At Omnia we have collected and sold some rare and not so rare vintage kokeshi dolls from Japan. here is a brief history and understanding of the collectable Japanese kokeshi doll
Kokeshi dolls were originally made during the middle of the late Edo period, (1600 -1868). The kokeshi have a surprisingly little documented history. It’s likely that kokeshi originated in rural Tohoku, in northeast Japan where farmers coping with long, snowbound winter nights, probably made the dolls from scraps of maple, dogwood, or magnolia using a pulley lathe. These dolls were possibly intended as good luck talisman, designed to bring fertility or bountiful harvests. Later, they were sold to tourists at Tohoku spas, and also given to console mothers who had lost a child through miscarriage or other misfortune. The kokeshi were the guardians of children and keepers of their souls. The dolls would watch over their child as they grew up and keep them from harm. The dolls from this period are called traditionals and are still made today in the north of Japan.
Kokeshi dolls are characterized by their lack of arms and legs, as well as their brightly painted garb in floral designs and geometric patterns. The process used for making these cylindrical wooden dolls is not unlike that employed to make legs for chairs & tables. It wasn’t until the 1920s that adults began to value these Japanese dolls as collector’s items. This renewed interest in kokeshi encouraged artisans to produce them in a much wider variety of sizes, from tiny to huge.
Kokeshi are of 2 main kinds. Traditional which are still made today in the north of Japan and sosaku kokeshi or creative kokeshi which are now highly valued depending on the artist and the condition of the doll.
Post world war II kokeshi were souvenirs for Japanese & western tourists and offered entertainment to children but kokeshi developed into something so much more by the 1960’s. Famous Japanese artists became involved in creating sosaku Kokeshi and these have become very collectable especially dolls by artist such as Shido Shouzan, Sato Suigai, Hajime & Sekaguchi just to name a few. The noddy heads from the 1950’s are also collectable due to the intricate hand painting of their kimonos and traditional dress as well as their beautiful aged patina.
A few years ago there was a renewed interest in kokeshi by the mass produced Kimi doll from China. These are not allowed to enter the domain of Omnia. These variations of kokeshi are of no interest to the collector who prefer the handmade antique dolls. When looking for an antique kokeshi doll keep in mind the condition of the doll, its patina and whether or not it is signed by the artist and if it was produced and reproduced or limited edition. Happy collecting.