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    

Rare Antique Japanese Asian Doll Possible Simon & Halbig Or Kestner Magnificent Large J.d.kestner Mold 192 Girl With Superbly Dreamy Face.Antique Kestner Mold #160 Bisque Head Doll - As FoundBig 31" Antique German Bisque Head Doll, Kestner 146, Gorgeous !!!!Very Rare Huge Large 12 Inch Kestner 150 All Bisque Antique Doll Largest Made Jdk Kestner 5 In. All Bisque Biscuit Baby Doll In Original Box Outstanding Early Mint In Marked Box 24" Kestner 164 W/original Chemise LrLtd Toy Stamp & 1900s Jdk Kestner 20" German Bisque Head Baby Doll W Comp BodyExquisite! Antique Original Kestner 27" Incised Germany 7.Antique German Kestner? 6" Bisque Head Doll W/comp Legs & Arms-marked 14/017" Antique Bisque Shoulder Head Antique Doll "7 1/2" Kestner Look In Linen Suit23"antique German Kestner B5 Bisque Head Doll W Original Composition Body MohairAntique 5" All Bisque Miniature German Kestner 150 Doll Sleep Eyes Mohair Wig Antique 15” *kestner Body* For German Bisque DollBeautiful, Original, Antique Kestner 260 Doll 22"150 Kestner All Bisque Doll 5 1/2 Inches Beautiful 26" Antique Jd Kestner Letter L Fantastic 20" Character Baby - Head By Kestner -catterfelder PuppenfabrikGerman Bisque Girl Doll Rempel & Breitung C 1900 24 Inches Sleepy Eyes KestnerC1890 6" Tall Kestner 154 German Bisque Doll Head W/brown Eyes NrAntique German Kestner? 6-1/2" Bisque Head Schoolboy Doll W/comp Body-mk 192 5/0Ltd Toy Stamp & Antique Reproduction 23" Kestner Bisque Head Char Baby Doll #21118"antique German Kestner 154 Shoulderhead Dooll In Blue Velvet Gusseted Kid BodLtd Toy Stamp & Reproduction Jdk Kestner Bisque Head Bebe Doll Closed Mouth #q49Kestner 171 Head OnlyReproduction Doll Kestner Jdk 221 Bisque Googly Eye Artist Sign Antique Doll Bisque Head Kid Leather Body. Kestner 154 Dep Ltd Toy Stamp & Reporudction Jdk Kestner 221 Googly Eye Bisque Head Doll 14" Q3724" Kestner #182.....circa 1890-1900Antique 5" Miniature German Bisque Dollhouse Doll #150 Jdk Kestner Glass EyesAntique Bisque & Kid Body Kestner ? Marked 10 148 22" Doll Needs TlcLtd Toy Stamp & Reproduction Jdk Kestner Closed Mouth Bisque Head Doll E5 Antique 23" Kestner B-3 Doll Bisque Head Compo BodyAntique Bisque Head/hands Leather Kid Body Doll-mold Dep 3 154-kestner?german?Ltd Toy Stamp & Antique Reproduction 18" Kestner Hilda Baby #237 All Bisque DollVery Nice 20" Antique Marked Kestner Jointed Kid BodyAntique Kestner Bisque Head Doll # 154 Mold Open Eyes & Mouth ~ 19" Tall Valentine Kestner Googlie Reproduction #221Antique Kestner 22" Doll Dep 154 10 Blue Eyes Bisque Head & Arms Leather BodyBeautiful Antique Style Dress French German Doll Jumeau Kestner Steiner 15"Large Mohair Antique Bisque Doll Wig For Bru,jumeau,kestner EctMystic M210 Kestner 150 Doll Ceramic/porcelain Mini Doll Molds (d57)Antique Kestner Googly Eyes Jdk Germany Jdk 221 Doll Girl ReproductionAntique Kestner DollMarked (made In Germany 154/0) Antique Kestner 9" In Christening Gown14" Antique Kestner Leather Body