Turning any item over is instinctual for collectors. Is there a maker’s mark? Import sticker? A date or artist initials? All these are clues to identifying, verifying authenticity, and dating the object.
Many Merry Mushrooms are backstamped, or marked, with some variation of “©Sears, Roebuck and Co.” and a variation of “Japan.” Some have printed or hand lettered text in black, others have one of three stickers. Other variations are with or without a year, or a comma after "Co.". Maybe it has a maker's mark. To keep things interesting, a few pieces seem to have no marks at all. This is a huge topic with many unknowns that will, hopefully, become known as this investigation deepens. You can help by sending photos of marks on your pieces.
In an effort to keep things organized, I'm planning a series of posts about marks, each one focusing on a single product that documents the different marks. And I picked a doozey to be first!
For more on this topic, see UPDATE: Merry Mushrooms Maker's Mark.
Embossed Ceramic Napkin Holder
The earliest known dated marks are from 1976, though there are plenty of undated holders. Because the holder had been around since 1972, it's reasonable to believe that undated pieces are from 1972 to 1975. Some holders today have only a whole or partial "JAPAN" import sticker since it comes off easily in a kitchen environment; few dated pieces have stickers because "MADE IN JAPAN" or "JAPAN" are printed on the bottom. These early undated napkin holders likely fall into one of the following categories:
The addition of the year and either "JAPAN" or "MADE IN JAPAN," eliminating the need for import stickers, should have created standardized marks. Alas, there is still quite a bit of variation. Some marks look hand lettered, and two different types of stamps or image transfers that apply the text before firing were used. Not all have the "MA" makers mark, which sometimes looks like "MR." The 1976 marked items fall into one of four categories:
A lone 1977 mark has been documented which is surprising considering how many exist for the other years. This one appears to be hand lettered and is upper and lower case with "JAPAN." An extremely faint "MA" makers mark is in the lower right.
Move over bi-centennial year! Here comes 1978, the year the collection exploded. The catalogs that year featured 83 items, the most Merry Mushrooms ever before or since. The variety of marks now might be due to Sears, anticipating a rise in demand, ordered an unprecedented number of napkin holders that required more than one factory to meet demand. The items that didn't get any form of "Japan" printed on them had to be stickered. And, curiously, some marked "MADE IN MEXICO" appear. To understand why, a quick, and painless (I promise!) look at U.S.-Japan trade relations.
Between the 1930s and 1980s, trade relations between the U.S. and Japan experienced periods of tension primarily over textiles, televisions, and auto parts. In response to conflicts, most Japanese companies voluntarily limited exports to the U.S., among them ceramics and cutlery, in the late 1970s. If you'd like to learn more, check out this article from Pacific Economic Papers. So, having limited access to Japanese imports coupled with an increased demand of their star kitchen coordinates line, Sears turned to Mexico, which at the time was in a proactive effort to improve its economy.
Because the Mexican imports have the same "MA" makers mark as the Japanese imports, it is likely the mark of the designer or artist who created the mold, which was then shipped to the factory.
The six known versions of 1978 marks include:
Finally, 1982 and 1983 have one known mark each. The black text is all caps with "MADE IN JAPAN" and "MA" makers mark in the lower right.
A final thought. A new copyright year usually denotes a change in design, though that doesn't appear to be the case here. The napkin holder remained the same size with the same detailing. Perhaps Sears learned early to keep its copyright claim fresh after many similar mushroom pieces directly, or indirectly, copied Merry Mushrooms.
There you have it! A survey of all the markings found on the Merry Mushrooms Embossed Ceramic Napkin Holder.
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