Antique doll head vases

Antique doll head vases DEFAULT

Oh, for the Love of Vintage!

Lady Head Vases, Black Dahlia's Collection

Good afternoon ladies and gents!

Today’s post is about an item I collect and adore, lady head vases. I started collecting these years ago and my mother often adds ladies to the growing collection.I love lady head vases because they’re beautiful, fashionable, glamourous and also have a practical use.

What is a Lady Head Vase?

A lady head vase is just as the term describes: a ceramic floral vase shaped into the head of a lady. Lady head vases were introduced in the 1940s and were very popular up to the 1970s. These vases depict glamourous ladies with stylish hats, pearl necklaces, earrings, brooches and lush lashes. In the 1960s, teen age girl head vases were introduced. Celebrity head vases were also created in the likeness of Lucille Ball, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and others.

Vintage Lady Head Vase, Black Dahlia's Collection

To me, lady head vases often appear to have a haughty look and I love them for it! The lady head vases in my collection span from the 1940s to 60s. I particularly love models from the 40s and 50s and am always on the lookout for a new lady. I would love to find a rare Lucille Ball lady head vase for my mom. I’m keeping my eye out for that!

Collecting Lady Head Vases

Collecting lady head vases is a lot of fun. You never know what kind of a lady you’re going to come across at a flea market or yard sale. It’s always a thrill!


Lady head vases are highly collectible and because of that the prices keep going up. Prices for lady head vases range from $20 to in the thousands depending on the piece itself, its condition and rarity. The celebrity head vases mentioned previously usually fetch a higher price.

60s Lady Head Vases, Black Dahlia's Collection

Where to Buy

If you’re looking to start a lady head vase collection you can often find them at yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores and antique shops. I would be wary of purchasing them online as there are a lot of reproductions in the market. Companies are producing vintage looking lady head vases and passing them off as originals from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Beware!

Lady Head Vase Manufacturers

Several companies produced lady head vases in the 40s to 70s.  Here are some company names that can help you identify your vase:  US manufacturers – Betty Lou Nichols and Henry Holt and Japan manufacturers – Napco, Inarco, Lefton, Enesco, Relpo and Reubens.

Vintage Lady Head Vases, Black Dahlia's Collection

More Information

Websites dedicated to lady head vases:


Black Dahlia

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Collecting Lady Head Vases

Blonde Blythe has been a serious collector of lady head vases since 2012.

Lady Head Vases are My Newest Obsession!

Well I went & did it--again! Just when I thought I had outgrown collecting (Yeah, right! My husband would laugh his head off at THAT one!) I decided to start collecting lady head vases.

Yes, I have been bitten by the head vase bug--do they have a head vase anonymous? No? Well, they should! Anyone out there who has ever collected head vases knows what I'm talking about--it's like being bitten by a vampire--once the head vase bug sinks its teeth into you, there's NO turning back. OK--don't say I didn't warn you! ;-)

What Got Me Started on This Mad Head Hunting Journey?

It all started with a $15.00 purchase of a 1960s papier-mache lipstick holder girl. . . . Then I bought a couple of Christmas head vases. . . . Then I bought a bejeweled genie girl. . . . After that, there was no hope for me. No hope at all. . . .

I bought the lipstick holder girl because of her uniqueness; with her huge soulful eyes, she literally looks like she just stepped out of a Margaret Keane painting. It also didn't hurt that she was cheap!

I bought the Christmas girl head vases because I'm a sucker for vintage Christmas collectibles, especially Napco.

I purchased the Lefton genie girl head vase to decorate my genie-themed bathroom. But, one wasn't enough--I ended up buying all three sizes! I admit it--now I'm a bona fide head vase junkie!

How did I get to the point of no return? Scroll down to view and read about my head vase acquisitions, which are ongoing. . . . Also included is some interesting and helpful information about head vases--just in case these beauties should happen to tickle YOUR fancy. . . .

What is a Head Vase?

A head vase is the figure of a head or bust, typically made of ceramic, with a hole in the top, usually for displaying flowers. Occasionally the flower hole is found is in other places, such as the hand.

Did You Know:

The Head Vase Goes All the Way Back to Late 19th Century France.

Head Vase Collector Poll

A Brief History of the Head Vase

Although head vases actually got their start in Europe in the 1800s, the head vases most of us are familiar with came into being just before WWII. When the war ended, the U.S. began to import many low-cost items from Japan; most popular among these imports were ceramics, including head vases.

There were many companies in America that produced head vases as well, and on a large scale, including: Josef Originals, Betty Lou Nichols Ceramics, Royal Copley, Shawnee Pottery, Ceramic Arts Studio, Florence Ceramics, Roseville, Royal Haeger, Stanford Pottery, and Weller.

Head vases were used by florists to enhance their arrangements, and could also be purchased at the five-and-dime. As time went on, head vases became increasingly elaborate; the most popular ones were inspired by fashion models and movie stars.

Unfortunately, as the price of American labor increased, it became less profitable for American companies to manufacture head vases. By 1950, American production of head vases had largely become a thing of the past.

By the 1960s, the head vase market had peaked, and head vases became smaller and simpler in order to cut down on costs. Head vases subsequently lost their popularity; with the 1970s came the end of an era, as production of head vases became a thing of the past.

Head Vases Come in Many Shapes, Sizes, and Colors

In addition to lady head vases, there are also head vases of celebrities, children, men, animals, nuns, madonnas, clowns, and even Disney characters.

Favorite Head Vase Poll

What Kind of Head Vases Am I Collecting?

I'm mostly drawn to the teen head vases, but I also like some of the more sophisticated ones as well. I buy what I like--If a head vase doesn't move me, then I walk on by.

I'm striving for quality. I would rather have a few quality head vases than several head vases with problems (cracks, chips, repairs, substantial paint loss, etc). I realize that because the head vases I'm collecting are vintage, they aren't going to be perfect--time has taken care of that--but I want them to be as perfect as reasonably possible.

