Collecting - Vintage Kokeshi Dolls

January 14, 2009 07:10 by ehouston

About two years ago I was rummaging through a garage at an estate sale and I came across this weird figurine.  I had no idea of the age, what it was used for, or supposed to be for that matter.  However, something about it intrigued me and I had to bring it home.  Plus, it only cost $.50!  I asked as I was paying what this thing was for and the lady at the money box stated she thought it was some kind of doll and that she believed it had been purchased as a souvenir when the family had been in Japan years ago.  So, I left with my strange little treasure and did not think much more about it after that.

Then about a year after later, I was at another estate sale and found two more similar dolls.  This time the sellers gave me a little more info.  They stated that these were Kokeshi dolls that the family had brought back from a trip to Japan.  So, the stories were similar and my research could begin.

(pulled from Internet)

Apparently, these dolls originally date back to the Edo Period (1600-1868), but the reason for their creation varies depending on which site you visit.  The exact city or region of their origin also differs, but I have included some of the stories that I found.  Some people believe they were first made in an area known for forestry and lumber production.  Because the workers in this region had very little money, but plenty of wood scraps they would use them to create very simple (no arms or legs) dolls for their children to play with.  I also read that some historians believed these dolls were created to stand in place of unwanted children (as in infanticide- how sad) or children lost to injury or illness.  I found several sites that seemed to confirm that once these dolls grew in popularity they started being produced in all different areas of Japan for all different types of businesses associated with the tourist trade.  Basically they became souvenirs.

So, that is the Cliff Notes version of the Kokeshi Doll history.  These dolls are very simple, made of wood with very few, if any, features to them, both carved or painted on.  Some of the newer dolls or those from bigger cities show the artisans started to branch out and add more color and carving to their creations.


(my "collection")

One of mine (far right) is one of the very simple variety.  However the colors are pale and nontraditional so I am not sure how old this one is.  Typical colors for these dolls are red and black with some yellow.  I also have two of the "creative" versions that have more of a carved structure to the hair, clothing and even some added accessories.  All three have a Japanese character mark on the bottom showing the maker, but the two with more color also have a "Schmid Bros." sticker.  I cannot find out much about that company, other than that they were importers of small toys, figurines, etc and they were based in Massachusetts.  I am beginning to think they are not that old, however I have found sites stating their item, marked Schmid Bros, Inc. dates back to the late 1800's.  So, your guess is as good as mine as to when this business started up and when they began importing Kokeshi dolls.  Some of my research suggests that some time during the 1940's these dolls started trickling over to America.  I am sure the war had something to do with that.  If anyone knows any more about these dolls or this company please let me know.

My favorite tidbit that I came across during my searches: The Nintendo Wii creators modeled the players after the Kokeshi doll.  That explains the resurgence in their popularity on everything from fabric

Fabric sold at

to notebooks

Momiji Pink Notebook


to keychains


and jewelry

I believe these are actually vintage, but they are sooo cute!  From

Happy Hunting!

Kitsch Krafts

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Textile Obsessive, are you? Yes, you might say that...

August 8, 2008 10:23 by ehouston

I have been collecting fabric for a long time and my obsession peaked several years ago when I completely freaked out about the amount of textile items I owned.  I am sure there are plenty of people out there that are waaayy worse off than me, suffocating under the piles and piles of dusty barkcloth, slipping on the chantilly lace and wishing they had just the right shade of orange to match up with that chevron patterned polyester.  I have been there and I was in heaven, but then suddenly, I had reached a moment of being completely overwhelmed by it all.  My 9 to 5 was not letting up on my free time enough for me to create like I had been accustomed to in the past.  My website was slinking along, barely there, while most requests came by word of mouth, and I just felt my chest tightening at the thought that I may hold on to this stuff forever along with some crazy teenage dream. 

I guess I read to many magazines, blogs and websites about all those talented individuals that some how get "discovered" and suddenly their 9 to 5 becomes their dream job.  Don't get me wrong, I chose my career path and I enjoy what I do.  It's just lacking in the type of creativity that I thrive on.  So, one day after a few deep breathes I began the purge.  I went through every single piece of textile on the racks that lined the walls of my office/craft room, and I bagged it all up.  I told myself that I would only keep the pieces most precious to me.  Those that have the best patterns.  The ones that just make me smile at the thought of cutting them to make something great, or keeping them forever to pull out and enjoy from time to time.  That day I did manage to take four very large garage-style storage racks, packed two rows deep on each shelf and stacked up to the ceiling, down to one extra wide five-shelf unit.  I think I counted 15 large yard-size garbage bags full of fabric and it took me about 4 trips to Goodwill to unload it all.  With each trip I dug deep for the will to keep going in the direction of the thrift drop off, did the deed and then felt weight lift on my way back home. 

At first I was definitely sad, but the opening up of all the floor space felt very freeing and I believed I had made the right decision.  Plus, I knew that some lucky person was about to come upon the fabric stash of a lifetime while just wandering through their favorite thrift store one afternoon.  It was not until recently that I started to really miss some of those fabrics.  The feeling is almost equivalent to that of losing a pet.  I know it seems crazy, but I often find myself thinking, "Oh yeah, I can use that pink floral doubleknit to make a sweet scarf to go with these mittens!", only to remember that the pink doubleknit is now adorning someone else's fabric pile.  I think what has really made all of this hit home is the fact that I am starting to get back out there.  I find I am being drawn back to the thrift stores for inspiration and the occasional good find.  Unfortunately, over the years the thrift stores have decided to use a new pricing scale for anything they think might have vintage value.  So, that bin of vintage fabric scraps that used to be about $5.00 is now $10.00 or $20.00, which might not seem like much, but it can take a tole on a tight crafting budget.  I guess I got lucky in that I was thrifting at a time when it was not as mainstream.  It was a necessity to cloth myself and outfit my first apartment.  I miss those days. 

In the meantime I have decided to start sharing my prizes and have found a lot of other people out there that have the same kind of love for all things vintage, especially textiles.  I will admit that sharing our pictures is fun, but a little hard to stomach when you realize someone else has the most perfect example of 1950's barkcloth you have ever come across.  What I am saying is there is definitely some jealousy involved..;0)  This reminds me of a story the husband of a couple we are friends with told us about how his wife shops.  Actually, they were both talking about how it was like hunting, and fighting could break out at any moment in the mall.  Well, I am not a mall shopper and I have always thought of myself as being much more civilized than that.  But, then I think of those times when I have slipped into a bedroom at an estate sale just in time to see some other lucky thrifter tucking the best fabric find under their arm.  So far I have subdued the eye-gouging and hair-pulling, but there have been times when it was almost too much to take.  I am limiting my entry back into the world of thrifting and fabric collecting, but it's like the draw of "The Dark Side".  It's just so darn strong!
KitschDesigns' Vintage Fabrics photoset KitschDesigns' Vintage Fabrics photoset

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