All about Made in Japan

From the Cause A Frockus collection

Cover girls

I enjoy so many different kinds of vintage collectibles, but lately I have found myself drawn to Japanese items without realizing much about the history of these pieces. I mean, how can you not admire these beauties – just look at their sweet little faces and adorable floral details. How wonderfully delicate and so feminine. But as any collector knows, we must buy first based on our heart and let our admiration deepen as we learn more about our treasures. With that spirit in mind, I’ve done some research and am happy to share my findings in this post: All about Made in Japan.

Do you have some advice for collectors such as myself or know additional information about Japanese goods? Please share in the comments….

Made in Japan | History

Japanese pieces have been admired by collectors and consumers alike since the mid 1800s. However during this time, it wasn’t easy to tell where an item came from without a knowledgeable shopping guide. But with the passing of the McKinley Tariff, imports began to get proper credit and consumers could purchase with greater confidence. Originally Japanese pieces were marked by the word Nippon (a traditionally formal name for Japan). Oddly enough, while this tariff was meant to protect domestic manufacturers it ended up hurting the domestic consumer to such a large degree that people started gravitating toward foreign products.

Collector’s note: Items labeled with Nippon tend to yield a higher return on investment than their counterparts

This shift in consumer trends fueled the fire that peaked in the mid-century. Japan has traditionally been known for its ceramic abilities. But key political shifts in Japan gave this tradition new life and just so happened to parallel the debut of the McKinley Tariff. This new Japanese government allowed for foreign trade to take place and craftsmen embraced these new-found opportunities. The industrial revolution in Japan was kick-started as small factories began to scatter across the landscape. Within these structures, artisans applied traditional methods to modern consumer products. By the 1950s these perfected techniques hit their stride with American collectors.

From the Cause A Frockus collection

A very nice little spot of light

In terms of companies or firms that supplied these mid-century goodies, I wasn’t able to dig up much. However, I did find a firm that has had a presence in the industry since the early 1900s: Nikko. And my sweet little astronaut gal (this was my Grandma Helen’s piece and my personal favorite) bears the marking 1958 Consco 7C7I. Unfortunately I can’t find many details about this studio (just other examples of their work). The March angel is labeled as a Lefton piece. You can read more about this company’s history and product offerings here.

However, no matter the company, most Japanese goods focused on these major areas: figurines/small statues, bathroom accessories (ring dishes, toothbrush or lipstick holders, etc.), salt and pepper shakers, and small containers. You’ll want to note that it’s not uncommon to find the figurines in matching pairs.

As much as Japan companies designed and marketed their wares to suit American sensibilities, the introduction to American culture had a profound impact on Japan itself. The government implemented Western style schooling for its youth, setting the stage for a new generation that was eager to play a role in the world’s socio-economic stage.

Made in Japan | Dates & related markings

From the Cause A Frockus collection

Example of Japanese markings

prior to 1891 – Goods did not have to be marked with the country of origin
1891-1921 – Nippon
1921-1941 – Japan
1941-1945 – No items imported to the US during the war
1945-1952 – Japan, Made in Japan, Occupied Japan, Made in Occupied Japan
1952-present – Japan

Here’s a great post that walks you through many of the common Japanese markings.

Cause A Frockus would like to thank Georgia Kemp Caraway, whose book “Tips, Tools & Techniques to care for antiques, collectibles, and other treasures” helped verify the Made in Japan dates.

Do you collect Made in Japan pieces? If so, what are some of your favorites?

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