creators of cute
Josef Originals was founded in 1945 by Muriel Joseph in Arcadia, California. At the beginning of WWII Muriel made Lucite costume jewelry under the business name Muriel of California; however, the cost of Lucite started rising as WWII progressed and Muriel was forced to find a new material for her product line. During this time Muriel turned to making ceramic jewelry but eventually came up with the idea of making figurines. When her fiancee Tom George returned from WWII he couldn’t find employment; therefore he put his focus on Muriel’s business and with his help the figurine line was born in 1946. They worked out of their garage and basement and they renamed the business Josef Originals. The “Josef” spelling resulted from an unintentional printing error of her maiden name “Joseph.”
The first lines were dominated by adorable animals, angels, children, and the famous dolls (their most recognizable and popular figurines) and quality over quantity was the company’s focus. By the mid 1950’s fake Josef Originals from Japan started to appear in the United States and Muriel countered this by adding even more detail to her items so they would be harder to fake; however, this started to make them more expensive to produce.
In 1959, instead of closing up shop in response to the increasing foreign competition, a businessman named George Good convinced the couple to fight fire with fire and move their production line to Japan. After moving their operations to the Katayama factory in Japan, and working under the name “George Good Corporation,” Muriel and Tom personally trained the workers there to ensure that the quality of Josef Originals remained high, and because of this the 1960’s and 1970’s were strong decades for the firm. 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.
Muriel retired in 1982 and sold the company to George Good who by that time had because a partner in the firm, but she was still active in making designs for the company up until 1985. The production of Joseph Originals dolls continued from 1982 to 1985 before the company was sold to Applause (Southland Corporation). The company changed ownership again in 2004 from Applause to Dakin who manufactures the dolls in Hong Kong.
Muriel passed away in 1992 but she left a strong legacy. The most collectible pieces are those that were made during the ownership of Muriel and most are signed, have a high gloss finish, and black eyes (brown eyes from 1982 to 1985).
The figurines are identified by many different methods, depending on when they were made. The earliest pieces bear the name "M.J. George” on the base and the earlier works were usually were marked on the bottom with an incising of "Josef Originals" or a black pallet type stamp; some also had a "C" in a circle on under-glazed bottoms. The earlier figurines have a black oval sticker with gold or silver letters stating "Josef Originals, California.” Later figurines (1960 - 1980) were substituted with a "curly cue" and an additional small black sticker reading "Japan" in script.
Applause produced many pieces with red-brown eyes, matte finishes, marked with paper labels, and the animals have a flocked coat. Most collectors do not want the brown-eyed pieces, the red-brown eyed pieces, those that were produced in Taiwan, Korea and Mexico (1970 until an unknown time), or the reproductions from Japan.