Update: May 2, 2016--After over four years of seriously collecting head vases, I have changed my tune a bit. I have since then bought several head vases at a very low price in need of minor touch ups, such as fresh paint and new earrings, and even a few with minor chips that I have filled in with putty and repainted. It's very rewarding to restore a head vase back to its original beauty. I still look for head vases in good condition, with no chips or cracks and minimal crazing, but if I can get a fixer-upper at a cheap price, I'll take it.

What Size Do Head Vases Come in?

While head vases range in size from 2 to 14 inches, most of them are 7" and under.

Head Vases Come in Many Sizes!

This photo illustrates a variety of head vase sizes. The ladies on each end measure 10" high; the big lady in the center is 10 1/2" high; the lady with the lavender flowers in her hair is 4 1/2" high; the nurse is a mere 3 1/2" tall, and the girl with the butterfly is 5 1/2" tall.

Head Vase Size Poll

Betty Lou Nichols: Famous American Artist, Head Vase Pioneer, and Successful Business Woman

In my quest to learn all I can in my newfound hobby of collecting head vases, I discovered the art of Betty Lou Nichols, an American artist who is credited with making the head vase popular in the U.S.

Betty Lou's successful career in art had surprisingly humble beginnings; she got her start rolling out shapes with clay and a rolling pin on her parents' kitchen table. Betty, who always wanted to be an artist, learned how to create ceramics while studying art at Fullerton Junior College in California. When her husband was stationed overseas during World War II, she began to put her knowledge of ceramics to work and started experimenting with various designs. When her husband finally returned home in 1947, Betty got the idea to create her own head vase designs.

Betty's unique brand of head vases were a big hit with the public; by 1949, Nichols had her own successful business, with 30 employees on the payroll. Although Betty Lou is best known for her head vases, she was a woman of many interests and talents, eventually branching out into all sorts of interesting projects: Nichols developed a massive Christmas line as well as other ornamental figurines. She created jam jars and syrup pitchers for Knott's Berry Farm, and even ceramic figurines based on the animated film "Fantasia" for Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

As labor and production costs increased in the U.S., starting in the 1950s, it became increasingly difficult to compete with foreign companies. In 1962, Betty Lou Nichols Ceramics made the decision to close its doors. The versatile and inventive Betty didn't sit on her haunches, though: she then proceeded to grab a paintbrush and paint portraits, still lifes, and landscapes until her death in 1995 at the age of 72. Today, these paintings are highly sought after by collectors, garnering steep prices at auction.

No two Betty Lou Nichols head vases are exactly alike. Rather than being based on famous people, like most head vases of the time, they are instead created in a gay '90s style, with generous ruffles, bows, and curls, and wide-brimmed hats. Although Betty used molds for the heads, details such as lace, ruffles, and bows were meticulously applied by hand using genuine Tennessee and Kentucky clay. The faces of these ladies typically have very full, coquettish eyelashes, no eyebrows, and high cheekbones.

In 1989, a collector by the name of Kathleen Cole wrote a book about head vases, titled, Head Vases: Identification and Values, which brought about a newfound appreciation of the head vase. After years of collecting cobwebs in dusty attics, head vases had suddenly become valuable collector items. In the mid 1990s, Betty Lou Nichols' head vases surged in popularity. Unfortunately, Nichols was unable to enjoy her newfound fame--she had suffered a couple of strokes--and died shortly afterward.

Today, Betty Lou Nichols' head vases continue to be prized by collectors, and may be found world wide in antique shops, online auction sites such as eBay, and up for bids in prestigious auction houses such as Christie's. Nichols' work may also be viewed in art exhibits across the country. Check your local listings for places, times, and dates.

In 2007, enamored by Betty Lou Nichols' head vases, Head vase collector Maddy Gordon featured her work in a book, titled, Head Vases, Etc.: The Artistry of Betty Lou Nichols. The book may be purchased on, as well as other websites.

Head Vases, Etc.: The Artistry of Betty Lou Nichols

Written by Maddy Gordon, Betty Lou fan and 22-year head vase collector at the time, Head Vases, Etc.: The Artistry of Betty Lou Nichols, details the fifty-year career span of artist Betty Lou Nichols.

Nichols' colorful work is documented with over 600 photographs, many of which are rare and never before seen examples of her work.

Although Betty Lou's head vases are spotlighted, her portraits, figurines, landscape, and still life paintings are also included, much to the delight of her fans.

Betty Lou Nichols Head Vase Poll

Here is the Book (2nd edition) Written by Kathleen Cole That Incited Head Vase Mania!

I purchased, Head Vases: Identification and Values,by Kathleen Cole, when I first made a conscious effort to collect head vases; it has proved to be an invaluable reference ever since. I have seen so many fellow head vase collectors throw away their money on reproduction head vases. Thank goodness I had this book to help guide me and teach me the ABCs of head vase collecting. It has great photos as well as pertinent info to teach you how to be a savvy head vase collector.

Maddy Gordon: Ultimate Head Vase Queen

Who has over 3,000 head vases to her name? Why, Maddy Gordon, of course. Maddy, author of "Head Vases, Etc,: The Artistry of Betty Lou Nichols," has been diligently collecting head vases for more than two decades.

What got her started on this unusual hobby? The first time Maddy ever set eyes on a head vase was at a local antique show. Intrigued by some little ceramic people sitting on steps, Maddy asked the seller what they were. Although she had never even heard of a head vase before, Maddy ended up taking three home with her that day, supposedly for a friend's house-warming gift. The friend never received the gift, and the rest is history.

Upon entering Maddy's Scarsdale, New York home, you may have the feeling you're being watched, and you are: with head vases gracing the walls in every single room of the house--including the bathroom and hallway--there are thousands of eyes upon you at any given moment.

Why does Maddy's husband put up with all of these strange occupants? Some of Maddy's head vases are worth thousands of dollars; and as they become scarcer and more people collect them, they may very well continue to rise in value. So, not only do Maddy's head vases make interesting conversation pieces, they're also a great investment.

