Josef Originals | A Beginner's Guide to Collecting December 22 2014
Muriel Joseph was originally a producer of Lucite jewelry under the name of Muriel of California until the outbreak of World War II. Unfortunately for Muriel Lucite was needed for the war effort, mainly for airplane windshields, which forced Joseph to search for a new product material. For a few years she continued to make jewelry, now with ceramic, before coming to the idea of designing and creating ceramic figurines. Muriel's fiancé, Tom George, returned home to California at the end of the war unable to find work, so he focused on helping his wife’s business by making molds of Joseph's models. The two married and in 1946 began producing ceramic figures under the name Josef Originals. The spelling of the name was meant to be "Joseph," but the printer made a mistake on the first set of labels ordered. As it was too late to reprint the labels, this error gave birth to the name "Josef Originals".
The Japan Years
By the mid-1950s imitation “Josef Originals” started to appear in the United States from Japan; Muriel responded to this by creating even finer quality ceramics. Unfortunately, since these finer ceramics cost even more, the company continued to lose profits to Japanese imports. Before things got too bad, a businessman named George Good stepped in and persuaded the couple to begin manufacturing Josef originals in Japan in order to stay one step ahead of the competition. In 1959, they set up the Katayama factory in Japan and began to train the workers personally, ensuring that the quality of Josef Originals remained high. This helped establish the 1960s and 1970s as very prosperous decades for the company. Muriel continued to be an active element in Josef Originals for another twenty plus years; designing owls, dogs, elephants and other cute animals, as well as some of the more famous lines of dolls. The Josef Originals Birthday Dolls series began in the mid to late-1940's; Muriel Joseph George designed these creative figurines to express her love for children. She finally retired in 1981.
Josef Originals Legacy
The company was sold to George Good in 1982, and he continued making the original designs of Josef Originals until 1985. The company was then sold on to Southland Corporation and in 2004, the company changed hands again from Applause to Dakin, who began to manufacture the figurines in Hong Kong. Although the original Josef line consisted of hundreds of items, the recent production is limited to birthday dolls, birthstone dolls and some special occasion dolls including; first communion, confirmation, sweet 16 and bride and groom pieces.
Identifying Authentic Originals
Authentic Josef Originals figures can be easily identified by their distinctive marks. If any of these features are missing it may diminish its value:
- Signature black eyes were produced in both California and Japan until 1982.
- “Josef Originals” and © impressions on the base. The earliest pieces are marked with the name “M.J. George”.
- Black oval stickers with gold or silver lettering. Figures made in California will say “Josef Originals, California.” California was replaced with a curlicue when production moved to Japan. A label marked “Japan” (in script) was added, usually on the base of the piece.
Of course, the most collectible pieces are those made during Muriel’s time with the company, especially the ones made in California. The majority of collectors prefer the figurines with black eyes, made in both California and Japan. The figurines made after 1970 were made in either Taiwan, Korea or Mexico. Don’t forget there are still those cheap reproductions produced in Japan at the beginning in the 1950s.
The more popular figures are among the hardest to find as few collectors are willing to part with them and as time goes by there are generally fewer pieces due to breakage and loss. So there are some highly sought after pieces that are quite hard to find.
Most pieces are worth between $30.00 and 60.00 while some range from $75.00 to 100.00. Some of the earlier and rarer pieces can be worth from $125.00 to $150.00. Some of the following pieces are among the rarer and therefore more valuable items. Keep an eye out for some of these figures in good condition and from trustworthy dealers.
Some of the rarest Josef Originals collections and figures include:
- Josef Originals Early Years (1945 – 1962)
- Josef Originals Tilt Head Dolls of the Month (1945 – 1962)
- Josef Originals Favorite Sayings Series (1950 – 1960s)
- Josef Originals Little International Series – A popular set among Muriel created the original 18 dolls in 1959, and 11 more were added over the years.
- Josef Originals Happiness Is Series (1960s) – A popular set among collectors.
- Josef Originals Career Girls Series (1967) – including a debutante, a nurse, and a teacher, among others.
- Josef Originals Little Commandments Series (1970s) – Composed of 12 Dolls.
- Josef Originals Big Sisters Little Sisters Series
- Josef Originals Ecology Girls Series (1974 – 1975) – A popular set among collectors.
- Josef Originals Flower Girls Series (1975) – Each doll features a different flower as a hat.