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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!

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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?

Lipstick holder girl from the '60s and Margaret Keane big-eyed girl. Notice the resemblance?

Lipstick holder girl from the '60s and Margaret Keane big-eyed girl. Notice the resemblance?

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. . . .




Brinn's lady head vase with corkscrew curls

Brinn's lady head vase with corkscrew curls

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.

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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.

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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.

Head Vases Come in Many Sizes!

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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

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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 Amazon.com, 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

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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 in progress

Head vase restoration in progress

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.


Enesco "Necklace Girl" head vase restored by Tammy Powelson Decker.

Enesco "Necklace Girl" head vase restored by Tammy Powelson Decker.

Relpo "Criss Cross Crissy" restored by Tammy Powelson Decker.

Relpo "Criss Cross Crissy" restored by Tammy Powelson Decker.

Head Vase Count Poll

Open Eyes, Closed Eyes? Which is Your Favorite?

"Girl With Hands" Head Vase/ Planter. Photo by J. S.

"Girl With Hands" Head Vase/ Planter. Photo by J. S.

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?

The Wall of Head Vases by J. S.

Photography by J. S.

Photography 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

"Roses and Head Vase Girl" by Vickie Wade

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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

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