In 2002, Maddy and her head vases were featured in a segment of the HGTV television show, "Ultimate Collectors." When asked what it is about the head vase that intrigues her, Maddy stated that the slight differences are what pique her interest; no two head vases are exactly alike. There will always be slight variations in lips, eyes, rouge, etc. "I like to look at people's faces," says Maddy.

With over 3,000 head vases in her possession, you'd think that Maddy's quest would be complete--wrong! As a collector, it's the thrill of the hunt, "finding one for herself at a great price," that affords Maddy her greatest enjoyment. One of her most thrilling buys was the purchase of a rare Mary Poppins head vase from a toy dealer for $25; Maddy later found out it was worth $500! Quit collecting head vases? Not on your life. As long as there's a chance of finding a head vase at a great price, Maddy will be there.

In addition to being featured on "Ultimate Collectors," Maddy's head vase collection made another prominent appearance when author David Barron spent an entire week photographing Maddy's jaw-dropping collection for his comprehensive book, "Head Vases: Identification and Value Guide."

Maddy Gordon has been one busy lady over the years, between writing books and scouring the globe for heads to add to her collection. Maddy also established and organized the annual Head Hunters Convention in Florida for seventeen years, as well as writing the Head Hunters newsletter. In 2010 she stepped down, and is now enjoying her leisurely time traveling and spending time with family and friends.

The "Maddy Gordon" Head Vase

Have you heard of the Maddy Gordon head vase? Originally known as "Teen-Age Girl," E-8027, the head vase, which was made in the 1960s, looks so much like Maddy as a teen, that it has been dubbed the "Maddy head" by collectors. Manufactured by Enesco, it can be found as a head vase, or a head vase/ lipstick holder combo with a hole in top for holding a makeup mirror. You will often find this treasure for sale (buy it now) or up for auction on eBay.

Head Vase Restoration by Tammy Powelson Decker

Tammy Powelson Decker was practically born with a paintbrush in her hand. Not only does she restore head vases, she also dabbles in a multitude of other hobbies, including: doll house building, scrapbooking, quilting, crocheting, rug making, furniture restoration, and jewelry crafting. "I guess I got lucky being born with a creative streak and 54 years later, I still like to learn new things. In some ways, it's kind of a curse ya know! I would always rather be 'playing' than doing adult work!"

Four years of art classes paid off for Tammy tenfold. It was there that she honed her painting and pottery skills. When Tammy discovered vintage head vases, she applied these learned skills to the restoration of her beloved ladies.

A collector may have a head vase, passed down to them by a loved one, that is very special to them. Over the years, it undergoes wear and tear and may even become severely damaged. That's where Tammy comes in. Tammy is a head vase doctor of sorts. She "heals" these broken ladies, making them beautiful again so they may be enjoyed by a new generation of admirers.

Tammy's fees for her services vary according to the complexity of the job at hand. Clients send their damaged head vases to her and she repairs them, posting updates of their progress. When the job is completed and the client is satisfied with the job, the client then pays for Tammy's services and the restored head vase is returned. Have a head vase that needs fixing up? Talk to Tammy Powelson Decker on Facebook for details.

It is Estimated That There Were Over 10,000 Different Head Vase Designs Between the 1940s and 1970s!

Head Vase Count Poll

Open Eyes, Closed Eyes? Which is Your Favorite?

Did you know that during the time when head vases were being manufactured that many of them were available in either the closed-eye or open-eye versions? Further variations on this theme might include different hair colors (note the girls in the center) and dress colors; for further versatility, a head vase would sometimes be manufactured in up to six different sizes!

J. S., my enthusiastic head vase friend, whom I met in the Facebook group, "Collecting Lady Head Vases, Planters and Figurines," truly enjoys completing head vase sets. What do I mean by sets? Head vases were typically advertised for purchase in dealer's catalogs in sets. For instance, the beauties above were advertised as "Girl With Hands" Head Vase/ Planter Assortment. Not only are there three different ladies in this grouping, but the buyer could get them with either open or closed eyes!

J. S. recently completed his "Girl With Hands" set by acquiring the open-eyed lady in blue. Personally, I love both versions!

Open Eyes Or Closed Eyes?

Clever Head Vase Displays

The Wall of Head Vases by J. S.

It never ceases to amaze me the clever ways in which some head vase collectors manage to find space for their ever growing collections of lady heads.

When J. S., who currently owns over 200 "heads" (an abbreviated term for head vases), began to run out of space for displaying his ladies, he came up with a plan: he cleverly affixed rows of shelves on his '50s theme rec room wall to house them--an ingenious concept. Not only do the ladies look great displayed together, their presence makes J. S.'s rec room come alive! When J. S. entertains here, he and his guests have many sets of eyes upon them! And that's exactly the way they like it!

The wall is now full, but is J. S. worried? Not at all! According to J. S.: "I FINALLY have a single spot for displaying the girls! Imagine my surprise once I realized that not all of them would fit in this space! The good news is...most rooms have 4 walls!!!"

Fabulous Mural & Shelving Display by Brian & Leslie Rogers

Brian and Leslie Rogers, who recently moved into their dream home, are currently customizing it to perfection. I love all of their improvements, but as a fellow head vase collector, I am especially blown away by the clever and eye-popping new display Brian fixed up for his wife, Leslie, allowing her to showcase her head vases in savvy style. The display features a beautiful graphic on the wall, which was printed out by Brian himself, multi-level shelves, and a bold clock on the wall, the perfect accent piece to tie it all together. The bench provides a cute place for a few select head vases as well, and the colorful boxes really add oomph. I have to say that I'm also in awe of that impressive line up of a-lister head vases as well!

Imaginative Head Vase, Wall Pocket, and Mirror Display by Paula Laguette

Paula Laguette, who collects head vases, wall pockets, and vintage mirrors, decided to combine them, decorating her dresser with lovely head vases and artfully hanging the mirrors and wall pockets behind them. I absolutely adore Paula's eye-catching display; the results are outstanding enough to rival the best interior decorator on the planet!

Sophisticated Ladies and Diamonds

Isn't this too clever? A good friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, drapes his backgrounds in elegant cloth; then, for added sparkle, faux diamonds are artfully displayed all around the head vases. These girls look so glamorous!

