What’s the one room accessory almost universally loved by designers? The classic blue and white ginger jar.
First used for spice storage in China, these striking vessels have had more than one life during the always-changing trends of interior design. Steadfast and at the same time trendy, the range in price point (reproductions start from around $50 and up depending on size while authentic antique jars can sell for many thousands at auctions) and their versatility make them a very accessible collectible.
History in a Vessel
Dating all the way back to the Chinese Qin Dynasty (221 BC-207 BC) and the later Ming Dynasty (1368 AD), these urns of various sizes were employed for salt, ginger, and other valuable goods. Often gifts for nobility and gifts used to mark special occasions like weddings (the Chinese characters for “double happiness” were/are used on many antique and reproduction jars for good luck), the blue and white markings and motifs became known around the world.
Instantly identifiable by their elongated egg shape, high “shoulders,” and small base, ginger jars often depict dragons, landscapes, or floral designs. Often made with a ceramic, fitted lid on top, authentic antique jars sometimes have carved wooden replacement tops since the originals have been lost over the years.
By the 1600s, wealthy Europeans had developed a fondness for ginger jars, helped along by the busy trade route between the Chinese and the Dutch. This symbiotic arrangement eventually led to the Dutch creating their own version of blue and white porcelain (Delftware) when war made the valuable Chinese jars and other goods hard to find. As their popularity grew into the 1800s, lookalike ginger jars were also created in places like Staffordshire, England, increasing the marketability of the accent pieces.
Popularity Boom Fueled by Pinterest, Instagram
Recently, ginger jars have caught the eye of an entirely new generation of folks who are employing them in more modern and fusion design and are re-creating classic vignettes they spot on Instagram or Pinterest. On sites/blogs like Kimberly Carole and Emma Carole Paradis’ “Impeccable Nest,” ginger jars are shown as fantastic workhorses of beauty; they manage to look fresh and sparkling on bookshelves, lined up on a long, casual dining room table or, in their oversized state, standing sentry as a pair at the doorway to a room.
Touting their versatility, designer Randi Garrett says they can be used in “at least three places in your home” on her blog. Indeed, whether grouped on a dresser, filled with flowers, or on an entrance table, lively ginger jars add a sophisticated feel. Garrett also groups solid color jars together for a striking impact – while the shape seems traditional, the colors (she uses a group of solid pink jars) bring an entirely different look to the space.
Because of their decorative designs and low center of gravity, ginger jars are often made into lamps. Suppliers like The Ginger Jar Lamp Company and The Enchanted Home are just two sources for these colorful table lamps.
Look for Artistry, Weight
When shopping for older ginger jars, besides looking for a top, test the jar’s weight. Experts say older ginger jars (pre-19th century) are often heavier, and there are even some who say they were once used as ballasts during shipping. Look for intricate, detailed designs without sloppy brushstrokes for higher-value jars as well.
Imari ware ginger jars, which get their name from the port in Japan, are another sub-specialty collectors often seek. Characterized by their intricate floral designs with reds, rusts, and blues on a light gray/white background glaze, these distinctive jars add texture and an exotic feel in a group or standing alone on a tabletop with a fresh bouquet.
Likewise, the “Famille Verte” and “Famille Rose” (green and rose, respectively) jars are also highly collectible, with the Famille Verte green designs known for their incredible luster due to a multiple-enamel technique that was refined in the 16th century. Look for these at exclusive auctions and estate sales, where prices can easily run over $10,000 apiece.
Whatever the color or size, these Asian accent pieces show no sign of losing their cachet in 2021. Indeed, their variation in size (the mini jars could make a great collection for an apartment dweller) and color make ginger jars the perfect fashionable and worldly room accessory for all.
Amy Bonesteel is a freelance news and features writer who has contributed to Atlanta Magazine, The N.Y. Times Magazine, Time, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, and many other publications. A graduate of East Carolina University, she also has a master’s degree in English from Georgia State University in Atlanta, where she lives with her family.
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