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Is it a Kestner, Handwerck, or a reproduction?

Published June 14, 2016 by AntiqueMystique1
German bisque head doll 23 inches 6-13-2016

Is she the real deal or a knock-off Kestner or a Simon and Handwerck German bisque head doll? Either way she’s gorgeous!

She looks like a Kestner and/ or Simon & Handwerck German bisque head doll. She’s 23 inches tall and her body is composition (pressed saw dust and painted) which for its age appears to be in excellent condition. Okay, she’s my birthday present to myself. However, I have no provenance about this beautiful doll. I have no idea if she’s an antique or a remake of those lovely antique German bisque head dolls.

I surfed onto the doll reference website and still couldn’t find any answers to my questions. All I found was the number “13” stamped into the back of her head. Her wig screams and feels synthetic. Her glass eyes are stationary. Her mouth is open revealing an impressive set of upper baby teeth. Still though, it’s perplexing. I skimmed the doll collector’s database for more information about said doll. I know there’s a TON of reproduction German bisque head dolls on the market. I turned one up from 1987 and never bought it because it was too small (5″ high) and made in Taiwan, not Germany. And there’s a lot of fakes, too.

But the bisque head appears to be new? It just has me so curious. It’s a shade or two off in color from the body. Oh, and she’s not even high strung. She’s extremely loose strung including her head that has the impressive, and creepy ability, to do a complete 360 whenever she is picked up. Therefore, she must be handled with extreme TLC.

I noticed her in the antique store today parked beside a 1930’s big antique composition doll to her left. I naturally assumed the doll beside her looked kind of like child star Shirley Temple. And the Shirley Temple doll’s eyes not only opened and closed, but appeared to be made of plastic or something similar that would date that doll to about the 1930s or thereabouts. And then there was another even bigger bisque head Kestner—err, an outright copyright infringement counterpart sitting beside her blonde head counterpart on the right.

This enormous, almost bulbous head of the other doll just seemed “off” to me. It wasn’t nearly proportionate to the doll’s body and the clothes and its velvet hat weren’t antique. They were well designed clothes, none the less. And the biggest of the two Kestner-look alike dolls had a tag still attached. It was specially designed for somebody and the doll collector paid $225 when new. The doll had a name but I didn’t commit it to memory. And the bigger doll’s mouth was closed (no teeth) just painted on lips. And her body was a copy of a copy and all bisque. She was extremely heavy and I didn’t bother to lift her up to inspect her. The attached tag satisfied my burning curiosity about her.

And the dealer smacked $25 on her. The bigger doll had brown hair, brown eyes, although her hair felt more “mohair” or real than the other bisque head doll I was admiring. For years I’ve always wanted a German bisque head doll and would be happy with an original body and new doll head, or a complete original antique doll be if that’s the case too.


$35? I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I scrutinized the price tag very carefully. For that price I thought the dealer must have lost their marbles (I didn’t see any around) if said doll was an antique and completely original, or if it had obviously been poorly re-strung at some point in this doll’s past and it wasn’t a very good job at that that would account for the cheap price. I had to clear another all bisque German Piano baby-looking doll out of the way. Price tag on that doll stated: German bisque $25. But what I didn’t like about it was that it was missing it’s top and hair (so you could see down inside the doll’s head). There was a small piece of dark red felt glued to the open mouth of the doll. The stationary eyes had some sealant or goop poured around them to hold them in place and the doll head mold appeared too new, or so I thought. It could be an authentic antique German bisque doll, but finding an inset top to fit inside the head and then try to attach a doll wig on top of that would be a challenge and something that didn’t appeal to me. That, and it resembled too much of a boy doll, not that there’s anything wrong with that and dressed in a boy’s baby clothes.

There were two doll wigs for sale in the antique store; one dark brown hair, the other black. But it just didn’t ‘fit’ with the blue eyes on that doll, at least the mental image didn’t make me have any second thoughts. No, I tell myself.

First, for $35 something has to be seriously wrong with the doll other than she’s very loose and somebody didn’t re-string her correctly at all, regardless if she’s an authentic antique or not. Secondly, I’m garnering the money to repair the Victrola model “G” which has three mainsprings and just mailed that off today. And getting those fixed is going to set me back quite a bit if I ran my estimates correctly that is.

