Some of the cutest ceramic holiday figurines are from Josef Originals. The designing power behind Josef Originals, from all of the cute animals to the charming dolls, was Muriel Joseph George, a resident of Southern California. She was a lucite jewelry carver until WWII when lucite was needed for the war effort. She started making clay models. Muriel’s fiancé, Tom George, returned to Southern California at the end of the war but was unable to work. During his hiatus, George started making molds of Joseph’s models. Ultimately, the two married, and in 1946 started producing California ceramics under the name Josef Originals.
It wasn’t long before her dolls gained such popularity that cheap reproductions from Japan began making their way into the market. Naturally, this caused Josef Originals to suffer financially, so Muriel tried her hand at producing new and even better quality pieces that would be more difficult to copy. Unfortunately, this became too costly, as well.
What saved Josef Originals from financial ruin was a representative and distributor of other California ceramics producers. In 1959, Mr. Good convinced the Josephs that they could greatly reduce production costs by moving their operations to Japan. Muriel and Tom traveled to Japan to train workers at the Katayama factory to produce Josef Originals. The days of producing Josef Originals in California were over.
Business boomed again for Josef Originals. Muriel remained active in Josef Originals for another twenty-odd years, designing mice, dogs, elephants and other cute animals, as well as some of her more famous lines, until she retired in 1981. Although Muriel had retired in 1981, she continued creating new designs until 1985 when the company was sold to Southland Corporation.
After the Josephs sold their share of the company to their partner in 1982, the company started producing figurines with brown eyes and did so until 1985 when the company was sold. Currently, the company belongs to Applause, Inc., which produces earlier pieces with red-brown eyes and matte finishes, marking them with paper labels and signing them as “Josef Originals by Applause” or “Josef Originals by Dakin”.
Yes, there is a story behind the name “Josef Originals.” The name was supposed to be spelled “Joseph,” but the printer made a mistake on the first set of labels that were ordered. It was too late to change the labels. The orders were in and the ceramics had to be shipped. So, “Josef Originals” was born.