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Collecting Wares Made in Post-WWII ‘Occupied Japan’

by WorthPoint Staff (07/07/09).

When I was a boy I collected postage stamps. That was it. Stamps.

They could be from any country, any time period and depicting any subject. My stamp books quickly became full and after spending lots of my pocket money, I soon realized that without some sort of limiting condition, my hobby would get out of hand. So I limited my collecting to postage stamps from Great Britain. Later, I further limited it to British stamps from the reign of Queen Victoria. My collection then became manageable and affordable.

While it’s not always true, it seems that most collectors are faced with the same problem. Sooner or later they must set limits to give focus and to keep costs under control.

MIOJ black ink stamp. The color is not significant and has no bearing on the value of the item. The unevenness of the letters is typical and appears in nearly all OJ marks.

A "Made In Occupied Japan" black ink stamp. The color is not significant and has no bearing on the value of the item. The unevenness of the letters is typical and appears in nearly all OJ marks.

Which is why collecting items made in Occupied Japan is such an interesting and contained hobby. The limits are set because the time frame for the manufactured goods was fixed. Furthermore, the identification of the goods was very rigidly controlled, leaving no doubt as to the authenticity of the collectibles. And, just to make the hobby that much more attractive, at the moment most of the items are modestly priced.

But to start, let’s look at the historical facts. Following the Second World War, the United States occupied Japan, and because much of the manufacturing sector had been destroyed by bombing during the last years of the war, the first major objective was to restore Japan’s economy by rebuilding its industry and reestablishing the export trade. To help accomplish this task, the U.S. set up an agency to encourage and control the exporting of goods from Japan to the United States.

Between 1945 and 1947, the exports consisted mainly of raw materials, but in 1947 manufactured goods began to reappear. Consequently, the agency issued a directive to Japan stipulating that all goods prepared for export must carry the stamp or label “Made in Occupied Japan.” A second directive in 1949 stated that the goods could to be marked “Made in Occupied Japan,” “Made in Japan” or “Occupied Japan” and “Japan” where space was limited. This latter directive gives collectors something of a dilemma because it clearly shows that many items marked “Japan” or “Made in Japan” were imported into the U.S. during the occupation period. However, as the hobby now stands, only those items marked “Made in Occupied Japan” (MIOJ) or “Occupied Japan” (OJ) are considered collectible. One exception to this rule is a boxed item that shows the mark on the box but not on the item; but of course the item and box must always be kept together.

On April 25, 1952 the occupation of Japan was officially ended after eight years (1945 to 1952). During this limited time, huge numbers of exported items were produced eventually becoming the basis of a hobby commonly referred to as collecting OJ’s.

When they think of Occupied Japan, most collectors think of porcelain figurines. However, while it’s true that the figurines form the basis of most collections, almost every other imaginable item was produced, including everyday objects such as clocks, toys, cameras, jewelry, lamps, lighters and kitchenware. As noted, they all had to have the MIOJ or OJ identification. In some cases it was a label, sometimes an embossed name, but most commonly a black or red printed ink stamp. The color of the ink seems to have been arbitrary and has no bearing on the value of the piece. A maker’s name or logo often accompanied the printed ink stamp, which makes for a most interesting sideline to OJ collecting. One author shows 213 different OJ marks, and I’m sure that there are many more to be found.

A MIOJ stamp for the Paulux company.

A MIOJ stamp for the Paulux company.

A MIOJ stamp for the Chase company.

A MIOJ stamp for the Chase company.

A MIOJ stamp for the Gold Castle company.

A MIOJ stamp for the Gold Castle company.

Porcelain Figures

The porcelain figures made in occupied Japan are glazed and painted in bright colors. They come in a number of sizes, depicting both men and women, and boys and girls, dressed in many different costume styles. The quality varies quite a bit from rather crudely painted two-inch tall figures, right through to beautifully painted figures standing nine inches tall or larger. They come as individuals, matched pairs and as groups of two or more figures on the same base. A particularly attractive example, known by collectors as the Cinderella Coach, shows a horse-drawn coach with a driver, and a gentleman holding a lady’s hand as she steps down. It is often the star of OJ collections.

A group of OJ Glazed Porcelain figurines, from three to six inches tall, in period dress from the 17th century right up to modern day at the time (i.e. 1950s).

