Vintage Lady Head Vases

 By Gail Willette-McPeak, Wenona Questers #1437

        What is a lady head vase?

It’s a ceramic figurine, usually 4” to 14” tall and open at the top to hold floral or other arrangements. These distinctive figural vases adored by many "head hunters" were sold by florists with artfully arranged bouquets during the 1950s, '60s, and early '70s, although a few were produced earlier. Most were designed in the USA and produced in Japan. Many head vases available today were made by Napco (National Potteries Company) in Bedford, Ohio. Other prominent companies are Enesco, Inarco, Rubens, Parma, Lefton, Ardco, and Sonsco. Eventually, florists stopped ordering the head vases because they were too small to fit large bouquets.

Vintage Lady Head Vases by gwm

More Desirable Pieces

Many of the most desirable head vases feature fancy hats, realistic facial features, dimensional eyelashes, and pearl necklaces with matching dangle earrings. Some even have a shapely hand with painted nails delicately framing one side of the face. These more detailed porcelain models (like those in the illustration above) provide a wide selection for head vase fans to collect. It's been estimated that there are at least 10,000 different varieties available. Some of these go beyond the average to depict high profile celebrities. Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, and Jackie O. all had head vases modeled after their likeness. These can be some of the most valuable.

A Notable Exception

Vintage Lady Head Vases by gwm2The U.S. did produce some early head vases that are highly collectible today. Betty Lou Nichols (Fullerton CA) was a talented artist who created some of the most sought after head vases in the collecting world, at first with a rolling pin on her kitchen table. Ceramic Arts Studio (Madison, WI) and Florence Ceramics (Pasadena CA) also created head vases. Although a 2021 Kovels article listed head vases as one of six items not to collect now, interest has fluctuated over the decades, and there are still many head vases available for $50 or less through online auctions and at local flea markets or estate sales. More desirable or celebrity pieces might sell for hundreds in the right market. But be careful: copycat head vases have been reproduced and are widely sold in gift shops around the country. Most of the vintage pieces are easy to recognize in comparison to the reproductions.

The Glamour Girl

Vintage Lady Head Vases by gwm3One of the vases transitioning from the '40s to the early β€˜50s was the heavier ceramic Glamour Girl vase. Some of these were impressed directly in the ceramic base with the words "Glamour Girl." Others are simply marked U.S.A. on the bases. While Glamour Girls attract their share of collecting attention, they are fairly low in desirability and value, so they're often snagged at bargain prices.

Tips for Collecting Head Vases

  • Maker Marks: stickers, tags & stamps should be intact - Napco, Lefton, Rubens, INARCO, Enesco, Relpo, Parma, UCAGCO, Betty Lou Nichols
  • Quality: Well modeled and painted features
  • Condition: No/minor chips, no cracks; some crazing is typical
  • Flourishes intact: Eyelashes, fingers not broken or repaired
  • Jewelry intact: no missing necklace or earrings
Vintage Lady Head Vases by gwm4  Vintage Lady Head Vases by gwm5