Kestner Dolls are a form of porcelain dolloriginating from Germany, made in part or entirely from bisque porcelain.
Brief history and background
The founder of the company, Johann Daniel Kestner Jr., began making dolls in 1820, firstly from wood and papier mache, and later developed a large production base. After his death in 1858, the company was taken over by grandson Adolf Kestner, and in 1860 the dolls took on their porcelain form as collectors think of Kestner’s works today.
Adolf died in 1918, but production continued for a further twenty years. Kestner were a hugely industrious company, as well as being very ambitious; unlike many doll manufacturing companies at the time, which made just the heads or the bodies of dolls, Kestner made both.
The dolls were originally designed for and used as children’s toys, but have since taken on a new life as sought-after collectables. Regarded as more realistic than many other forms of porcelain doll, with rosy cheeks, detailed wigs and contoured features, they gained in popularity in the latter half of the 19th century, and continued production for over ninety years, adapting to suit the changing wants and needs of an evolving consumer market, as represented in their wide variety of china dolls.
The company closed around 1938.
Guide for collectors
Kestner dolls are highly collectable, and when well-preserved they can sell for large sums of money. Although many may see antique shops as their first searching place, collectors would be advised to check their options online; eBay frequently lists a wide range of Kestner dolls, with starting prices ranging from the $100s to the $1000s.
They also frequently appear at specialist doll auctions, though there may be fewer bargains at traditional auction houses than a collector would be liable to find online.
Most dolls represent children or babies, and are marked by their attention to detail in individualized facial structure and features, as well as a vivid and playful use of colour in both their flesh-tones and the attire worn by the dolls.
A Kestner doll's authenticity is fairly easy to verify, given the notoriety of the company and the distinctively high quality of the work they produced, which set them apart from their contemporaries and continues to set them apart from many other collectable dolls on the market.
Notable auction sales
The most expensive Kestner product to reach auction was sold for $15,000 from Noel Barrett Auctioneers, on 30th September 2006. The rare Kestner character box contained four different character heads, as well as the main doll.
Kestner’s “A.T” Bisque doll, sold for $11,000 on 24th August 2008, at an auction held at Skinner.
Another boxed Kestner character doll, complete with four different heads but showing a few more signs of wear and tear than the one sold at Noel Barrett, was auctioned for $7,750 at Philip Weiss Auctions on 26th February 2006.
Representing a slightly differing aesthetic, a mint condition Kestner Kewpie doll with a bisque china head sold for $5,500 on 13th April 2007 at Tom Harris Auctions.
Meanwhile, a brown-haired Kestner bisque child doll with a small wardrobe of clothes, sold from Skinner on 28th October 2007 for $4,250.