A group of OJ Glazed Porcelain figurines, from three to six inches tall, in period dress from the 17th century right up to modern day at the time (i.e. 1950s).

Three examples of paired porcelain figurines 3 ½” tall to 5 ¾” tall.

Three examples of paired porcelain figurines 3 ½” tall to 5 ¾” tall.

A beautiful example of a two-horse Cinderella coach, 7 ½ inches by 9 ½ inches.

A beautiful example of a two-horse Cinderella coach, 7 ½ inches by 9 ½ inches.

The maker's mark for Ardalt, the maker of the coach piece.

The maker's mark for Ardalt, the maker of the coach piece.

In addition to human figures, OJ porcelains can depict birds, shoes, salt and pepper shakers and vases.

While most OJ’s porcelains are figures modeled from the imagination of the designer, there are some that are either copies of more famous makers, or based on the same design features. One example is the “Balloon Seller,” taken from the larger and more famous Doulton figurine. The Japanese also copied British potters such as Staffordshire and Wedgwood, as well as European potters such as Meissen, Dresden and Delft. But it was in copying the children of Berta Hummel that they were the most prolific. These OJ’s are close Hummel copies, around the same size with similar colors, and include the eyelashes typical of the original. Even those figures not based on a particular Hummel are so good in their design that they could fool you in to thinking they are originals.

Examples of the OJ figurines that copy other potter’s designs. The Royal Doulton copy of the balloon lady is only 3 ½ inches tall, while the Wedgwood copies are 4 inches tall. The Delft-like girl is 3 ½ inches tall, and the boy, often called “Blue Boy,” is 7 inches tall.

Examples of the OJ figurines that copy other potter’s designs. The Royal Doulton copy of the balloon lady is only 3 ½ inches tall, while the Wedgwood copies are 4 inches tall. The Delft-like girl is 3 ½ inches tall, and the boy, often called “Blue Boy,” is 7 inches tall.

 

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A particularly fine example of an OJ figurine, made in the style of Meissen Porcelain, 7 ½ inches tall. The Maruyama mark often appears on many better-quality OJ’s.

A particularly fine example of an OJ figurine (left), made in the style of Meissen Porcelain, 7 ½ inches tall. The Maruyama mark often appears on many better-quality OJ’s.

 

OJ copies of Hummel’s “Happy Traveler” (HUM 109), and “To Market” (HUM 49).

OJ copies of Hummel’s “Happy Traveler” (HUM 109), and “To Market” (HUM 49).

Porcelain Miniatures

OJ glazed miniatures, standing around 2 ½ inches tall, were produced in very large numbers and can be found at almost every antique show, flea market and auction sale. They show all sorts of subjects and sell for very low prices. While not great works of art, they are, nevertheless, highly collectible and have a charm all of their own, making a lovely display in either mixed or specialized lots. Examples include baskets, vases, bowls, toothpick holders, clocks, etc. My own favorite are the miniature clocks, of which there seems to be an unending number; no sooner do I think I have them all when a different one turns up.

Porcelain miniatures, standing 2 ½ inches tall, of a shell, dancing girl, clock, toothpick holder, bag and Oriental vase.

Porcelain miniatures, standing 2 ½ inches tall, of a shell, dancing girl, clock, toothpick holder, bag and Oriental vase.

Bisque

Bisque is unglazed porcelain, often produced in softer colors, giving the OJ figures a very delicate appearance. Many of the examples were reproductions of men and women in 17th -century costume. Wall plaques were also popular in bisque.

Two Bisque figurines painted in muted colors.

Bisque figurines in muted colors.

The Habson company's marker's mark.

The Habson company's marker's mark.


Lamps

Table lamps showing figures dressed in period costume, in glazed porcelain or bisque, were made throughout the occupied period. They often came in matched pairs, making me wonder if all the individual lamps didn’t at one time have a companion piece.

A glazed porcelain table lamp showing a well-dressed girl, 9 inches tall. The shade is in the 1950s style, but is probably not original to the lamp.

A glazed porcelain table lamp showing a well-dressed girl, 9 inches tall. The shade is in the 1950s style, but is probably not original to the lamp.

