Tag Archives: Mexican

Made-in-Japan Mexican Bookends

Japanese Mexican bookends:  porcelain, Height 6 inches. Made In Japan.

Each bookend in this pair shows a Mexican peon sitting against saguaro cacti.  We know he is Mexican because of his characteristic sombrero and his sitting in the desert.  We expect his face to look like the popular conception of a Mexican – swarthy with a mustache, but instead we see a light-skinned, clean-shaven, blue-eyed face, quite caucasian in appearance.  These bookends were made in Japan, so we can guess that the artist had no familiarity with actual look of Mexican peons.

The painted details on this bookend are very nice.

In the late 1920s and into the 1930s and 40s, a popular home decor in the American southwest was a kitschy amalgam of mission, cowboy, and Mexican motifs. Table cloths, table settings, home decorations all incorporated variations of the theme. These bookends fit beautifully into what could be called, “Mexico In The American Imagination”, a phrase taken from the SOUTH OF THE BORDER traveling exhibition mounted by the Yale University Art Gallery in 1993 and 1994.

A vintage Mexican motif table cloth with a page from Mexican Cookbook by Erna Fergusson, published by the Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1934.

Before World War II, Japan was making porcelain decorative items for export to the United States and Europe. These bookends appear to be from that period and made for the American market. They are nicely detailed and hand-painted. The stamp, Made In Japan, is one that could be pre-1941 according to the Kovel’s website. The Kovel’s indicate that 1921 is when the US government began to require the Country of Origin be in English and the Japanese started using Japan instead of Nippon. After the war the stamp “Made in Occupied Japan” was used until 1952. The quality of these bookends would indicate pre-war. We like them even though their light weight doesn’t bode well for holding up books.

Made In Japan mark.


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Charro Bookends

Charro Bookends:  Gray metal and “mexican marble or onyx”.  Height 6.25 inches.  Inscription:  ArtemetalicA  S.A.  Hecho en Mexico.

Charro Bookends:  Gray metal and “mexican marble or onyx”.  Height 6.25 inches.  Inscription:  ArtemetalicA  S.A.  Hecho en Mexico.

The charro is a Mexican horseman or cowboy who competes in a charreada.   HIs traditional costume is a fancy sombrero, a beautifully-embroidered short jacket, tightly-cut and decorated trousers, and boots.  With lariat in hand, our bookend charro is ready to win the heart of a lady while showing off his skill with the rope.

The Charreada is a Mexican rodeo, and it is the national sport of Mexico.  It is a formal exhibition of horsemanship that dates back to the sixteenth century and is a predecessor of the American rodeo.  Today charreadas can  be seen in Mexico (Click here for photos of a Charreada from The Guardian in 2014) and in the U.S (Click here for a link to the San Antonio, Texas organization ). We found these bookends in the heart of California’s Central Valley, which has a tradition of rodeos and vaqueros.

It is unusual to see metal bookends from Mexico.  Most Mexican bookends we see are relatively crudely shaped stone pairs, generally greenish yellow, sold as mexican onyx. They can be found in craft and tourist shops at border crossings.

These Charro figures are finely cast of metal and each is mounted on single block of mexican onyx. The detail is excellent. You can see the embroidery on the jacket and the metal “galas” down the outside seams of the pants.  There is a paper label on one of the bookends identifying the maker as

Paper labels on base of one of the Charro Bookends

Paper labels on base of one of the Charro Bookends

Recently we visited a bronze foundry in Tijuana, B.C.,Mex. . While our bookends were not made at this particular foundry, it is an example of the type of foundries to be found in Mexico where quality casting work like this is done today.


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Pre-Columbian Reproduction Bookends

These pottery and wood bookends were issued by the Schering pharmaceutical company in about 1973, to promote Schering products.  Each bookend holds a museum reproduction of a pottery piece from the Colima culture of Mexico. The original clay sculptures are about 1500 years old and show an individual scratching his skin disorders. Presumably, The Schering skin cream, Valisone, could have helped ease the medical condition, so the reproduction pieces were used to promote Valisone.

Photo of Schering Promotional Bookends

“Itch and Scratch”. Pottery and wood, height 5.5 inches. Produced in Spain. Inscription: Brand of Betamethasone Valerate, Valisone, Colima Mexico, ca 200-800 AD. Includes the crest of the Schering pharmaceutical company.

The original ceramic sculpture is pictured in the book, Precolumbian Dermatology & Cosmetology In Mexico, by Dominique D. Verut, M.D., Chanticleer Press. Inc., New York.1973. This interesting volume was also distributed as a promotional item by the Schering company.  Dr Verut, a prominent dermatologist, wrote that the skin lesions could be from tuberculosis, deep mycosis,syphilis, or tumors.

The documentation of the sculpture as featured in this volume elevates the bookends from simple Schering promotional items to unique bookends featuring precolumbian ceramics, and increases their value to all collectors interested in this subject. According to the Medipro (Marketing Company) website, eight dermatological museum reproductions were produced as Valisone promotional items, another 8 reproductions promoted the mental-health drug Etrafon.  As far as we know, none of these other reproductions were bookends.


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Golden Mission Bookends

Photo of Mission Bookend

Mission bookends, 9.5 inches tall, weight 5 pounds each.

