Treasure: WWII vase common souvenir of the time

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

If the letters and emails that appear in our mail and inbox are any indication, vases and pieces of pottery were among the most commonly imported items during and after World War II.

The letter from Bob Cunningham of Livonia email began as many do. “My father gave me a hand-painted vase that a woman gave him while he served in World War II,” he wrote. “It is almost 10 inches tall and almost four inches wide at its widest point. On the bottom is the insignia of a wreath with a diamond, inside the diamond it has an & sign and the letter C. Around the diamond and inside the wreath are the letters ICOE and the word Japan. Also on the outside of the wreath are the words hand painted. It appears to have gold trim all around it.”

Cunningham told appraiser Bob DuMouchelle a little more about the background of the piece at a recent Trash or Treasure appraisal session held at DuMouchelle’s downtown gallery and auction house. “It was handed down from my dad, who was stationed in the South Pacific,” he told him as DuMouchelle carefully turned the painted piece around in his hands and examined it more closely.

Not surprisingly, DuMouchelle was able to date it fairly quickly to right around the time when Cunningham’s father would have been in the area. “The words ‘hand painted’ are a giveaway,” he told him, “as is the Japan mark on the bottom. That gives me clues about when it was manufactured and helps me to definitely date it.”

The words “hand-painted” – in English – mean that the piece would have been made for the export business, probably after Japan was bombed, he said. Earlier pieces made by the Japanese and Chinese that were intended to stay in Asia used symbols or script, he pointed out. There is also no marked manufacturer or maker’s initials, another clue to its intended audience, he said.

“There was a cottage industry that sprung up in small towns in Japan that weren’t as damaged after the bombing,” he explained. “Those towns became the center for an industry that produced a lot of pottery, most of it intended for export. They made a lot and sold a lot to the troops who wanted to take home a souvenir.”

Another dead giveaway of the piece’s production time is the quality, or rather, lack of quality, DuMouchelle said. “It’s not as high as many of the earlier pieces, and was done to take advantage of a time when American soldiers were flooding the market and taking a lot home,” he said. “I hate to break it to you, but these were a dime a dozen at the time,” he said. Despite that, the attractive piece has some age and value, he said, appraising it at $100-$275 at auction.

Demand is high for the better pieces, many of which are being returned to their country of origin. “Unfortunately, it’s not Imari,” DuMouchelle told Cunningham. “If it was, I’d be giving you better news and better numbers.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item : Japanese porcelain vase

Owned by : Bob Cunningham, Livonia

Appraised by : Bob DuMouchelle

Estimated value : $100-$275 at auction