Johannes Daniel Kestner, Jr., began producing high-quality dolls with papier-mâché heads and peg-jointed wooden bodies in 1805 in Waltershausen, Thuringia. By 1845, his J.D. Kestner doll manufacturing company had become a success. Following these wood-and-paper dolls, the company produced dolls with composition heads and cloth bodies.

Kestner, was an early proponent of porcelain heads, so he added porcelain and bisque doll heads to his line in the 1850s. Around this time, the German dollmaking industry was exploding, with doll factories of every sort—some made only heads, some made only bodies, and some assembled doll parts made by others.

Five years after Kestner died in 1858, his grandson Adolf Kestner took over. In 1860, he purchased a porcelain factory in Ohrdorf to make doll heads, which Kestner then attached to composition or stuffed-cloth or leather bodies. These heads were also sold to other doll makers around the country.

Like every doll maker, Kestner produced a version of the universally popular “Dolly Face” head, which has the rounded, slightly double-chinned face of a toddler or baby. These dolls could be identified as a girl or a boy and featured an open mouth showing teeth, as well as inset, or sleeping, eyes. But the company also put out a wide variety of doll heads—some with long faces like Jumeau dolls, others with chubby square faces like Bru dolls, and yet others with character faces.

One of Kestner’s innovations was an expensive leather body with riveted joints that allowed the limbs to move naturally. Kestner was one of the few German dollmakers that produced complete dolls all the way to the wigs and the fashion. These Kestner dolls were exported as far away as the United States.

In 1902, Kestner had a runaway hit in Boston high society with its “Lady Betty Modish,” a bisque dolly face doll with a jointed composition body. She came with an attached satin ball gown of the highest fashion, complete with satin rosebuds and curled ribbons, delicate jewelry, and a blond human-hair wig.

In the nine years she was produced, the most posh doll accessories imaginable were made for her, including a tiny deck of 52 playing cards, a miniature nail set made with ivory, ...

The Kewpie doll, based on Rose O’Neill’s illustrations for “Ladies’ Home Journal,” was modeled by New York dollmaker Joseph Kallus and sold by his employer American doll manufacturer George Borgfeldt, who patented the design in 1913. However, the earliest all-bisque Kewpie dolls were produced by Kestner for Borgfeldt, their trademark paper heart stamped with “Germany” under the Kewpie logo.

Kestner company first registered for a patent for its bisque heads in 1897, and the incised model numbers like “162” are often accompanied by “Made in Germany,” whereas bodies tend to have a red “Germany” stamp. The company finally closed its doors in 1938, 20 years after Adolf’s death.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Nr Antique 20" Rare Kestner No Damage Pouty Square Teeth German Bisque Doll22" Gorgeous Old Antique Bisque Head German Alphabet Series Kestner Doll For Tlc18" Jdk Kestner German Composition Bisque Jointed Vintage Baby Doll18" Antique German Kestner Doll #164 Original Marked Kestner Composition Body! Pretty Antique Bisque Kestner Mold 171 , Large 26 Inches , No Reserve Rare Gorgeous Quality Antique 15inch Early Kestner American Schoolboy Mold 30b.Large Antique Kestner Dep 154 Bisque Shoulder Head Only W/ Mohair Wig18 1/2" J.d.kestner # 257 , Great & Excellent Condition ,head & Body MarkedAntique Kestner Bisque Doll With Original BodyAntique 18" Kestner Baby Doll, Sleep Eyes, TeethAntique Germain Bisque 20" Doll Kestner Dep 154 9 Germany25"tall Kestner Mold 171 -14 ~ Brown Sleep Eyes Germanyred Stamp Mark On Body ~ Antique German All Bisque Glass Eyes Kestner Mold # 158 3/0 Vintage 5 1/2" Doll4" Antique German All Bisque Doll With Sleep Eyes Marked 150 KestnerAntique German All Bisque Doll, Kestner 130, Sleep Eyes !!!Kestner 12" Character Baby Doll, No Mold Number4 1/4" Barefoot Kestner Pouty Mignonnette Repro - Ready To Dress!Antique Doll Kestner Dept 154 8 1/2Antique Kestner 154...17"...kid Body...sleep EyesJ.d.kestner Germany Antique Doll 23" Bisque Head-leather Jointed Body-org Decal Exquisite Antique 11 Inch Jdk Kestner Bisque Baby Doll Rare Flirty Eyes #257Vintage Procelain Head Doll Reproduction Googly By M Mosser, 1978 Kestner ReproAntique Doll Dressh 3 Pieces Circa 1890 28" Doll.kestner Or Jumeau German French29 Inch Kestner Mold 164 - Head Needs Repair-marked Kestner Body-great For PartsAntique Jdk Kestner 195 Bisque Doll Jointed Leather Body Fixed Eye