Head Vase & Art Display by Kristen Blair & Michele DeSutter

Isn't this an adorable and creative display? The arrangement is by Kristen Blair and the head vase plate painting is by Michele DeSutter.

Kristen Blair, who bought the lovely head vase painting from Michele DeSutter, found the matching head vase afterward thanks to a tip from Michele. Doesn't everything look amazing? I'm bowled over by all the textures, shapes details, and patterns in this arrangement: a hand vase, head vases, bottles, tea cup with saucer, flowers, china, various artworks, etc., etc. Kristen even uses a washboard as a shelf, which just goes to show you that a little bit of imagination can go a long, long way in decorating!

Head Vase & Art Display by Marlin Martin & Michele DeSutter

Marlin Martin, beloved founder of the Facebook group, "The World of Lady Head Vases," was so proud of his recent purchase of head vase art by Michele DeSutter that he posted a photo of Michele's painting, along with the matching head vase, for all to admire. Notice how Marlin's vintage rolling pin collection in the background provides added oomph!

Elegant Head Vase Display with Flowers & Pearls by Molly Lindsey

Isn't this lovely? Molly recently purchased this lady head vase, a long time dream of hers, from a member of our Facebook head vase group, "The World of Lady Head Vases." After receiving her new lady, Molly was so thrilled with her purchase that she created a special display on her dresser, just for her!

Sitting on a lovely white doily, her beauty is reflected in a pearl-draped mirror, which forms part of the background, along with a silky white curtain, embellished with flowers. Various pieces of jewelry, scattered all about, tie it all together. The rain on the window pane sets the mood, lending a dreamy atmosphere to Molly's awesome display.

Head Vases with a Plethora of Vintage Items: Fun Display by Jen J. Smart-Hizer

I adore this fun display that was so lovingly put together by Jen J. Smart-Hizer! Talk about eye-catching!

According to Jen: "I decided to display my ladies with some of my vintage jewelry, gloves, and miscellaneous. It's really busy, but I keep adding to it anyway. This is in my garden room, the only space I had to put my Grandmothers China cabinet, so the sign behind it says "Grow Away".

I used to have plants on it. Now it's growing brooches and clip on earrings.
I probably won't leave it this way for long, as I don't want any of the pieces ruined, but it's pretty to look at for now.
The ladies with their eyes closed, and hand by their face are my favorites.
I'm not a true collector, these ladies were rescued from yard sales, or gifted but I love them and really enjoy seeing everyone else's collections!"

"Spring Bouquet" by Bonnie Fellows

Love spring? Why not bring it inside your home? All you need to do is rev up your imagination a little! That's exactly what Bonnie Fellows did when she decided to create a display she calls "Spring Bouquet," featuring her favorite head vases, milk glass collection, and colorful spring flowers!

Bonnie's expert display is a wonderful example of the many ways in which head vases can be incorporated into interior decorating. This makes me happy just to look at it!

Adorable Trunk Head Vase Display with Hats and Various Items by Pam Hamlin Lambros

Pam Hamlin Lambros really has a flair for decorating! What a unique idea to use an open antique trunk for a vintage lady head vase display! The girls, all decked out in vintage hats and flowers (the purple flowers are original), are cleverly displayed atop stacked suitcases and hat boxes, showing them off to their best advantage. Providing the finishing touch is an artful display of hats, faux mink stole with brooch, and other interesting items.

Colorful Pyrex/ Lady Head Vase Display by Cherry Manieda Amado-Vicencio

Isn't this an amazing display? According to Cherry: "It all started with a single Pyrex casserole I bought 3 years ago from Goodwill. Then last year during the height of pandemic, my OCD kicked in. Went online to look for a set of the same casserole I purchased from thrift store. Found out that mine is a vintage one and there are a vast of other patterns that are totally irresistible. They make my heart beat fast!"

Cherry stumbled upon her first head vases about a year ago in an antique shop; bowled over by their beauty, she took them home right away where they became the perfect accent to her Pyrex collection. "I want my collection to be simple but also elegant" Cherry says. I think Cherry has more than succeeded; don't you?

Head Vase Display Poll

Head Vase Art for Your Walls

"Roses and Head Vase Girl" by Vickie Wade

I love this umbrella girl (minus the umbrella) painting by artist Vickie Wade! The painting has a bit of impressionistic flair to it, and the colors are gorgeous! Vickie paints in oils on canvas.

Vickie's love of spending time with family and friends is reflected in her work; her pieces are nostalgic and charming. I like the fact that Vickie paints her "Roses and Head Vase Girl" just as she found her--minus her umbrella. Very down to earth and beautiful!

Vickie has been painting since the age of 11. Her desire is to bring heartfelt joy and beauty through her work. Wade, an extremely talented and versatile artist, has created a roster of amazing works. Among my favorites are her Christmas paintings, "Fat Chef" series, and, of course, her "Roses and Head Vase Girl" painting.

Originals as well as fine art prints are available of her work. Visit Vickie Wade Fine Art to see more of Vickie's lovely work.

"Googly Sailor Girl Head Vase," Heart Necklace Girl Head Vase," and "Blythe Love Head Vase" by Blonde Blythe

"Googly Sailor Girl HeadVase,"created by Blonde Blythe in July of 2001, is a tribute to one of her favorite head vases, which was originally produced in the 1960s in two colors: yellow and blue. Being the enthusiastic little sailor girl that she is, she is standing in front of a window with a lovely view of sail boats and a striped lighthouse with a glowing beam.

"Heart Necklace Girl Head Vase" was created by artist Blonde Blythe in 2001. After finally acquiring the long-awaited head vase by the same name (four year wait, to be exact), Blythe was inspired to pay tribute to her in a painting. She took great pains to capture her cuteness, capturing her bow-topped feminine updo, sultry green eyes, turned-up nose, red pouty lips, and fingernails to match. This beauty is set against a matching wallpaper background.

