Well well well, what have we here?
To be honest, I really have no idea. All I know is that when I searched for vintage Shiseido on Ebay, I came up with a spate of white porcelain animal figurines. Some other things: 1. they represent the animals from the Chinese zodiac; 2. there were a few different designs of each animal; 3. I went into a frenzy trying to collect all of them (unsuccessfully), and; 4. they were produced, or at least sourced, by a company named the Connor Group for Shiseido. What I'm struggling with is why they were made and for whom they were intended. I'm also not certain about the exact dates of the various versions, since some of the sellers listed them as being from the '70s, others from the '80s, and still more were made in the '90s, according to accompanying paperwork.
I'll go in the order of the zodiac, starting with the rat. Cute, no? Given the shiny finish (more on that soon) I'm assuming it's from 1972 or 1984, but it's impossible to say.
Next is the ox, from either 1973 or 1985.
Here's a different version of the ox, which I think might be from the '90s. I was able to save this image from the Ebay listing but unfortunately someone snatched up the figurine itself a while ago.
(image from ebay.com)
Tigers! This one came with a fold-out that made things even more confusing.
The style of the figurine is consistent with ones that are from the '90s, which we'll see later in this post, but the paper it came with clearly indicates it's from 1974. Plus, there's no mention of Shiseido anywhere, not in the letter or even on the figurine - the other ones with the shiny finish have "Shiseido Japan" printed on them. The seller also included the original shipping box it came in to the U.S. from Japan, but there were no clues there either.
Here's a different tiger.
This rabbit could be from 1975 or 1987. According to this Etsy seller who had one listed for sale previously, it's from the '80s, but without anything else to go on the date is uncertain.
My favorite is the dragon, again most likely from 1976 or 1988.
The snakes are pretty cool too, unfortunately I couldn't track them down.
(image from hautejuice.wordpress.com)
The horse is also tricky. This one could be from 1978, given that this Ebay seller has another style. (I have one of them on the way to me). I got so desperate for answers I actually asked the seller if they had any other information. No answer yet.
This goat (or ram) is from 1991, according to the foldout it came with. But it's in a similar style to the tiger that's allegedly from 1974, and also has the same non-shiny finish and no Shiseido name printed on it. See why I'm frustrated?!
Poor little guy has a tiny chip on his nose.
Another version of the goat/ram, which was also sold before I could get my hands on it...no clue as to when it's from.
The monkey is also perplexing. This one is apparently from 1992.
And here's a different version, from the same Etsy seller who had the rabbit for sale, so maybe this one is from 1980?
(images from etsy.com)
Here's this year's critter, which I also missed out on.
(images from worthpoint.com)
This cute little akita was another that got away. I'm assuming this one is also from the '80s.
(images from etsy.com)
And finally, a little piggy, ostensibly from 1995.
Sadly, I don't think I'll ever solve the mystery behind these figurines. I emailed both Shiseido and the Connor Group for more insight and was quite disappointed at not hearing a word from Shiseido. You would think a company that is so committed to preserving their history would be interested in hearing from someone who is equally passionate about it and get back to me. I don't think it's a matter of them not having any information either - again, since they have a whole museum and are clearly dedicated to recording all aspects of the company, I just know someone there knows something about these figurines! I bet all the paperwork related to them is sitting in a basement in Shiseido's headquarters, but no one can be bothered to do a little digging. I did get a reply from the Connor Group but they had no idea what these were and asked for more information. So I sent pictures of both the figurines and letter that came with the tiger and never heard back. Sigh. My best guess is that these were either gifts to employees or gifts for Camellia Club members - in researching the rainbow powders, I learned that the latter group had access to exclusive Shiseido items (um, how awesome are these Erté dishes?!) However, most of the Camellia Club gifts are labeled as such, whereas there is no such notation on the figurines or the papers they came with. Shiseido also seems to collaborate with companies for other non-makeup items, like this anniversary plate produced by Noritake, so maybe the figurines were just some random item they had for sale. Still, it drives me crazy that I don't have a definitive answer.
At least the plushies are enjoying playing with their new friends!
Do you have any idea as to why Shiseido made these figurines? And which one was your favorite?