We thought we were buying bookends that showed specific California Missions, but we were mistaken.

The bookend on the right has a number of Mission features:  four mission bells, a wooden door with huge strap hinges, an adobe brick wall covered with plaster, and a tile roof.  Unhappily, not any of the twenty-one California Missions closely match the appearance of this bookend.  It is a combination of features creating a beautifully  romanticized Mission bell tower,  although it is possible that it matches a Mission in Texas or Arizona.  However our research didn’t find one.

The bookend on the left has a partial identity.  The bell tower matches that of Mission San Diego de Alcala, but the staircase from the rear of the tower has been brought forward to the front, and the well and the path have been brought from an enclosed garden to the front of the bell tower.

Photo of Vernon Kilns plate depicting San Diego Mission.

San Diego de Alcala Mission and Bell Tower depicted on a Vernon Kilns plate circa 1940.

The Golden Mission bookends are marked Progressive Art Products, 1967.  Progressive Art Products of California, located in the Los Angeles area, produced decorative bookends in the 1960s and 70s.  All we have seen have been quite large, made of plaster, and very well painted.   We included a decorative pair of large Clown Heads and a patriotic pair of Heroic Eagles by this company in BOOKEND REVUE, published in 1996 by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.


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Bookends: A Year’s Worth of Blogging.

We started this blog on June 1, 2012.  Here is a gallery of the bookends we’ve posted.  Hover over the photo to locate the date the bookend picture and story was originally posted.

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Posted by on June 1, 2013 in Art Styles


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Aztec Fire-God Bookends

Meet Xiuhcoatl the fire-serpent diety of the ancient Aztec indians of Mexico.  Each bookend, including the base, is a replica of a stone sculpture about three feet high, held by the British Museum. Xiuhcoatl is interpreted as the embodiment of the dry season and was the weapon of the sun.  The royal diadem of the Aztec emperors apparently represented the tail of the the Fire Serpent.  Xiuhcoatl was associated via its tail sign with turquoise, grass and the solar year, all three associated with fire and solar heat.

Xiuhcoatl or Fire Serpent with the head and curving fangs of a snake, short legs, and a magnificent tail, combines realistic and mythical elements into one powerful figure.

Aztec Fire-God: Xiuhcoatl or Fire Serpent with the head and curving fangs of a snake, short legs, and a magnificent tail, combines realistic and mythical elements into one powerful figure.

Each bookend is 7 1/2″ high, electroformed bronze and unmarked except for the artist’s name, T. Thorpe or J. Thorpe.  We could find no listings for sculptors that would fit the name and time frame.  There are a couple of possible painters who could have drawn the piece, one is American journalist, artist, and humorist,  Thomas Bangs Thorpe (sometimes Thorp) who covered the Mexican War (1846 – 1848) and painted scenes of Mexican antiquities.  There are a John and a Thomas Thorpe, listed English painters, who also fit the time period.

Mexican antiquities excite our imagination and remind us of trips to Teotihuacan and Templo Mayor.  We were pleased to acquire these unusual bookends on eBay at the end of 2012.


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Petroglyphs in Grapevine Canyon, Laughlin, NV.

Petroglyphs in Grapevine Canyon, Laughlin, NV.

Colorado River Historical Society Museum, Bullhead  City, AZ

Colorado River Historical Society Museum, Bullhead City, AZ

You never know what you are going to find or where you will find it.  Over the year-end holidays we took a family trip to Laughlin, Nevada.  Besides checking up on the petroglyphs in Grapevine Canyon, we visited the small but interesting Colorado River Historical Society Museum across “the river” in Bullhead City, AZ.  (An aside – if you are from Southern California there is only one river, the Colorado, and it is ALWAYS referred to as “the river.”)  The museum has a lot of interesting local artifacts from the desert indian tribes to mining to casinos.  It is well worth a visit.  They also have a gift shop which includes some donated items.  We purchased these bookends for $5, mostly to support a small museum, however they turned out to be really interesting.

ORENDAIN OLLITAS Bookends, 4 inches in height.  Silver 10 Centavos coin in upright.

ORENDAIN OLLITAS Bookends, 4 inches in height. Silver 10 Centavos coin in upright.



Each bookend displays a hand-fashioned, thin-walled pottery tequila-shot cup with the words “Tequila”, “ORENDAIN”, and “Ollitas”  painted on it.  The base and upright are apparently of paste board covered in a handmade paper and there is a Mexican silver 10 Centavos coin fastened to each upright.  The reverse side of the coin is shown with the silver content of .720 visible.  The last date of manufacture for these coins is 1935.  The front of the coin is not visible so we can’t positively date them.  None-the-less we think these bookends were made prior to 1940.

Tequila Orendain began formally in 1926, one of its first and biggest brands was OLLITAS, which in Spanish means literally: little pottery cup.  Every bottle of OLLITAS sold at that time had the “ollitas” cap as a promotional item.  The company representative, who provided the picture of OLLITAS with it’s shot-sized cup, is not sure whether our bookends were a promotional item for distributors or are someone’s craft item.  Either way these novelties are worth very little as bookends but make great souvenirs of a fun trip.

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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Promotional


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