"Blythe Love Head Vase," created by Blonde Blythe in 2017, is the result of combining a love for big eye art, the Blythe doll, and the Love head vase! This doll-like big-eye version of the Love head vase holds a voluminous arrangement of cheerful flowers in her head, posed against a matching background of pastel-striped wallpaper. Posters of this painting, as well as her other head vase paintings, may be purchased in Blonde Blythe's Zazzle shop.

Head Vase Plate Paintings of an Airline Stewardess and Beret Girl by Michele DeSutter

I recently came across the most beautiful head vase paintings on plates by Michele DeSutter in the Facebook group, "The World of Lady Head Vases." Michele calls them "plate paintings," and has been creating them since 2013.

Michele, who has been painting since childhood, has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and has been running her own business since 2000. She started out using acrylics on canvas, then switched to colored pencil and ink in 2005, beginning her distinctive plate paintings in 2013.

In creating her plate paintings, Michele paints on a wood panel, which is attached to a matching melamine-type plate. The result bears an uncanny likeness to the real thing, with a mid-century flavor all its own.

Michele paints on platters and bowls as well; her paintings vary in size from a tiny two inches, to twelve inches wide. She has already created over 100 plate paintings with more ideas in the works and is currently working on a portrait of the "Pearly Girls," a set of rare and elegant head vase sisters, which is sure to be a hit with her fans! I can hardly wait to see it!

What Else Do I Collect?

I collect lots of different things--I have assorted Napco and Lefton figurines and planters, and own a complete set of Napco birthday angels from the 1950s--January to December. I absolutely adore vintage Valentine's cards and Halloween postcards, especially from the 1920s and earlier.

I collect "instant relatives" (meaning old photos of unknown people), as well as dolls, artwork, 1920s memorabilia, perfume bottles, big-eye stuff, and more--anything that strikes my fancy, you might say.

I also have acquired an interesting collection of mid-century figurines, lithographs, and lucite sculptures to compliment my head vase collection. I'm very drawn to the cute and unusual.

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How to Identify Lady Head Vases

Lady head vases are whimsical, charming and popular collectibles. When shopping for lady head vases, it is helpful to be able to identify them and have a value in mind. Learning how to identify lady head vases is not particularly difficult and can allow you to discern whether a vase is rare, unusual, or a good value for the price. You can also avoid purchasing replicas and reproductions if you know how to identify lady head vases.

Identify lady head vases by their charming expressions, elaborate hairstyles, jewelry and fashions. Collectible lady head vases were produced from 1940 to 1970, keeping your collecting focus on specific styles, manufacturers or periods can make it easier to learn to identify lady head vases. Value is largely determined by rarity, in the case of American lady head vases or celebrity lady head vases or quality.

Take the time to look at a variety of lady head vases from different times and manufacturers. A price guide or collector's book is a useful resource for this like the Encyclopedia of Head Vases by Kathleen Cole or Mary Zavada's Lady Head Vases. Consider subscribing to Maddy Gordon's Head Hunters Newsletter at P.O. Box 83H, Scarsdale, NY 10583 for more information to help identify lady head vases.

Recognize maker's marks. Common lady head vase manufacturers include Inarco, Enesco, Napco, Lefton, Relpo and Reubens in Japan. Lady Head vases were made in America by Henry Holt and Betty Lou Nichols. Some manufacturers used paper labels. On the whole, while a maker's mark can be helpful when you identify a lady head vase, it is not significant in terms of the value of the piece.

Snap photos when shopping for lady head vases to help you identify the vase. You may find distinguishing features that allow you to identify an unmarked vase and better assess value. Use your price guides, newsletters and searches of sites like eBay to help you identify each of the lady head vases. Resources to help you identify lady head vases include Mary Zavada's Lady Head Vases and David Barron's Collecting Head Vases. Distinctive features may include clothing and accessories, a matte or glossy finish and hair and cosmetic styles. Lady head vases reflect the styles and fashions of their time, so if a vase looks to be from the 1950s, it likely is.

Look for both quality to help identify lady head vases. Modern reproductions are typically very poor quality, with sloppy painting and a rough or uneven finish. A good quality vintage lady head vase can be matte or glossy, between 4 inches and 7 inches tall and should be well painted and finished. Jewelry separate from the molded vase is often a sign of a good lady head vase, as is a detailed face and hat.


Buy what you love, even if it is a less valuable specimen. Most dealers will hold an item for you, allowing you time to go home and do your research.


  • Gift shops and other retailers sell reproduction lady head vases. Shop from reputable antique dealers to make sure you are buying vintage lady head vases.



  • Buy what you love, even if it is a less valuable specimen. Most dealers will hold an item for you, allowing you time to go home and do your research.


  • Gift shops and other retailers sell reproduction lady head vases. Shop from reputable antique dealers to make sure you are buying vintage lady head vases.

Writer Bio

With a master's degree in art history from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michelle Powell-Smith has been writing professionally for more than a decade. An avid knitter and mother of four, she has written extensively on a wide variety of subjects, including education, test preparation, parenting, crafts and fashion.

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Vintage Lady Head Vases

From her shapely brows and thick black lashes to impeccable accessory selections, she's the perfect depiction of mid-20th-century style. It's not a pin-up calendar or movie magazine cover that draws this comparison, but an elaborately styled "head" vase instead.

These distinctive figural vases adored by many "head hunters" today did indeed hold flowers at one point. Florists sold artfully arranged bouquets in these fancy wares. In fact, that's how most of them ended up in American homes during the 1950s, '60s, and early '70s, although a few were produced earlier. 

There are a number of common head vases available for $50 or less through online auctions and at local flea markets or estate sales, but a handful will sell for hundreds and even $1,000 or more in the right market. Head vases have been reproduced and are widely sold in gift shops around the country. Most of the recent pieces are easy to recognize in comparison to older ceramics. Take care when buying, however, especially if you are an inexperienced collector.

The Glamour Girl Vase

One of the vases transitioning from the '40s to the early '50s was the heavier ceramic Glamour Girl vase. Some of these were incised directly in the ceramic material, with the words "Glamour Girl." Others are simply marked U.S.A. on the bases.

