For the love of dolls

I have three young ladies sitting on my desk. Let me tell you what they are wearing. One has an aquamarine gown, one has a pink gown and the other wears a fern-green one. They each clasp a basket of flowers in the crooks of their arms. Their hair is piled up in stylishly. The gowns are further embellished with six-petalled flowers in the front.  A hint of gold gleams at their necks and sleeves. With one hand raised, they are wishing me ‘hello!’

My three pretty ladies

Now, don’t think I’m dreaming. Or that I’ve finally succumbed to springtime madness. I’m talking about my three Josef Originals. These pretty ladies are part of my collection, and every once in a while, I take them out and marvel at their delicate beauty.

Josef Originals come in different designs and depict various styles. You can find cute animals, dolls, and angels. I did some research on my dolls. The ones I have are the birth month ladies – so the aquamarine one is March (my birth month), the pink lady is September and the green one is August. They have rhinestones on the flowers in their baskets.

History

Muriel Joseph was the creator of these delicate figurines. Based in California, she created jewellery out of lucite, until World War II broke out.  At that momentous time, she had to stop her work because lucite was needed for the war effort. Lucite was a very popular material used by costume jewellery makers in the 1930s and 40s. It is a kind of plastic, and if you’ve been browsing antique shops, you’ll come across plenty of instances of this translucent material heavily used in jewellery. Lucite was lightweight, and could be easily molded into shapes, and polished for artistic purposes.

During the war, lucite was used to make periscopes, parts of airplanes, and apparently, windshields. Jewellery production took a back seat, as you can imagine. Then Muriel of California decided to turn her considerable talents into creating with ceramic instead. After the war ended, in 1946, Muriel and her husband George, started producing the dolls. They had a winner – the dolls became wildly popular. They were called Josef Originals.

What a doll!

Business drama

But the story doesn’t end happily ever after. Competitors began flooding the market with cheap imitations made in Japan. Muriel and her husband decided to make even better products, but naturally this pushed up the prices, and they were facing a bleak future. Imagine how difficult it must have been for them!

A distributor then suggested a strategy for them. Why not take their production to Japan and beat the competitors at their own game? So, in 1959, the Joseph team set up shop in Katayama, Japan, and began training their factory workers to make the line according to their particular vision. This ploy worked. Business boomed during the 1960s & 70s, and Muriel continued to helm the operations for some twenty years after that.

The sign at the base

Original or reproduction?

Having such a chequered history means I’m not sure whether my dolls are original or not. Just because they were bought from an antique store does not automatically guarantee authenticity. I dug around some more and found that the way to identify the ‘real’ ones was quite simple actually:

  • Black eyes on the dolls that were made in California & Japan
  • Copyright sign & ‘Josef Originals’ at the base
  • A curlicue with ‘Japan’ at the base

My dolls have these, so I know they were made in California and Japan, not the cheap imitations from Taiwan or Mexico. Why not start your collection today?

 

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Moushumi