Third, my doll crib is crammed… and then I ran out of excuses not to buy this Kestner looking blonde-haired doll. She was everything I’ve been looking for in a bisque head doll. And she must be handled with extreme care because her joints and head just flop around. Oh, and she’s heavy which is another thing I didn’t anticipate when I first scooped her up and her composition legs and feet clacked the bench. Yikes! I hold her close to me for a while, then examine her facial features for any signs of hair line cracks. None to be found. I sigh. She can’t be a real antique doll, can she? For $35 (actually the store owner took a discount on her since I’ve done so much business with them on a regular basis and she was now $31). Am I sold, yet?

Let me think on it. And there’s a saying, “Don’t think on it too long.” It was a steal. One of those deals of a lifetime kind of thing. I practically tore myself away and placed the blonde haired doll back on the bench. I stood, my toes and heels not used to the open-toe sandals. I wanted to look beautiful today and wore a sundress. I didn’t feel like wearing Daisy Duke shorts or a thin shirt, either.

Being in those doll’s presence was like re-living a second childhood, if that make any sense? I know it must sound crazy, but place yourself when younger and let’s say you were an avid reader of Doll World magazine (now defunct). As a little girl none of the new dolls on the market could even compare to the likes of an original 1950s Chatty Cathy, Suzy Smart or even Thumbellina. I dreamed of someday finding those dolls and many antique dolls that would make me happy. My mom would tell me stories about all the dolls she had when growing up and it would always antagonize me although mom’s intentions were never about that.

Then, at ten years old, I hit pay dirt in 1987  completely by accident one evening and found my first original 1950’s Mattel Chatty Cathy (I believe it was a Chatty Baby) in a junk store my mom and I found ourselves in. My mom worried quite a bit because she could see the look on my face and how much I wanted that battered old doll so badly. I wanted that Chatty Cathy high on top of the shelf that I couldn’t reach.

My mom worried because money was extremely tight even though the economy hadn’t even began to tank yet thanks to the “Second Great Depression” as I dubbed it back in 2008. But if I would have been more keen of my history, I’d know that there has been a few financial crashes throughout history during the 1860s and again in the 1890s I think that had a ripple effect through the generations and finally leading to the major stock market collapse in October 1929. And that has nothing to do with me and my first Chatty Cathy doll, but money was tight.

Did my mom get the Chatty Cathy doll for me? Yes, and we were very pressed for time. Like always I still have this bad habit of piddling which means I take my time when I browse. I don’t like to hurry and hate being rushed. I’m one of those types that likes to stop and smell the roses and I make sure to go early so I have extra time to browse. As a young girl, I was very selective of the other dolls that were within my reach in that junk store and none of them had that certain ‘pull’. Mom scooped the Chatty Cathy off the shelf and pulled its string… nothing!

But there was a glimmer of hope in my eye and I was about to delve into ‘how does it work’ with my brother’s help of course and we had partial success getting my first Chatty Cathy to spit out a garbled message, but that was all.

The sale’s lady (and I still remember her to this day) was a very cut throat type and stern. My mom haggled over the price of the doll. Chatty Cathy did not talk. My mom wasn’t going to pay $10 for a non-working doll. The lady behind the counter shot me daggers. My puppy dog look implored, and it did little to tug on the heartstrings of this sale’s woman if she took any pity on me at all. And again the lady wouldn’t back down. I don’t know how my mom managed to talk her down and five dollars was the ‘sold’ price. My mom fretted because she wasn’t sure if she’d brought enough money with her. The lady wasn’t about to take checks. And as luck would have it, my mom came through. We got the doll and left.

My first Chatty Cathy never survived into adulthood sad to say. She had completely disintegrated although my efforts to restore and preserve her as much as possible I would hope weren’t all in vain. As a ten year old I didn’t know plastic becomes brittle with age and does break. The doll’s fingers broke off, the eyes fell out of their sockets, Chatty’s teeth went next and her entire body just fell apart like a worn out clunker. I tried with what little knowledge I did possess in regards to ‘do it yourself’ improvised doll restoration and would try to find answers to my questions in the issues of Doll World magazine to no avail.

Years pass by and I’m drawn to another doll that gives me that same ‘pull’ sensation I had when younger and seen my first vintage Chatty Cathy high on a shelf. I try telling myself no can do, or rather forget about it attitude. She’s not coming home with me. I look around some more. I review another homemade cloth doll with horribly bad yarn hair, faded painted-on face, homemade dress, all cloth body. No, that didn’t satisfy me. I wanted that blonde-haired rosy cheek Kestner bisque head look-alike doll. The second largest doll out of the entire lot of three sitting on a child-sized bench.

