Lady Head Vases
By Karen Parr-Moody
When I was born in 1971, my mother received a lady head vase from my Aunt Marion and Uncle Buddy. In the shape of a teenage girl’s head and shoulders, it had blonde pigtails, red lips, and a pearl earring dangling from one ear. At the top of her head there was an opening that held silk flowers, prepared by Buddy’s Flowers, a small town florist near the hospital.The vase, seen in the photo at right, now sits on my kitchen table between a couple of vintage salt and pepper shakers I got from GasLamp.
Recently, my mother was preparing for a charity yard sale, her living room full of tchotckes – including the lady head vase. My mother is a generous person, so I understood her desire to raise money for a charity. However, when I saw the $3 sticker on the vase, I balked. Not only did this vase have sentimental value for me, it was significantly under priced, even for a charity. I politely asked Mother if we could please keep it in the family.
Originally made for floral designers, lady head vases commemorated a variety of happy occasions for women, beginning in the 1940s and going up until the early Seventies. Collectors today find them just as lovely. Lucky for them, there are a handful currently for sale at GasLamp, just in time for Valentine’s Day bouquets.
Lady head vases are made of semi-porcelain, with a gloss glaze or matte finish. Their style is utterly glamorous. They have perfectly arched eyebrows, Cupid’s bow lips, and thick lashes. Hairstyles, jewelry and fashions tend to be elaborate. In fact, the era of each vase is often identified by the style of the hair or fashions. For example, the 1940s vases tend to feature the “victory roll” hairstyle, where hair was brushed up at the sides and pinned on top in large rolls.
The value of these vases can be affected by the detail in the design. The more desirable ones feature applied decoration in the form of pearl necklaces and matching earrings, as seen in the photograph at left. The vase to the far left of the photo has a pearl necklace and a stud earring ($40), the one in the middle has a dangling pearl earring ($50), and the one at right has a pearl necklace ($40; all in Showcase S-129).
Unlike the original vases, modern reproductions are typically of poor quality, with sloppy painting.
There were many lady head vase manufacturers, both Japanese and American. Common manufacturers include Inarco, Enesco, Napco, Lefton, Relpo and Reubens in Japan, and Henry Holt and Betty Lou Nichols in America. The photo at right features a vase from Lefton ($50; Booth B-200).
As evidenced by the photos in this piece, GasLamp has many reasonably priced examples of lady head vases. However, the market does include vases made in the likenesses of celebrities, and these can fetch high prices. Marilyn Monroe, Mitzi Gaynor, Lucille Ball and Jackie Kennedy all inspired head vases. Kennedy wears mourning clothes with a black-gloved hand wiping a tear off her cheek (photo, left). Such vases may sell for $500 to $1,000 in the general market. Monroe brings the highest price, partly due to crossover appeal, fetching as much as $3,000 (photo, below right).
Lady head vases are a whimsical and affordable genre of collectibles. They are useful, as well. A collector can use them for their original intention, or stick other items in them, such as pencils or air ferns. But who could argue that such a vase full of pink roses would make for a ladylike arrangement on Feb. 14?