Clocks

I’ve seen examples of working wall clocks, shelf clocks and novelty clocks from Occupied Japan ranging in style from the cheapest bedroom clock to well-made striking wall clocks. Cuckoo clocks and beautiful hanging clocks with a bird in a cage were also made.

An example of a fine-quality wall clock that strikes on the hour and half-hour, with a 15-inch overall diameter. The maker’s logo is a capital “H,” just below the 12, while the printed “MIOJ” is below the 6.

An example of a fine-quality wall clock that strikes on the hour and half-hour, with a 15-inch overall diameter. The maker’s logo is a capital “H,” just below the 12, while the printed “MIOJ” is below the 6.

Toys

Next to porcelain figures, collecting toys has become the most popular aspect of the OJ hobby. There were huge numbers of toys made during the occupation period, from the very simple, dime-store type such as whistles, card games and rattles, right up to the finely made wind-up automata. It is of course the wind-up toys that have become the most collectible and now command higher prices, especially if they come with the original box. Dolls sets and tea sets were also very popular.

A most ingenious wind-up toy duck that lays eggs. The celluloid eggs are loaded into the mouth and after winding it up, the duck waddles around and lays the eggs. The toy is more valuable because of the original box, but in this case it’s essential because the MIOJ mark is only on the box. The Duck carries the name Japan under its wing.

A most ingenious wind-up toy duck that lays eggs. The celluloid eggs are loaded into the mouth and after winding it up, the duck waddles around and lays the eggs. The toy is more valuable because of the original box, but in this case it’s essential because the MIOJ mark is only on the box. The Duck carries the name Japan under its wing.

Toy tea-set just 1 ½ inches tall.

Toy tea-set just 1 ½ inches tall.

A nice clear maker's mark from Pico company.

A clear maker's mark from Pico.

 

OJ collecting is on the upswing, spurred on by a number of fine reference books and established OJ clubs. Prices for the porcelain figures remains modest, but a word of warning: As with other porcelain collectibles, the value is dramatically reduced if any chips or damage are apparent. OJ’s are very fragile, so check carefully. Other OJ collectibles are getting more difficult to find, but they are still out there in the antique and flea markets, and the good thing is they are sometimes incorrectly labeled, so bargains are still available. Fakes are not a huge problem, but they do turn up occasionally, so, as always, learn from experience and buy from reputable dealers.

—by Graham Jones

References
1. “Occupied Japan for Collectors,” Florence Archambault, Schiffer Publishing, 1992.
2. “Collecting Occupied Japan with Values,” Lynette Parmer, Schiffer Publishing, 1996.
3. “Occupied Japan Collectibles Identification and Value Guide,” Gene Florence, Collector Books, 2001.
4. “Occupied Japan For the Home,” Florence Archambault, Schiffer Publishing, 2000.
5. “Toys From Occupied Japan,” Anthony R. Marsella, Schiffer Publishing, 1995.
6. “The Complete Collector’s Guide and Illustrated Reference,” Robert L. Hummel Miller, Portfolio Press, 1979.

All examples of Occupied Japan collectibles shown in the article are from the author’s collection.

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25 Responses to “Collecting Wares Made in Post-WWII ‘Occupied Japan’”

  1. deborah says:

    I have several hundred pieces of OJ… is there a good market for it ????

  2. Dave Pike says:

    Very interesting article.

  3. George says:

    I have signed Christmas 1948 menu from Marunochi Hotel’s Tokyo, Gundagai club. The menu is in a form of an oriental scroll and is in a small wooden case.

    The reverse side of the menu is filled with signatures of attendees, some of who are servicemen and women.

    Does this item have any value?

    Thank you
    George

  4. Dee says:

    I have oj salt & pepper shakers in the original boxes. Are the pieces with the boxes in higher demand?

    Thanks,

  5. Sarah says:

    I have several dozen pieces of OJ as well, have not found a market for it but could not figure out why seeing as how it is such a short period of time in history, and porcelain, by nature, will reduce in quantity over time due to breakage loss.

    If there is a market for Occupied Japan, I would like to find it, perhaps in a few years?

  6. tom curb says:

    Something less usual. I have a license plate with the lettering “Japan” and “occupation”. Guess that makes it Occupied Japan as well.

  7. sandra feldman says:

    I have a miniature vase that has the stamp made in occupied japan. It is similar to the one you show in this article. Can you tell me an approximate worth of something like this. Thenk you for your kind attention.