These distinctive head vases received painted features in various colorways with some decorating jobs being much nicer than others. The demure pin-up girl characteristics and hairstyle on these particular designs give them a definite retro '40s look, although some are attributed to the '50s when offered for sale. While Glamour Girls certainly attract their share of collecting attention, they are fairly low rung when it comes to head vase desirability and value so they're often snagged at bargain prices.

More Desirable Pieces

Many of the most desirable head vases feature fancy hats, realistic facial features, and even pearl necklaces with matching dangle earrings adorning them. 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 to keep enthusiasts entertained. 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 and are keenly sought by today's head hunters.

A Minnesota auction featured in Kovels' newsletter in the early 2000s offered an extensive collection of head vases for sale. A vase bearing Monroe's features sold for $605 in that sale, while a Lucille Ball head dressed as Mame brought $495. Jackie O. vases can be purchased on eBay fairly often in the $150-300 range depending on condition. Prices for these rare examples will always be above average. 

Most non-celebrity vases sell for far less in many parts of the country. At just about any antique show you'll find a few priced between $30 to 200. These range from mini vases measuring in the two-inch range to grand examples as tall as 14 inches or so. The larger vases usually get a higher ticket price, since they are harder to come by. And some rare examples, like one dubbed by collectors as "I Dream of Jeannie" can sell into the thousands when offered in excellent to mint condition.

Vases featuring teenage faces are not quite as plentiful as the adult versions, so some head vase collectors will pay a premium for those as well. It's not uncommon for these fresh-faced versions to sell in the $75 to100 range with certain desirable examples reaching even higher price points.

These prices compare starkly to what these containers cost 40 to 60 years ago when they were new. Much like the plentiful green or clear glass florist's vases that turn up at garage sales these days, lady head vases were purchased by professional floral designers in bulk and tapped for everyday special occasion use in days gone by.

Popular Marks

Most of these shapely vessels were produced in Japan and many have marks stamped on the bottom. Some names collectors look for are Napco or Napcoware, the mark used by National Potteries Company, along with those made by Enesco, Inarco, Lefton, Relpo, Ruebens, and Betty Lou Nichols. There are a handful of other maker's marks and many examples that were unsigned or just marked with a foil sticker that has worn away with use and wears over time.

Having a mark doesn't always make a head vase more valuable, especially with very popular designs, but it certainly doesn't hurt anything and always assists in identification. Even some of the celebrity vases can be somewhat hard to recognize without guidance, so taking a look at a book on the topic can definitely come in handy when determining desirability and value.

If you would like to learn more about this subject, seek out a copy of The Encyclopedia of Head Vases by Kathleen Cole for Schiffer Publishing. 


Vases antique doll head

Vintage lady head vases

Some of you will remember a parent getting a flower gift in a small peculiar vase with the face of a glamorous woman, perhaps wearing a fancy hat. Others may remember an aunt or other relative having a shelf-full of vases about 4” or 5½” high with the faces or busts of fancy ladies. Today these are called lady head vases.

Beginning in the late 1940s and lasting into the 1960s, Japan supplied tens of thousands of inexpensive hand-painted ceramic vases to American florists to fill with small bouquets. Then, as now, modest flower gifts were welcome and suited many occasions. The most popular vases in the 1950s were depictions of women’s faces, especially those of movie stars, in sizes varying from 2½” to as tall as 8”. Florists displayed them in their windows and sold them filled with flower arrangements. Five and Dime stores also offered these vases empty with a choice of faces.

After the dreary war and post-war years, Americans tended to be drawn to movie-star glamour and to flowers, a happy coincidence for florists. Also, right after the war’s end, Japanese businesses were anxious to create cheap ceramic products to sell to America, and these head vases suited all groups. The head vase category includes the faces of famous men, especially presidents, specific movie stars, war faces such as a WWI dough boy, several comedians known from early television, idealized children, family pets and other animals and a group called exotics such as imaginary Egyptians and Africans.

The ceramic vases depicting adult women are highly stylized, and reminiscent of such early stars as Jean Harlow and Barbara Stanwyck. Typically, the face would have a bow-shaped very-red mouth (closed), heavy black eyelashes, arched pencil eyebrows over closed eyes, an elaborate blond hairstyle, a fancy hat, and small dress collar (all hand-painted). While the heads always had a 2” to 3” oval opening in the top back to accommodate water and flowers amid the fancy hair or crown of the hat, both the hair and the collar always continued around the neck under the vase opening.

Although facial expressions vary minutely as the result of hand painting, the identical face reappeared on hundreds of vases with only a change of hair or a different hat, a bow or flower in the hair, a different dress collar or even open as opposed to closed eyes. One innovation that proved immensely popular was, after firing the clay, the addition of fake pearl earrings and a necklace, in which case, the collars morphed into scoop or Vee necklines.

After some years, lady head vases appeared with a single hand gracefully raised to the face. Eventually, dark and reddish-haired vases appeared in addition to the myriad blonds, and even later, lady heads with darker skin emerged, presumably to appeal to the African-American and Hispanic markets. These usually had face shapes identical to the earlier models.

Among male head vases, Washington and Lincoln were familiar faces, and comic figures such as W.C. Fields and Stan Laurel were both readily identifiable and easy to adapt into vases via the tops of their hats (although those male heads with handles are mugs, not vases). Identifiable stars from Hollywood and early television, such as Marilyn Monroe and Esther Williams, were highly desirable.

At the start of the 1960s, the glamorous Jacqueline and Jack Kennedy were much portrayed. Disney characters were also very popular, as well as children’s and animal faces related to children’s storybooks. Many of the rest, especially the exotics, were exaggerated caricatures rather than representations, but overall, small vases styled as faces proved immensely popular and appeared in many people’s cupboards.

