Sep 22, 2010

Made in History: Understanding Labels is Key

Made in Germany toy, composition chickens from NeatCurios

Early purplish blue Germany mark
I love knowing the history and context surrounding items: what was going on in that country at that time, what wars were raging, what inventions were being created, what were people spending their hard earned money on, etc. Finding an items place in history is critical to developing a proper knowledge of values. 

1945 Post WWII War mark
Knowing what marks to look for helps tremendously. By marks I mean the country of origin.  Typically, mass produced items would have a standard "made in country" mark, in addition to a manufacturer's brand name. 

Began use in 1949
So, what's my favorite? Early Germany. If an item has just "Germany" it could be late 19th century. If it has "Made in Germany" that generally means early 20th century. In my mind the best things to find this mark on are old Halloween, Christmas, and toys. Items with that purplish-blue "Germany"are so fleeting and have a hard time surviving intact. I keep watching the values rise every year.

History was so dynamic during that time, and that definitely impacted the goods made. From WWI to the rise of Nazi Germany to the post war split of East and West Germany. "Made in US Zone Germany" & "Made in Western Germany" are two of the most common marks. Many of the companies shut down production during this time, but a few continued production. While still collectible, the prices tend to be quite a bit lower and inconsistent than pre WWII German items.

Occupied Japan toy offered by thevintagecollector

1920's mark
Flying several thousand miles east and south, let's discuss Japan. Japanese goods were very popular in America during the prosperous 1920's, and that popularity carried over into the 1930's, despite the Depression. But then look how history shaped the collectibles we see today: the bombing of Pearl Harbor. All imports from Japan ceased overnight. 

1945-early 1950's mark
Consumers saw an influx of "Occupied Japan" during the American and Allied occupation of Japan after the war ended in 1945. Until 1952 and a bit later, all goods exported to America were supposed to be marked "Made in Occupied Japan".  This brief period in time spawned a strong collectible market with a wide variety of pricing. The highest priced Occupied Japan items tend to be toys. 

The values on other Occupied Japan items have fluctuated quite a bit over the last 15 years but remain desirable. Interestingly, many items are mis identified as Occupied Japan when they are actually 20-30 years older. It appears Occupied Japan is more well known than the earlier goods. 

Knowing the context of history and the trading relationships between other countries and the USA is key to being able to define the era that an item was made, the quality and thus the value. This is just a small sampling of the marks out there, but I hope it gives you a general idea of how to relate the marks to their place in history.


Frenchee le Trip said...

Terrific post! I'm all about placing an object in time, too, and love recreating best I can what would have been happening when the object was made and comtemporarily used. Thanks for the useful info.

Anonymous said...

What great information! Thank you so much!

ImSoVintage said...

Great post and useful information for anyone who enjoys the history of antiques 8-)

Moddities :: 20th Century Vintage said...

Great post; very informative!