I used to be somewhat obsessed with the BBC show, Cash In The Attic, where people would let appraisers into their home to find hidden vintage and antique treasures to sell at auction. [Admittedly, I have a bit of a crush on Paul - he has good dimples.] I was always amazed at how the "experts" could look at a chair/figurine/glass/etc. and be able to tell exactly when it was made based on certain features or markings on each piece. In fact, that show gets the credit for the Royal Doulton gravy boat, in a discontinued pattern, I picked up for $3 at a thrift store and is actually priced at closer to $100.
For me, one of the interesting things about vintage is trying to figure out the story so are you ready for a quick history lesson?!
I am in possession of these really cute holiday plate and mug sets. They are in the original box, but no identifying markings as to where they came from as the base simply says "Made in Japan". So, I set off on my search to figure out when these were made. The reference number on the box was no help to me. Unfortunately, they were just marked as "Hand Decorated Porcelain Mug Set", but no reference to the name of the design. Naturally this yielded a whole bunch of nothing in an internet search.
The only clue as to where they were purchased is the price tag, marked by J.W. Robinsons.
I did a little research on J.W. Robinsons. The original store was opened in Los Angeles in 1883, and it wasn't until the 1952 that the company started expanding to other locations within L.A. Robinsons became part of Associated Dry Goods Corp in 1957, which was then acquired by May Company in 1986 - leading to the better known moniker of Robinsons-May. So, going back to my plates and mugs, I know that these date to the time when J.W. Robinsons was operating prior to the merger with May Company.
The second thing I have to go by is that there is no barcode/UPC on the box. Barcodes were originally conceptualized in the 1930s and, in the subsequent decades, there were attempts to develop various types of automated retail checkout systems including a circular "bulls-eye" barcode. It wasn't until 1974 that the current bars and stripes UPC/barcode was first used in grocery stores, while the widespread use of the barcode wasn't until the 1980s.
Holiday themed ceramics such as these were a tradition in Europe long before they became popular in the U.S. during the 1960's - and now it's not at all uncommon to give or receive a favorite holiday mug. So, my powers of deduction say that these are likely dated sometime between the 1960s and early-to-mid 1970s and, while I will never know for sure, there's also a very strong possibility that these were originally purchased in one of the original J.W. Robinsons department stores here in Los Angeles. I truly wish I'd been able to find out more, but unfortunately my Google-Fu has been bringing me to a bit of a dead-end. Regardless they are in beautiful condition (although there is one mug missing) and wherever they end, their story will doubtless continue!
Do you have any good stories of vintage items in your house? I love the research because I always feel like I'm learning something new and hopefully can find more stories to share. :)