In the 1940s into the 1960s, fashionable lady head vases were produced by such potteries as Betty Lou Nichols, Dorothy Copley, Lewis Weil and Ceramic Arts Studio. After the war, Nippon, Enesco, Lefton, Arco, Napco and others shipped vast numbers of less expensive head vases from Japan. A few vases came from major American potteries such as Shawnee and individual art potters such as Dorothy Kindall, but theirs tended toward interesting rather than glamorous faces. To distinguish models, Nichols had named some vases, a practice copied by Ceramic Arts Studio for their child-like vases, calling them “Becky” or “Sally” and so on. Decades later, to accommodate collectors of these vintage lady head vases, artificial hair wigs and hair pieces appeared to cover the vase openings for those who didn’t want to use flowers.

Today, head vases are highly collectible, and those with identifiable faces and rarity sell for substantial sums on eBay and other organized auctions. The American Art Pottery Association recognizes head vase collectors within their sphere, and at annual meetings, sets “rules” for categories of faces for public displays.

Susan Eastman began collecting lady head vases to help prepare a display for the 2017 Flower Show that is part of Bloomington Garden Club’s annual Summer Garden Walk, June 17-18 at the Monroe County History Center.

Some head vases were also designed as wall pockets and given a second small back opening above the flower opening from which to hang them. These particular lady head vases came both painted and unpainted.
“Becky” by Ceramic Arts Studio has exaggerated eyes and only a small opening in her hat, making her as suitable for holding pencils as flowers. She’s a head vase, but not a lady head vase.
Dorothy Kindall created a variety of exotic head vases including elongated vases with Egyptian or African features.
Early elegant face vases made by Edesco embodied glamour without including jewelry or a dress collar.
Many Nippon vases, such as this classic lady head vase, are lovely and useful for displaying small flower arrangements, even when missing the pearls which once circled her neck.
This flower-hatted lady with porcelain skin tone and attached eyelashes by Lewis Weil has her hair raised way above her forehead and pierced, making a taller vase for flowers. Also, her gold earrings were painted on as was her parted mouth (unlike most rosebud mouths).
Hand-signed by Betty Lou Nichols and named “Nancy,” this 4½” lady head from the 1940s is rare and valuable. Nichols’ ruffled collar and hat are distinctive, and she has long attached eyelashes.
A 1950s lady head vase from Nippon displays the most traditional elements of the period, such as short hair, tilted head, collar and jewelry, and a flower in her hair. The hair is even more elaborate in the back.
A wide opening for flowers was usual in lovely hand-painted Nippon lady head vases.
A 1950s classic by Lefton, this charming lady with a gracefully raised hand is depicted part her shoulders (a bust rather than just a head). Her pierced hat is distinctive.
Head Vase, Vintage Photos, Video

Lady Head Vases: 10 Things You Didn't Know

Ceramic beauties with impeccable style, lady head vases are a charming and popular mid-century collectible.

Figural vases in the form of a head or bust of a woman got their start in Europe in the 1800s. The earliest examples of the lady
head vases Americans are most familiar with are from the 1930s and thousands of different kinds were made until the 1970s, when the craze waned and decreasing demand caused most companies to stop producing the pieces.

These ladies exude glamour, with their perfectly coiffed hairdos, big lush eyelashes and ruby lips, elegant fashions and sometimes adorned with pearls or other jewelry, a stylish hat or gloves - or sometimes all three accessories. Read on to find out 10 things you should know about these distinctive vases adored by “head hunters.” 

1. Their Roots

Head vases were originally produced by florist companies as a marketing ploy to sell more of their small bouquets using these knickknacks, which is how they ended up in so many homes, especially during the 1950s and ’60s. They could also be bought at five-and-dime stores such as Woolworth’s. Some collectors still fill them with flowers or other artful arrangements, use them to hold makeup brushes and other beauty supplies or even to hold pens.

2. Makers

Lady head vases were often manufactured in Japan after World War II by companies including Enesco, Inarco, Lefton, Napco, Reubens and Relpo and imported to the U.S. American head vase manufacturers include Betty Lou Nichols, Royal Copley, Ceramic Arts Studio, Shawnee Pottery and Henry Holt. Some of these vases could be purchased in packs of six or twelve for a few dollars.

3. Makers’ Marks

Napco, Enesco, Nichols and other makers included a mark on the bottoms of their pieces, while other companies included a paper label or foil sticker that most often than not has worn away. Not all head vases are marked, though, but that doesn’t affect collectibility. Sellers generally include a photo of the mark on the bottom of a piece.

4. Most Valued Ladies

Betty Lou Nichols is credited with fueling the head vase craze in the United States, and her iconic creations are much sought after by collectors. According to The Los Angeles Times, the talented California ceramicist and artist, who began making her creations in the 1940s with clay and a rolling pin on her parents’ kitchen table, opened her first ceramics studio in 1945. Her distinctive vases tend to be women in Gay ’90s-style, with big hats and big curls, perfect cheekbones and skin. They are painted in soft hues such as periwinkle, plum and mint. The trademark Betty Lou look: to-die-for eyelashes lowered in perpetual coquetry. She produced thousands of heads, creating the basic shapes from a mold, as other makers did, but she was the only maker who added handmade details such as ruffles, lace and bows made of clay.

5. Styles

There is a wide variety of styles of head vases for collectors to choose from: plain women, tribal women, women in their Sunday best. Many of the most desirable have realistic facial features, with eyes open or closed, along with chic accessories like pearl necklaces with matching dangling earrings or other jewelry and stylish hats. Some also have a perfectly manicured hand that frames a side of their face or a gloved hand. There is also a variety of hairdos including curls, updos, long hair, bouffants and short sassy styles sometimes adorned with ceramic flowers or ribbons. Necklines also vary. Head vases can be collected by particular manufacturers, specific sizes or themes, such as brunettes, those wearing hats, or those with hands. Vases with teen-age faces, introduced in the 1960s, are not as common as adult versions.

6. Not Just Ladies

It’s been estimated that there are at least 10,000 different varieties of head vases that were made. Besides fashionable ladies, head vases have been made to look like clowns, children, nurses, brides, babies, animals and characters like Uncle Sam. Vases were not just busts; there were ashtrays, lipstick holders, head lamps and more. Celebrity head vases were also created in the likeness of Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Grace Kelly, Carmen Miranda and more. They were also made in likenesses of males, such as Elvis Presley, but were much less common. These celebrity heads can be some of the most valuable and sought after by collectors. According to a Kovels’ Komments newsletter, a 1964 Jacqueline Kennedy head vase by Inarco sold for as high as $985.

