Doll et Cie. was founded in Nüremburg, Germany in 1898 by John Sondheim and tinsmith Peter Doll.
During the company’s early years, production concentrated on stationary steam engines and
accessories. These steam toys were widely distributed throughout Europe, the United Kingdom and
the United States.
Toy steam engines were made by multiple manufacturers from the 1880's to the 1960's and although marketed as a children's toy
they were in effect expensive, ornate and complex to operate. Their role was specifically an educational one as they
illustrated the then current operating mechanisms of full-size steam machinery which drove everything from mills to
factories, pumping stations to collieries. Before the advent of film, video and more recently the computer, the model
engine provided an opportunity to physically show how steam engines worked. The golden age for model toy steam engines
was from about 1890 to 1930 when toys of a didactic nature, like operating machinery and construction toys such as Meccano,
were popular choices for parents to purchase for their children. Many boys chose vocations in engineering or developed a
lifelong interest in engineering after exposure to model engines and Meccano in childhood. It is estimated that over five
million model steam engines were made with most of the live steam engines built in the Nüremburg area of Germany. This
area not only became a center for precision machinery and metal work but also for toy making. As well as the Doll company there
were seven other major toy engine manufactures who had their factories in the Nüremburg area including Carette,
Falk, Krauss Mohr, Märklin, Plank and Schöenner.
Max Bein, who was Sondheim's nephew, joined the company in 1911, just before the outbreak
of the First World War as a third partner. The company then started producing a few clockwork novelty toys inspired by the
industrial inventions of the late 19th century.
One such item developed in the early 1900's were elaborate animated hand painted tinplate ferris wheels. These were
powered either by a clockwork mechanism, hand cranks, or could be steam driven using belts and a stationary steam engine.
Another interesting item was a painted tin elevator tower with an embossed shingled roof and gilt flag. It was modelled after the operating
elevators of the Eiffel Tower first unveiled at the 1889 Worlds Fair in Paris. The toy was very animated with tin spectator cars
that moved up and down the tower shaft on metal rods when a handle on the side was turned.
After World War I, in the
1920's and into the 1930's, the production of steam engines continued together with that of trains,
an operating miniature steam roller, a steam tractor, a miniature steam powered touring car and a lorry.
In about 1927 a former Bing company toy expert named Reichel joined the firm and some clockwork novelty
toys and trains were added. The trains were fitted with electric motors
and designed to run on 'O' gauge 3-rail track. Most of the trains were modelled after European prototypes, but a few were
designed based on the trains that operated on American railroads.
The company had a change of ownership in the late 1930's when another Nüremburg company named
Fleischmann took it over. Peter Doll and his family were Jewish
and thus were being victimized by the Nazi regime, and the Aryanization laws, which would not allow formal business arrangements
to be undertaken with Jews. The Doll family held out longer than most Jewish owned
businesses, but finally sold out in 1938 to Fleischmann. Curiously enough, the Fleischmann family was also of Jewish
origins, but had managed to obtain an 'Aryan' certificate, whereas Doll did not. During this time, there were roughly
250 employees in the firm.
The transfer of assets was made largely on the faith that they would be returned to the Doll family if and
when the Nazi regime had left power.
The Doll name was retained and used by Fleischmann until the post-war period (1949).
Max Bein and his family managed to escape Germany and the horrors of the Holocaust, winding up in the
United States, and settling in the Boston area. After the war, Fleischmann offered to return the company
back to the original owners, but they declined, accepting a buyout of their shares instead.
Tinplate toy trains made by Doll et Cie. in the early part of the 20th century are very rare, and
typically sell for high prices at auction when they do come on the market. Trains made by Doll et Cie. are easily identifiable
by the trademark which consisted of the initials 'DC' intertwined.