Ann Schang knows how it started. She can quickly point to the first lady head vase she ever acquired. That was dozens and dozens of vases ago. She figures she owns about 180 of them now, and she thinks she's finished collecting. After all, there's only so much room in her Fayette home.
Lady head vases became popular in the 1950s and production continued into the 1970s. Interest dwindled at that time, but not forever.
"People like me started collecting them and they became really popular again," Ann said.
Collectors are familiar with all the leading names, including Relpo, Lefton, Rubens, Napco and Enesco. Most producers were located in Japan, but there were exceptions such as Royal Copley from Sebring, Ohio.
All told, they produced an estimated 10,000 varieties of the vases—a fact that suddenly makes Ann's collection seem rather small.
But she's filled a display in her dining room, there are others packed into display cases in her living room, there's another display case in a bedroom, along with others placed on shelving. She's taken a sampling to Normal Memorial Library for a display in the library's entryway through the month of May.
It's the face that people look at, but take a peek on top and discover why they're called lady head vases. Each has a hole on top to hold a small display of flowers. The vases were commonly sold in floral shops and a few of Ann's show the stain of use inside them. One design is flat on one side to hang as a wall pocket for flowers. Three size classifications are given by collectors—miniature, medium and large—and one series of small vases, known as Sweet Keepers, originally held candy.
"I started collecting in the 1970s," Ann said, and she received a lot of help. "Someone would stop by with some and say, 'I hope you want these.'"
"Yes, I do," was the answer she always gave.
Lady head vases are mostly just that—women's faces—but there's a wide variety of designs. Some are hand-painted; some have no color at all or just a simple splash of brightness; some have heavy, thick eyelashes; some came with a porcelain umbrella.
Ann has her favorites: "I like the ones with hats and hands and jewelry. Some are very stylish."
Ann figures she paid around $8 for most of the vases she purchased and she's seen them in collector books listed for $35 and $45. Eventually she'll have to decide what to do with her collection. She's already heard from her family that they don't think they want the collection to move on into their homes.
She said her collecting is done, but she could always be persuaded to break that pledge. There are a few rare items that she would love to display in her house.
"I'm still looking for a Marilyn Monroe and a Jackie Kennedy," she said.