7. Sizes

While head vases range in size from two to fourteen inches, most of them are seven inches and under, and vary according to manufacturer and model. Because they are rarer to find, taller vases are more valuable.

8. Be Cautious of Reproductions

Reproduction head vases are in the market and widely sold in gift shops around the country. Most of the recent pieces are easy to recognize in comparison to older ceramics, but take precaution when buying, especially if you are an inexperienced collector and also if you are buying online. Try to buy only from reputable antiques dealers and other trusted collectors.

9. Resources

There are several good collectors’ guides available that list the vases by number, manufacturer and approximate value. Kathleen Cole’s Head Vases: Identification and Values (2002), with a second edition (2006), and The Encyclopedia of Head Vases (2003) each have 200 color photographs of head vases. David Barron’s Collecting Head Vases (2003) and a second edition with updated prices (2006) have more than 1,500 color photos, including some of Maddy Gordon’s collection of 3,000 vases. In 2002, Gordon and her head vases were featured in a segment of the HGTV television show, "Ultimate Collectors," and she also wrote a book herself on Betty Lou Nichols: Head Vases, Etc.: The Artistry of Betty Lou Nichols (2001), with 600 photos.

10. Values and Where to Find

These lovely ladies can be found between $10 to $1,000 and even more, depending on rarity. It’s easy to start collecting head vases or add pieces to your existing collection, since a lot can be found at many antiques shops or online in the $10 to $50 range. Ruby Lane has a variety ranging from $17 to $2,600. You could also get lucky and find one for far less at a yard sale, flea market or thrift store. Many collectors are willing to pay $50 or more for a head vase they don’t have yet even if it’s not rare or a celebrity. Head vases, like all collectibles, fluctuate in value. Buy those that are in good shape, with little or no crazing, chips or breaks since condition adds to value. And also as usual, when it comes to collectibles, buy what you like.

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Kris Manty is the editor of Antique Trader and manages the Facebook page. Among the many things she’s fond of in the antiques and collectibles world are all things Art Nouveau, Victorians, pulps, vintage ads, vintage clothing and jewelry, and everything Mid-Century Mod. She has more than 20 years of experience in the antiques and collectibles field. Drop her a line at [email protected]


Now discussing:


I have been wanting to do a post on lady head vases since I started my articles for Randolph Street Market, I got a bit of a “let’s do it now” push when I saw the following photo posted by my friend Toni Canada, when I asked if I could use it she informed me that her mother-in-law collected them and sent me an additional photo…absolutely fabulous collection.

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Toni included this note with the photos

“The collection of Marguriete Canada handed down to her son Rick Canada. Rick is now the “caretaker” of the collection.

My mother-in-law would put little notes inside each vase, where she acquired the vase; if she purchased it, how much she paid for it; if it was a gift, who she received it from… very sweet ????”. A Nena’s note…what an excellent idea let’s all start doing that!

Thank you so much Toni for sharing these treasures, the photos and your beautiful note, with us.

I became enamored with lady head vases as a little girl. Looking at me today you wouldn’t think I was very sick as a child (we won’t go into details here!). With each bout of something or another my wonderful Daddy would bring me a lady head vase filled with 13 sweetheart roses (I believe now referred to as growers roses). He got off the El at Howard Street, we lived in Rogers Park on the Northside of Chicago, there was a florist underneath the station. Actually the vases began by being commissioned by florists to sell with their bouquets. I probably believed they were made especially for me… I’ve always been a romantic. I amassed a huge collection and totally adored them. They, I am sure, helped develop my interest in the glamorous world, to my young eyes, of fashion!! I thought a perfect follow up to last months post on hats…

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

These charmers were always very proper in their attire, hats…of course…pearls…usually…gloves…sometimes and always, always beautifully made up with lush mascared lashes and ruby lips… I was in fashion heaven. This was one of my favorites….want to find her again. This and the one below from Betty Lou Nichols and signed.

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Another of mine

In doing a bit of research for this post I found out the origins of these nostalgic pieces that occupied a place in time in the mid-20th Century, they, (like so many other objects) fell out of favor, they are now highly collectible. Guess where you can find them… Randolph Street Market, of course!

There were several manufactures who produced these lovelies in the 40s to 70s. Here are some company names that can help you identify your vase: US manufacturers – Betty Lou Nichols and Henry Holt and Japan manufacturers – Napco, Inarco, Lefton, Enesco, Relpo and Reubens. There was also a trend for celebrity vases such as Lucille Ball, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, etc.

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Lucille Ball and…

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Grace Kelly and…

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

One of many Marilyn Monroe interpretations this one a rare example…

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

A beauty definitely a 50’s glamour girl…

I am concentrating on Betty Lou Nichols pieces in this post because I am familiar with them.

Betty Lou Nichols was a talented California artist that created some of the most sought after head vases in the collecting world. I found that most, if not all, of my collection were hers. Wish I had them now. When collecting anything always look for a hallmark, a maker’s mark anything that can identify it as the real deal. Always, always engage the vendors in conversation they are experts in their collections and want to share their knowledge with you. You will learn so much more about what you already have or when you want to add items to your treasurers or you are on the hunt for something new that you didn’t know you really wanted but definitely can’t live without!!

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

A book, as always…

Here are some ways to display or actually use your vases, with flowers and other suggestions.

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Love this collection and its mirrors…I am obsessed with mirrors, are you?! Obviously on shelves….or

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

For your make-up brushes et al…..or perhaps pens etc. on your at-home office workplace…

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Flowers, of course… beyond charming…

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Love this collection… wouldn’t it be fun to do at a shower, luncheon or tea to put at each guests place as a remembrance… start collecting now for future events.

I have fallen in love with lady head vases all over again, have I temped you…hope so!

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

Lady Head Vases Randolph Street Market

by Nena Ivon Ivon

All photos from Pinterest photo credits unknown.


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