  8. SHERRY COLE says:

    I have some of the items shown here, from my grandmother ad dad when he was in the service, is there some way I can find out if they are worth something. Thank You in advance Sherry

    • sherry says:

      there are many people interested in the “made in Occupied Japan” items. not just the participants either, I know several collectors who are of the younger generation.
      as to the poor quality of the items, Japan’s manufacturing base had been pretty much destroyed during the bombing as a prelude to invasion. while some local artists were still able to produce quality objects they were mostly to expensive for the enlisted man.
      only half of the items for export were required to bear the “made in occupied Japan” mark.

  9. m simons says:

    I do not feel there is a strong maerket for these items becuase those interested in ww2 are aging and I do not see others interested in this period at this point. Perhaps in the future it will rebound. This was an area of ionterest 20 or more years ago when those who lived through the war years recalled the facts you describe so well.. just a thought thanks

  10. ROCKY B. says:

    I RECEIVED FROM AN UNCLE,THAT SERVED IN O.J.,A SET OF GLAZED TAN COFFEE MUG/CUPS,THAT THE HANDLES ARE OF FEMALES IN DIFFERENT POSTIONS SERVING AS THE HANDLES. MY AUNT ,DUE TO THEIR BEING IN VARIOUS STAGES OF UNDRESS,WOULD NEVER ALLOW THEM OUT OF THE CLOSET.NOW THEY ARE MINE AND I WAS WONDERING ABOUT THEIR VALUE,NOT FOR MYSELF,BUT RATHER MY AUNT,WHO KEPT ‘THOSE NASTY THINGS’ UNDER WRAPS FOR SO LONG.LOL.MAYBE SURPRISE HER,WITH A GIFT..

  11. As we can see from most of the responses to this article, readers are primarily interested in the question of OJ’s monetary value, specifically for the porcelain figurines. I collect and write about Asian porcelains, and I’m also an antique shopaholic, and so have had frequent opportunity to see OJ items though I’ve never been moved to acquire any.

    In porcelains, value is directly linked to quality. I have to say that one of the things that has always struck me about the Occupied Japan porcelain figurines is their obvious artistic inferiority to anything produced in Japan before or since. (That’s a generalization about OJ, of course, and exceptions can perhaps be found.) As we know, the Japanese are capable – and HAVE ALWAYS BEEN capable – of producing extraordinary quality across a wide swath of artistic and manufactured wares. The OJ era and the couple of decades immediately subsequent to it wherein “Made in Japan” became synonymous with “junk,” stand out as an odd exception in that long history of quality. The question is why? Was post World-War II Japan so spiritually depressed that it had forgotten its long history of quality in porcelain and other wares? Possibly.

    But here’s an alternative possibility. It may well have been that the OJ wares were a hidden Japanese cultural joke on the US as an occupying power. During this era, racial prejudice and a widespread sense that non-whites were racially inferior still characterized US culture. It’s not unusual for conquered peoples to thumb their noses at the occupying power by boldly pandering to stereotypes. After all, what the conquerer doesn’t know about who you really are and what you can really do, the conqueror can’t hurt.

    American insistence upon the word “Occupied” in the mark for these wares had to have have been seen as particularly offensive to proud Japanese, a sort of rubbing their noses in their conquered status. One can almost hear them saying, “Okay, Americans, you want ‘occupied?’ We’ll give you ‘occupied.’ We’ll give you crap!”

  12. Don says:

    A few years ago, before I was in the antique business, I ran across 6 very attractive copper figurines at a local shop. I turned the first one over and it said “MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN”. Actually, only the first 2 say MIOJ, but they are numbered 1-6 on the bottom of each. I had never seen MIOJ before, but being attracted to things Japanese and Asian in general, I bought them. They sit on top of my desk in my office. I wonder if there were many other copper MIOJ items made?

    In reply to Peggy, the Japanese before and during WWII were, at least, as xenophobic as people in the West and the US in particular. In my collection of Japanese books written after the war, there are comments about their surprise at how well they were treated by the Americans forces and how accepting the Americans were of things Japanese. One possible reason for much of the low quality MIOJ goods might have been that the GIs in Japan had little money and knew nothing of procelain, but still wanted to buy trinkets to send to family and sweethearts. Like Henry Ford, they may have decided that selling millions of inexpensive things would be better than selling just a few expensive ones.