Why did this particular doll call to me? And I tried to forget about her, pulled myself away and forced myself to look at other things. I didn’t fancy any 78s, surprisingly enough. I bypassed the Edison black wax cylinder records without a second look since I had already jotted down all the songs and artists from them the year before. And I wouldn’t accept an Edison Diamond Disc record if it smacked me upside the noggin’ with an insanely cheap $1 price tag. Well, I take that back. I probably would have bought an Edison diamond disc if it was a song and/or artist that I like. And the doll, too. 🙂

Arrg! No, I repeatedly tell myself. Remember, I still have to wait to hear back on the exact cost will come to for the mainspring repairs on the Victrola. Plus I left the house not knowing when my birthday cards were going to arrive. I was originally intending to browse the antique store and go home. Nope. Kestner bisque head doll is still on my mind.

I try reasoning with myself; “She’s must be a reproduction!”, “You’ll be sorry if you have to make the one-hundred yard dash across the crosswalk in these open toe sandals and accidentally drop your irreplaceable one-of-a-kind birthday present to yourself!”

And, “The doll crib is over-populated as it is. You don’t seriously need another doll no matter how antique she might appear.”

“What if the darn thing is haunted?”

“What if its one of those ‘cursed’ antiques, then what little Miss Money Bags?”

Why else would the price be so reasonable? And why, why, why ask myself twenty questions? Why not treat myself for once since I don’t consume sugar and having an ice cream cake would reek havoc on my system anyway.

I try hard to leave the antique store, but wind up looking over the selection of antique baby clothes instead. Some of these garments are lawn cotton, others hand made, and some in the mix look antique but have tags sewn in to the garments. Nope. My keen eye knows any baby clothes with early tags sewn into the neckline were likely produced sometime during the 1940s or thereabouts. I was hoping to find some antique Christening gowns from the Victorian and/ or Edwardian periods. Not having much luck other than turning up odds and ends in way of baby clothes, I returned to the booth (or room rather) where the display of dolls were. I noticed something amiss. I never leave a vendor’s booth without putting stuff up as I found it. How could I have been so careless? So absent-minded.The German piano baby doll was lying on its side on the floor, the hand made sleeping cat beside it.

I start to berate myself, mentally that is, then quit. I’m not going to say that I’m stupid for simply forgetting about putting stuff away as it was. What has my mind so pre-consumed that I just faze out everything momentarily and walked off? I gingerly crouch down and my feet are shoved forward in my white heel open-toed sandals. I’m thanking myself I cut out all the sugar. I don’t feel sluggish anymore and amazingly the tendon in my knee no longer gives me any trouble. But my feet are straining as I pick up the home made sleeping cat and German bisque doll and place them back on the little bench. I so want to reach out and scoop up that 23” Kestner look-alike doll. I want to inquire about it and finally do. The store owners are always helpful and really couldn’t tell me whether or not it was antique or a reproduction. It appeared like an antique doll.

Willing to give it a try I happily said, “I’ll take it,” in the meantime browsed some more and finally settled on a grab bag of mismatched antique lawn cotton stained baby dresses and undershirts with no means of fastening them. No cute glass buttons, no itty bitty safety pins either. The two under shirts lack button holes. No sewn on snaps either. Well, since the doll’s body is all composition, pressed saw dust and painted, not all bisque (whew!) I wouldn’t have to worry about rust eating away at cloth, except for the under shirt itself. My mind’s made up. I will add some tiny glass antique buttons and button holes on the under shirts when I get home and after they’re laundered and dry.

I finally pay for my doll and she’s gingerly wrapped head to toe in butcher’s block paper and carefully placed in a sturdy box. I also got a free trash bag too. I always re-use whatever materials come home with me whenever I can. I returned home and first carted in my distilled water and my iced tea, then returned for my possible ‘antique doll’.

While on the way home I decided to part with one doll in my collection. It will be a tin head or metal head “Minerva” doll made sometime in the 1900s.

Someday I want to place all of my beautiful dolls in a sturdy cabinet with see through doors. They don’t have to be inset glass doors, just something that keeps out dust, spiders, and my cat and I may build such a cabinet so I can measure the shelves for the doll’s height.  I have been known to find my cat contently napping on top of my Frankenstein repaired Horseman doll in the crib on more than two occasions thus far and she feels snug like a bug in a rug surrounded by the other dolls as well.

german bisque doll in dress and shoes

If anybody has any information about my new, (hopefully antique) bisque head doll, please feel free to comment. Also, thanks as always for liking, sharing, re-blogging, tweeting, commenting, etc. I truly appreciate it! 🙂