced. The company hired Ruby Hopf as their costume designer. As is evident, her ensembles were innovative and well made. Even the dolls' shoes were distinctive. She would remain with Arranbee for the duration. "Nancy" has had many faces, from the composition painted-eye, painted-hair little Effanbee "Patsy-type" with short, early-1930s dresses, to dolls with various face sculpts, sleep eyes that may have smoky eye shadow, and human hair or mohair wigs. The outfits ranged from everyday wear to gowns fit for a princess, somewhat reminiscent of Princess Elizabeth. They were available in sizes from 12-inches tall to 20-inches tall. The name "Nancy," for reasons unknown, would be a recurring name on the company's roster.
In 1938 when World War II was looming, and big bands were serenading, one of the most beautiful composition dolls made by an American company was introduced, Arranbee's "Debu'Teen." Ranging in size from 11-inches to 22-inches tall, this doll wore a young adolescent girl's dreamy facial expression, as if she were wondering what the future held.
The dolls were either full-body composition or a composition shoulder plate with a movable head, cloth torso, and composition limbs. There was also a less common variation that has the shoulder plate and 'swing' composition legs, usually seen in a "mama-type" doll. The wigs are human hair or mohair. Some of the dolls have tin eyes, which appear to last but as collectors agree, when a different consistency was utilized, over time the eyes can crack. It appears to be a very common occurrence with many composition dolls of varying companies. Interestingly, Arranbee seems to have produced more brown-eyed dolls than most, if not all, other companies of the time.
"Debu'Teen" was the doll that initially solidified my intense affection for the Arranbee Doll Company, whether it is partly because she reminds me of photos of my mother as a child or that she simply catches the eye with her pensive faraway expression, somewhat on the brink of adulthood. The doll's ensembles have withstood the test of time, ranging from school-appropriate skirts and dresses, to gowns with real fur jackets.
Another young Arranbee model that co-existed with "Debu'Teen" for a while was "Nannette," spelled with the extra 'n'. This doll has the body construction of a "mama-type" doll, with a composition head and extremities, as well as a "swing" cloth body. Her costume design is that of a younger child. The popular "Nancy Lee" made her debut in 1943 after Arranbee ceased to produce "Debu'Teen." An all composition delight, "Nancy Lee" had a younger appearance than her predecessor. She came in varying heights, with a mohair wig and a wardrobe that included school dresses, skating ensembles and gowns. Additionally, there was a Southern Series, perhaps a rival to Madame Alexander's "Scarlett O'Hara."
Following World War II and the introduction of hard plastic dolls, Arranbee kept up with the times and introduced the hard plastic "Nanette," spelled without the extra 'n', and a hard plastic "Nancy Lee." These beautiful dolls were available from 14-inches to 21-inches tall, with mohair, floss, or synthetic wigs. Some had a walking mechanism, and their extensive wardrobe included school dresses to evening wear, some of which had real fur-trimmed gowns and muffs. Occasionally, it is difficult to differentiate between "Nanette" and "Nancy Lee" as many, but not all of the "Nanette" dolls have pointed chins. Sometimes the original hangtag is the only means of identification. By the mid-1950s, when vinyl dolls became the rage, Arranbee continued producing "Nanette," using a vinyl head and later, a fashion doll that closely resembled Ideal's "Miss Revlon."
Arranbee continued its success in the 1950s with the Little Angel Doll Series, with the original baby dolls of this series being introduced in the 1940s. There were babies
in all hard plastic, cloth bodies, then followed by 10-inch and 12-inch hard plastic young 'sisters,' "Little Angel" and "Littlest Angel." Some of the original outfits can be easily identified since hard plastic "Nanettes" had the same dress designs. The Little Angel Doll Series evolved through the 1950s as the dolls then had vinyl heads and bent knees, extensive wardrobes and even cases to carry around all the clothes and accessories to a child's 'play date'. In addition, Arranbee presented the successful "Coty Girl," a friend or rival to Ideal Toy Company's "Little Miss Revlon," to showcase Coty cosmetics. There were also several more baby and little girl dolls produced in the later 1950s, continuing after Mr. Rothstein's passing, then later by Vogue.
As with some of the dolls from the "Golden Age" era, there is evidence that doll companies shared molds; therefore, the similarities on certain faces and body types are no coincidence. Even after extensive research, companies that borrowed 'what from whom' becomes somewhat murky to discern in many cases.
Because some dolls are unmarked, or have faint marks hidden in their limbs, it is up to the enlightened collector to recognize how individual companies give their dolls their own distinct personality. Furthermore, in some instances, to pin down the exact dates of each doll's actual place in a given line has been a challenge.
The dates listed may not be exact, as different sources seem to vary by a year or two. Nevertheless, what is crystal clear is that Arranbee produced some of the most gorgeous, wellmade and beautifully costumed dolls during the 40-plus years of their glorious existence. Many of Arranbee' s creations have maintained their original beauty and continue to bring immense joy to those of us lucky enough to possess them.