  13. Sherry says:

    Great information on OJ. Thank you for sharing. Question, the ink colors for Japan are they for different years or manufacture signatures. I have found items stamped Japan in red, black and green.

  14. Jeanne Grant says:

    This is a great article, Very interesting and I love the pictures! I have a collection to sell. Does anyone know of anyone interested in acquiring OJ? Jeanne

  15. Diego says:

    Interesting site. I was looking to find something about two hummel looking kids mad in japan, maybe mid 40′s to 50′s. Maybe you know something about them. I can email you a picture if you would like.

  16. Jeanne Grant says:

    What did you want to know about them? I’m not much of an expert, but there are some great books out there by Archumbault and others that might be more helpful.

  17. Larry Hearn says:

    Most of the Hummel-look OJ figurines are inexpensive. The exception are the ones that are marked “American Children” along with the OJ mark. Archambeau has produced a b/w booklet showing 44 different ones that have been discovered. These usually sell for $75-200. Hope this helps.

    Larry

  18. Mary Chavez says:

    I have a set of figurines and one is stamped occupied japan, while the other just says japan. Why? Is only one of the occupied japan time frame? They are a set I am sure. they each have the same yellow costume.
    Thank you

  19. Larry Hearn says:

    OJ collectors generally expect a piece to me marked to be considered occupied. However, an exception to this rule is when therre are a matching pair of figurines and only one is marked. It is possible for the same item to be produced during and after the occupation. For the unmarked one to be called “occupied,” it is best to keep the pair together. Hope this helps.

    Larry

  20. Dona Pascaly says:

    I have a vase of a boy on skies. It looks like a Hummel.
    Is there anyway I get receive any information on it. The bottom is in green ink (NAPCO Made in Occupied Japan). The item was my grandmothers and she gave it to me. The item has to be at least 65 years old I’m guessing if not older???
    Thanks for any help about this item.

  21. Blake stein says:

    This morning my grandfather pulled from his attic a long forgotten collection of antique hand held cigarette lighters. Many are inscribed with the oj on the base. Styles vary as some have the classic geisha designs while others look like miniature cameras. My grandfather would like to sell them, anyone know aproximate value? Thanks, Blake

  22. Bill says:

    Hello
    I am a collector (not a dealer) of novelty clocks made in occupied Japan … specifically from Tezuka Clock Company, Ltd. I have been reconstructing the history of the company with the help of some Japanese friends who have access to former employees of the company. I am also compiling a database of actual auction values which I plan on contributing to a popular online clock price guide. I’d like to clarify a point brought up in the Worthpoint article on “Made in Occupied Japan” marks as they relate specifically to Tezuka clocks … and may also relate to other products. Not all Tezuka clocks, especially the ones made early in the occupation, have “Made in Occupied Japan” on them (usually the dial face and/or the works). Some do and some don’t. It is evident, however, from the quality of the workmanship and paint that certain specimens were from the period of occupation and not after (circa 1952 when the Treaty of San Francisco was signed). I also want to add that for a beginner to this wonderful subset of clocks and occupied japan items it is always desirable to go with those items that are clearly marked as being made during the occupation. If any of you have any questions or would like a clarification on some point or help getting started please feel free to contact me directly at whcureton@aol.com clearly stating “Tezuka Clock Question” in your subject field … I get a lot of emails. The prices for the rarer specimens of Tezuka clocks are going up yearly. In 2004 a “Made in Occupied Japan” Betty Boop moving eye novelty clock went for $1,526 on Ebay. That may have been a rare exception but prices in the $200 – $600 are very common nowdays. Happy collecting!
    - Bill

  23. Liz Byerly says:

    I have 2 silver plated peacock shaped dishes Made in Occupied Japan. I wanted to know the value of these dishes.

  24. My Father was in the occupation of Japan in the mid forties. He made friends with a Japanese Potter’s family in Kyoto. The potter threw a vase out of a porcelain type material and then “painted” a glaze on it consisting of many scholars(with all the same faces). It arrived in Northrn Minnesota with just the bamboo frame holding the vase in place. Someone had ripped out the address and scotch taped it to the vase. I still have the vase and would like to know if the family can be traced by the pot and the signature?

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