Geisha Girl Porcelain: The affordable vintage collectible

If this pattern looks familiar, it’s probably because you have a Geisha Girl item in your attic, basement or étagère.

From the late 19th Century until the 1950s, Geisha Girl plates, pitchers, salt & pepper shakers and a host of other items were readily available for sale and as giveaways in movie theatres and in boxes of supermarket products. They are less commonly known as “Kimono Lady” ware.

More than 125 patterns were made, but all feature Japanese ladies in brightly-painted kimonos, typically surrounded by temples, lakes or gardens. Because they were free or inexpensive, they quickly became very popular.

Dating Geisha Girl items is fairly simple.
– Pieces made before 1910 often had gold enameling.

Gold enamel is an indication that a piece was made before 1910 as this plate was, or in the 1990s!

Gold enamel is an indication that a piece was made before 1910 as this plate was. But gold was reintroduced in the 1990s!

Those made after that substituted white and yellow dots, lines and zigzags.
– The “Nippon” mark is commonly seen on older pieces from 1891 to 1921.
– Marks such as “Japan” or “Made in Japan” are post-1921.
– “Made in Occupied Japan” is on pieces made between 1945 and 1952.

Hand-painted or stenciled?
Most Geisha Girl pieces were completely hand painted until about 1920, as is the green plate shown above. Stenciled wares were more common. The lines were filled in with a variety of color washes. You can feel these raised lines by running a finger over the piece. In almost all cases, the edges of older pieces were bordered in solid colors, and often accented with gold lacing or flowers.

Beware of fakes!
Authentic vintage Geisha Girl porcelain has always been affordable, and still is. But that didn’t stop the Chinese from making reproductions in the 1990s. Sadly, they’re often passed off as “antique” – and may even carry fake marks!

Here are some ways to tell if an item is a reproduction:
Reproductions are too perfect. Colors stay within the lines. (Originals often have a single “swoosh” of color that doesn’t completely fill the space!)

Original Geisha Girl plate. Note the "sloppy" coloring within the lines.

Original Geisha Girl plate. Note the “sloppy” coloring within the lines.

Extensive use of gold in newer pieces. As noted above, gold was replaced by white or yellow enameling after 1910. Gold is also the first thing to wear off. Older pieces will show wear – newer ones will have bright gold accents. (An exception is if you can obtain provenance. My plates have been in our family since the 1920s, and weren’t used much, so the original gold is still bright.)
Most (not all) reproductions lack the raised stencil lines, because lines are drawn over the colors (originals were colored in after the lines were drawn)
Newer designs cover the entire surface. There are usually more white spaces on the originals.
The figures on reproductions have eyeballs and more slanted eyes. Those on originals are typically simple, straight lines

It’s easy to collect an entire dinner set.
I searched to see if Geisha Girl porcelain is safe to use with food items, and no warnings popped up. However, I wouldn’t use it in the microwave or dishwasher for obvious reasons.
But the patterns are so colorful and lovely, they would complement virtually any décor — from simple contemporary to retro – with ease.

Here’s a link to a book that describes Geisha Girl ware in more detail:
The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Geisha Girl Porcelain by Elyce Litts, 1988, catalogues over 200 different patterns of these collectible wares.

If you love learning about antiques as much as I do, follow the blog so you won’t miss the next article.
And enjoy the hunt!

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About sarathurston

I'm a marketing communications writer who also loves antiques and collectibles. You can find my shop on Etsy at http://www.etsy.com/shop/JanvierRoad
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4 Responses to Geisha Girl Porcelain: The affordable vintage collectible

  1. Warren Franklin says:

    I am 56 years old and I have a large snear 100 yeret of Geisha Girl dishes given to me by my mother who got them from her grandmother. Very interested in knowing their value. I estimate they are near 100 yesrs old because of where they came from.

    • sarathurston says:

      Wow – an entire set! All I can tell you is that individual dishes often go for $10 or less, but a full set might be worth more…I’ll see if I can find any information.

  2. sarathurston says:

    I’m having such a ball, researching the items I put up on Etsy. I thought I’d just be describing what they look like, measurements, etc. But I’m discovering that there’s SO much more to antiques and vintage items – sometimes the stories are just too good to keep to myself. The only problem is, if the story’s TOO good I decide to keep the item. 🙂

  3. kathy says:

    Great post……informative AND interesting!

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