Early Kestner all-bisque doll with black boots.
Early Kestner all-bisque doll with black boots.

By Jan Foulke

Q: I love this all-bisque doll. It is not marked. Can you tell me something about her?

A: Yes, you have a fabulous doll! She was made in Germany by the J.D. Kestner factory. J.D. Kestner was very important in establishing Waltershausen in the Thuringia area as a center of the higher-end doll manufacturing business in Germany. Kestner had a very large factory complex for making dolls and employed a high percentage of the people living in and around Waltershausen.

Kestner dolls were recognized worldwide for their fine quality. Many retailers advertised Kestner dolls by name, so they enjoyed a reputation with buyers for providing good value for the money spent.

That your doll is a very high-quality item is evident when it is examined closely. It is one of Kestner’s earlier models from the late 1880s. She has a chubby, round face featuring sleeping eyes and multi-stroked eyebrows that are unusual in small dolls. Her open mouth has the desirable characteristic of square-cut upper teeth so appealing to collectors.

The square-cut teeth are an indication of one of the earliest open-mouth models — the first bisque dolls had closed mouths. They were used only for a very short time, which is what makes them so desirable. All of these traits are complemented by her rosy cheeks. Her mohair wig with braids appears to be original, and she has her Kestner plaster pate.

She also has a desirable swivel neck, and her shoulders and hips are peg-jointed. This is an early method of putting the doll parts together by means of holes modeled into the bisque. This precedes the more commonly found later method of stringing through molded loops. In the peg method, elastic is pulled through the holes and secured by gluing tiny wood pieces into the opening to secure the elastic.

The sturdy child modeling on the body is very nice. She has molded chest, waist, belly button, and buttocks. The legs have chubby thighs and molded knees. Her outstanding footwear consists of white ribbed hose with scalloped edges, magenta garters, and black heeled boots decorated with blue tassels.

Jan Foulke is an authority on antique and vintage dolls, with over 40 years of experience in the field. She’s the author of the full-color reference book “Jan Foulke’s Guide to Dolls” and writes the Antique Q&A column in each issue of DOLLS magazine. Send your antique doll questions to Jan Foulke.

Read the rest of Jan Foulke’s Antique Q&A column in DOLLS May/June 2020 issue.

Subscribe now to get access to DOLLS online archive of past issues!