Kestner 143

In my collection, I own several dolls that are not in the two main categories I collect: fashion and all-bisque dolls. My interest in tiny and small dolls extends to small bisque-head dolls with composition bodies. One of my favorites is my Kestner 143.


What a face! She wears a sweet, almost smiling expression. For many years, when I was looking at a group of antique dolls at a doll show or in a magazine, I was drawn to certain doll faces. When I looked closer, that face most often belonged to a Kestner 143. So I knew I needed one.

The 143 is considered an enigma in the doll world. Most researchers will tell you that “character” dolls were made starting around 1910, but Kestner started making the 143 model in Germany in 1890. So she is often noted as the first “character” doll. With her expressive modeling, she’s not just another pretty face.


She stands 8″ (20 cm) tall and was dressed as a baby when I found her in the UFDC showroom about 15 years ago. I’ve discussed doll prices with several of my doll friends and we all admit to “overpaying” for dolls we really want. Even though the price I paid is higher than her “book” value today, I have no regrets.


I made her full slip and undies before I started hand sewing doll costumes. So, yes, those are machine sewn pin tucks, sewn with a double needle. Her tiny leather shoes are just 7/8″ long.


Her head is marked “Made in Germany” over “143.” To the left of the mark is a tall, lower-case “f”, and to the right is “3/0”. This is a known Kestner model number, even though she is not marked Kestner.


In this close-up of her face, you can see her feathered brows and lashes. Note that her eyelids are deep and her eyelashes skip over her eyelid crease. I just love her plump rosy cheeks and double chin.

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She has her original wig and pate. Plaster pates are common on Kestner dolls and many 143’s have this short hairstyle.

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As I usually do, I undressed her as soon as I got her home and was delighted with her tiny perfect body. If you’ve ever been confused by the leg joints in German doll bodies, the “balls” and slits should point forward on the thighs and to the back on the lower legs.


This allows the doll to bend her legs and sit better.


Her shoulder/arm joints are pegged like on many all-bisque dolls. A wooden peg is glued in the hole to hold the stringing elastic in place. She does not have jointed elbows, which is common on such small dolls. This close-up also shows you some of the bumps, bubbles and imperfections in the original body finish.

When I got her, I had the intention (as I usually do) of making her a whole wardrobe of clothes. Maybe, I’ll do a future tutorial on tips and tricks for machine sewing for dolls and on the ubiquitous “french hand sewing by machine”.


While writing this post, I started thinking about the other dolls I have that are not fashion or all bisque and have decided that since I have 5 other small German bisque head dolls with composition bodies, I have to add another category. Isn’t 3 or more a collection?


Kestner 143 — 4 Comments

  1. Hello, I have a bisque doll with a indistinct mark on the back. Would it be possible to send you a picture to see if you could tell me the manufacturer. Thank you.
    Regards, David.

    • Hi David, I’m no expert, but I’d be happy to look at your pictures. I’d need to see a photo of the doll’s face as well as the mark. Emily

  2. I have purchased a very unusual 143 she has the classic markings but different. she is a shoulderhead not a bisque head with a leather body.. she is 12 inches high and says..2/143 …c made in germany I can’t find anything referring to this specific model.I hope you can help. Will send pics!

    • I’m really not an expert at identifying dolls. I don’t know if another manufacturer besides Kestner made a model #143, but as far as I know, Kestner’s 143 was only made on a composition body and does not show a size # (2 on yours), but only the markings like on mine. Hope this helps.