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Treasures: ‘Geisha Girl’ dish may be of modest interest to some collectors

This Japanese vegetable dish is in a style referred to as “Geisha Girl.”
This Japanese vegetable dish is in a style referred to as “Geisha Girl.” TNS

Q: I inherited this dish from my aunt. I don’t know if it’s an antique or if it has any value. Can you tell me something about it?

D. R.

A: We wish we had better photographs of the design on top of this covered vegetable, but failing that, we can still provide quite a lot of information.

The country of origin is Japan, and it was probably made in the late 19th century, just before 1891, when the Japanese started marking wares intended for export to the United States “Nippon” to comply with the McKinley Tariff Act, which required that all goods exported to the U.S. had to be marked with the country of origin.

So yes, the covered vegetable dish belonging to D. R. is indeed an antique because it was made before 1891. But the jury is still out as to whether or not it has monetary value. Beware of wares that look like this one that bear “Nippon” marks, because in recent years they have been extensively reproduced in China.

This type of ware is called “Geisha Girl” porcelain — a wide variety of items featuring Japanese women dressed in traditional kimonos and engaged in different activities.

This type of ware is called “Geisha Girl” porcelain — a wide variety of items featuring Japanese women (and sometimes children) dressed in traditional kimonos engaged in different activities. There are said to be more than 250 patterns and variants, including Garden Bench, Fan, Meeting and a Parasol pattern, among many others.

Some of the more intriguing and rarer patterns include Dragonboat, Butterfly Dancers, Fishing, Bicycle Race, and In Flight. The pattern found on the covered vegetable dish belonging to D. R. appears to be fairly standard with a geisha sitting on a garden bench while another figure waves a Japanese flag.

Borders on Geisha Girl items are in blue, green, gold, red, brown or a mixture of these colors, the latter of which appears to be the case on the item in today’s question. The Geisha Girl pieces were never expensive and often appear to have been enameled by very unskilled workers or even by children.

Sometimes these wares bear the name or mark of a store or a trading company; they were strictly five-and-dime-store wares or items that were given away as premiums by soap companies, movie theaters and gas stations. Geisha Girl wares were made in Japan up until the beginning of World War II; manufacturing of these items during the occupation of Japan (1945-1952) appears to have been very limited.

Teapots in the various Geisha Girl designs are of modest interest to some collectors, but much of this type of Japanese porcelain is somewhat out of fashion. The covered vegetable belonging to D. R. is charming, but it is somewhat simplistically painted. It has a retail value in the $50 to $65 range if it is in perfect condition.

Write to Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email treasures@knology.net. Include a high-resolution, in-focus photo of the subject.

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