Collecting Wares Made in Post-WWII ‘Occupied Japan’

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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