Head Hunting — Collecting Head Vases

Growing up in the 1950’s I saw my share of head vases.  Some were wonderfully enticing, some made me smile, others gave me the creeps. My godmother’s little Lefton bonnet lady, hung on her kitchen wall and always smiled at us as we ate a meal at “the kids’ table” in the kitchen.  This bonnet lady head vase still brings me a smile and reminds me of holiday meals at the kitchen table at Auntie’s house.kid

Since the late 1940’s and early 1950’s “Lady Head Vases”, “Head Vases” or “Head Planters” depicting a woman or young girl from the shoulders up have been actively sought in the collectible world.  Starting in the early 1950’s these small vases enjoyed a sharp increase in popularity from florists using them to hold tiny bouquets of flowers.  Given as a gift, these little ladies brought quite a nice sentiment with a smaller amount of flowers needed for the same impact as a large bouquet.  At the time (1950’s & 60’s) the cost of the ceramic head vase was minimal in comparison to using more flowers for a larger bouquet and you were giving something charmingly beautiful that lasted.  The head vase could be adored for years after the flowers were long gone.

Some of the mid-20th century manufacturers’ names associated with the production of head vases are:  Lefton, Napco, Napcoware, Enseco, Inarco, Relpo, and more.  Usually marked on the bottom, these pieces often only got a tiny paper and foil label. If you are lucky, the original sticker will still be on the bottom.  Do not fret if there is no mark.  Having a maker’s mark is not always indicative of value.  Some celebrity vases like Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Kennedy over the years have held their value regardless of maker’s label.

These beautiful vases show women from all walks of life with flawless accessories, she is the ideal interpretation of mid-20th century style.  Some head vases depict young girls, others more mature women.  Some are holiday themed, others portray much more common everyday slices of life.  I recently read there are upwards of 10,000 styles of head vases for you to collect.  In general, they range in size from the tiny 2 or 3 inch vases to the more average size about 6 inches tall, all the way up to 14 inch vases that are quite rare.  Some head vases were made as wall pockets but most sit on a flat surface.

As a collectible, head vases are found almost anywhere vintage pieces are sold; resale shops, antique shops, estate sales, and yard sales but, for the easiest place to find these beauties check online auctions such as eBay, Etsy, RubyLane etc.  Prices for these diminutive ladies can range from just a few dollars up to hundreds for the more rare celebrity vases.  Just be careful and educate yourself on the most rare and desirable if you decide to collect. It’s like anything else in the collectible world; anything is only worth what the buyer will pay, not what the seller is asking. So be sure to check for “Sold Listings” not just the currently “For Sale” items for the best indication of what the market is willing to pay and hence a better indication of current value.

I love the ladies with their beautifully coiffed hair, make-up done to perfection with their heavy ceramic eyelashes on downcast eyes, tastefully seasonal hat and occasionally some small jewelry.  They seem ready for the Easter Parade with their beautiful hats, pearl earrings, maybe a rhinestone ring or a pearl necklace.  Normally head vases had very little jewelry, the design of the lady’s hat, hair-do and reserved jewelry defined her classic look.

Children and teenage girls are not as easily found but are quite desirable as there were not as many varieties of them made.

Some people only collect holiday head vases.  Usually decorated in red, white and green these ladies add a nice touch to your Christmas décor.

Lately, I’ve noticed some heavily embellished head vases.  Encrusted with crystals, pearls and bling, this may be a nice way to up-cycle an otherwise less than perfect collectible into something that could bring delight to someone for years in spite of having some deformity like a chip on the rim or most often broken eyelashes.  If you see a head vase with an over abundance of bling, it maybe was bedazzled to cover up some minor flaw.

I started a Pinterest board for head vases that shows many more head vases than I can share here if you want further information about this delightful collectible or you could creep around eBay or Etsy for a good idea of all the different styles (as of today, there are more than 2,000 listings for head vases on each site).  Whichever way you decide to start “head hunting”, for me it’s always the thrill of the hunt that entices me to continue looking for those elusive collectibles. So, be careful, be cautious and remember to enjoy the journey.

Happy Hunting.


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