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    

Darling Antique 5 1/2" Kestner All Bisque German Closed Mouth DollAntique Bisque Miniature Doll Kestner Dollhouse 257 15Antique Bisque Doll Kestner 260 Germany Jdk So Cute!Antique Bisque Doll Kestner? Dollhouse 540/3Antique Bisque Miniature Doll Kestner 147-11 Dollhouse MignonetteSweet Kestner Dolly Face DollAntique Bisque Doll Kestner Little Girl Dollhouse 130 4Antique Bisque Kestner Solid Dome Fat Cheek Baby Jean Baby Doll. Wow!Artist Reproduction Bisque Doll 1968 Googly Kestner 221 Marianne DenunezAntique Jdk Kestner 257 28 Germany Bisque Baby Doll 11.5" Brown Sleep EyesAntique Vtg Rare Kestner Jdk Biscuit Baby Bisque Doll In Original Box 5" German9" Rare Antique German Kestner 155 Bisque Jointed Compo W/ Sleep Eyes Antique Jdk Kestner 6 Germany Bisque Doll 16" Leather Body Sleep Eyes Clothing 29" Antique 19thc German Kestner Victorian Porcelain Sleep Eyes Childs Baby DollArtist Reproduction Of Rare Antique German J.d. Kestner 221 Googly Eyed DollArtist Reproduction Antique African American J.d. Kestner 221 Googly Eyed DollRare Find! Large 9" Kestner German All Bisque 102 Wrestler W/ Orig Wig - DamagedAntique 1890s German Jdk Kestner 154 Bisque Doll Kid Body Antq Print Frock Db31Rare Antique Bisque Doll Kestner Antique Dress 7 1/2Google Eye Porcelain Doll - Kestner ReproductionLarge 8" Antique German All Bisque Kestner Doll #150 Original Wig & Pate "as Is"Antique German Kestner Glass Fixed Eye Bisque Head Kid Body Doll Mold 5-1/2 18"Antique Kestner German Jdk Bisque Head Kids Body No 8 Doll Original Clothes 20"Rare Antique Kestner Mignonette 5" Doll Sleep Eyes, Red Hair 150 4/0 GermanAntique 4 1/2.' German Kestner All Bisque Glass Eyed Jointed Doll W/orig Outfit Victorian Kestner? Bisque Head Doll With Jointed Composition BodyKestner Jdk 260 Antique Bisque/compo German Doll 26" 1900s Origredstamp Blueeyes An Antique All Bisque 5" Kestner Jnr Doll With Brown Sleeping Glass EyesVintage Kestner Jdk #211 "sammy" Baby Boy Doll Antique Bisque Porcelain Head1900s Germany J.d. Kestner 17" Bisque Head & Leather Body #7 166 Doll W Hat!Antique Kestner 171 Head Only With Sleep Eyes. Great Condition!Vintage Pre 1920's German Kestner Mold#164 Alphabet Series L Doll W/ Bisque HeadKestner 221 Mold Googly Doll 6" Antique Bisque Wrestler Doll #30 Kestner Germany Tlc Glass Sleep Eyes BlondeAntique Kestner Old German Doll 18" Bisque Head Parts Composition BodyEarly Kestner Solid Dome Turned Head Bisque- Booboo BargainAntique 3 1/2.' German Kestner All Bisque Glass Eyed Jointed Doll W/orig Outfit Jdk Jr Kestner 237 Doll 24"Antique 12" Kestner Hilda Character Original 5 Pc Bent Limb Baby Body Antique Kestner 15" Composition Baby Body -- Fits Baby Hilda Head And OthersAntique 5' German Kestner All Bisque Glass Eyed Jointed Doll W/original Outfit Antique Baby Infant Dress For Large German Character Baby Doll Kestner Heubach DVintage 18" Kestner K#154 Dep Doll Bisque Head Closeable EyesAntique Doll Dress For French German Bisque Head Doll Kestner Heubach Jumeau