Trash or Treasure: Asian Items World War II souvenirs

By Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Many who served in wars overseas brought home souvenirs. Carole Rizzo-Baum recently inherited a number of items from her aunt, who passed away at 97.

“She had treasured these pieces since her sister sent them to her from Japan during the war,” Rizzo-Baum explained, adding that her aunt's sister was a captain in the Army Nurse Corps and served in both World War II and the Korean War. “She was an amazing lady,” Rizzo-Baum added, comparing her  to the character Hot Lips Houlihan from the TV series "M.A.S.H."

Among the items she brought in are dolls, which “are in mint condition” and have been “kept in glass cases all these years,” Rizzo-Baum explained. The dolls measure 8, 10 and 12-inches tall. She also brought in some artwork framed under glass in their original frame. “Each has a red stamp on them,” she added.

Carole Rizzo-Baum with four silk screen prints from Japan and three porcelain geisha dolls .

Brian Thomczek took a look at all of the items during a recent appraisal session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy (for information about an upcoming session, see below). He identified the dolls as souvenirs that were made for and popular with the tourist trade, and said that they are dressed in traditional native dress and, based on their hairstyles and dress, may depict geishas and a mother and two daughters. The word geisha, he explained, translates closest to “artist” and is an entertainer skilled at a variety of Japanese arts, including poetry, music and dancing.

The images, officially woodblock prints, are also traditional export items, he added. Rizzo-Baum says they belonged to the same relative; they depict both scenic and natural items, including birds and seasonal landscapes.

Thomczek said that the doll trio would probably bring around $150-$200 if sold together and that the woodblock prints – some of which have some condition issues – would range from $100 to $150 each. “There’s some fading and color loss,” he explained, pointing out areas with damage. 

Rizzo-Baum says she inherited a number of items, including some ivory pieces, and is keeping others but may be ready to let these go if she could find an interested buyer. “We don’t have anyone to pass these on to and have a very contemporary house,” she explained. “There may be someone else who could use and appreciate them.”

Next Appraisal Session Approaching

Interested in finding out what YOUR treasures are worth? We are still taking applications for our next free appraisal session, to be held July 17 at 10 a.m. at the Michigan Design Center in Troy. If you’d like to be considered, send an email with photos of up to two items and how you acquired them to If chosen, we will be in touch with more information before the event.

About this item

Items: Dolls and woodblock prints

Owned by: Carole Rizzo-Baum

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: $75 and up each