The Doll Detective

If you search on eBay for Kestner in Dolls, you may be surprised by the number of dolls that come up. Some of them were not really made by the Kestner firm; this is especially true of the all bisques and small dolls.

In 1998, Jan Foulke’s Kestner King of Dollmakers was revised and republished. What followed was a spate of “Kestner” dolls flooding the market. If Kestner was King, then the dolls must be worth more, right? Dealers and “civilians” selling their dolls hoped to get a higher price based on the Kestner name.

The Kestner firm made beautiful bisque dolls in Germany from the mid 1800’s to the early 1900’s. Most were of high quality. Some were marked with a model number, but many were only marked with a size number.

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The “pouty” face, early Kestner dolls are most desired by collectors. I have never really understood why this face is called pouty. I’d describe it as more of a baby face, with the huge rosy cheeks, full lips and a double chin.

At the time I purchased this doll, she was one of the priciest in my collection. If she was all bisque, she’d be worth even more.

When you invest in any doll, it’s a good idea to do some detective work. I will take you through a thorough examination of this doll. Hopefully, when I share how I examine of my dolls, it will help you when you do some detective work of your own.

Many dealers would sell this doll as “all original”. Let’s see…

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  • She is a desirable size, only 7″ tall.

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  • Her face is painted beautifully.

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  • Her clothing consists of her yellow silk dress, silk beret, and a silk and lace onesie. None are probably original, but they are early replacements, fit her, and are appropriate. (I added the shoes.)

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  • Her long blonde mohair wig looks good and is probably old or original.

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  • She does not have her Kestner plaster pate. The buckram pate is a replacement and has been taped in with surgical tape.

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  • There is a faint size mark on the back of the head, maybe a 2??

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  • I don’t own a black light, but a flashlight examination of her bisque head shows it to be perfect, with no hairline cracks.

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  • In examining her composition body, it is the right size and has it’s original finish with the yellowed varnish still intact. There are minor cracks and dings which show that she was played with.

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  • One of the ball joints at the shoulders is larger than the other. Also, the body color at the peg joint on the arm is very pink. It looks like one (or both) of the balls in the shoulders has been replaced. This also shows that she has been restrung.

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  • Her hands and feet have red lines between the fingers and toes and outlining the nails. This is original.

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  • Looking inside her head, it appears that her sleep eyes are original and have not been reset. The plaster looks old and the mechanism is appropriate.
  • If you look carefully down into the neck area, you can see a bit of leather lining the inside of the neck. This is not original and is further proof that she has been restrung.

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  • Her brown, sleep eyes sleep, but do not close completely. If this mattered to me, I could adjust the mechanism to make them close, but I don’t really care. I’m not going to display her lying down.
  • The wax on her lids is a bit dark, so it may be dirty or a replacement.

So, would you say that she is all original? Do the discrepancies really matter or affect her value?

It is up to the individual collector to decide. Even the most reputable dealer (like the one who sold me this doll) may gloss over such minor issues. The term “all original” should ALWAYS be taken with a grain of salt.

You know the saying, buyer beware, but remember that you are collecting toys that are more than 100 years old. They have been handled by many different people with differing ideas of beauty. It is possible to find antique dolls that are “mint in box”, or “attic finds”, but I happen to like a doll with a more interesting past.

To me, this doll is definitely a keeper.


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