The Truth About Ginger Jars

Now, I never want to be accused of being a ‘bait and click’ blogger, so let’s cut to the chase: What is the truth about “Ginger Jars”?

The truth is, in China they were never called ginger jars to begin with. They were simply called “guan” or jar. And yes, they were used to store ginger, but they were also used to store many other spices, and herbs, and salt, and oil. The term “ginger jar” is a western invention, created when ginger became a chief export to the western world in the 17th century. Precious ginger was transported in these vessels across the sea, and so these jars became known as ginger jars.

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A special ginger jar–the slightly greenish glaze is celadon, which is truly Chinese. The cobalt color was imported from the West and from Japan. The ball symbols represent Taoist deities.

Because of their pleasing rounded shape, high shoulders, and vibrant colors and patterns, ginger jars soon gained popularity as purely decorative objects. In the 19th century, demand strengthened in the West for all things Chinoiserie.  China increased its production and export of ginger jars to Europe, and they have been a perennial favorite in home decor ever since.

More than just Ginger Jars

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The beauty of using ginger jars in styling your home is that there is so much more to ginger jars than just ginger jars! There are temple jars, tea caddies, vases, wine flasks, small spice jars, footed bowls of all sizes, planters…the list goes on.

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From left: 2 tea caddies, a small Vietnamese spice jar, a planter, a Japanese sake flask

From a design standpoint, this variety is a wonderful thing. Because let’s face it, a small cluster of similar items looks fantastic when displayed together. But no one wants to see a collection of exactly the same thing repeated over and over. When you cluster a collection of blue and white ceramics in various shapes, sizes and patterns, that’s when the magic happens! So broaden your worldview: Embrace not only the ginger jar in your home, but its jar cousins as well.

Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 4.03.40 PM Two vintage temple jars. Temple jars have pointed tops, reminiscent of the spire on a temple. Ginger jars are typically round like a pumpkin with a flat lid. (Some contemporary ginger jars are more square-shaped).
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This is an oil jar, used for keeping hair combs in oil. This jar displays the lotus pattern and a prominent ‘Double Happiness’ Symbol.
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Blue and White displayed in a variety of shapes and sizes. Photo via I Suwannee

More Than Just Blue and White

Ginger Jars (and temple jars, etc.) come in more than just blue and white (although blue and white is still my all-time favorite!). You can find jars in coral, red, and even turquoise and pink if you’re lucky. The turquoise and pink color combo is the hallmark of Peranakan ceramics. These are pieces that were exported to Singapore and Malaysia to the Straits Chinese (Peranakan) who immigrated there over 200 years ago. I have a beautiful piece from when I lived in Singapore years ago and I wish I had more. The colors are so vibrant:

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A Perankan Kamcheng from Singapore.
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Wucai Ware (meaning 5 colors or enamels). The number 5 is special in Chinese culture. The lids of many jars have been broken or lost, so often you’ll find intricately carved wooden lids as substitutes for the original.

More than Just Decorative

One of my favorite uses for ginger jars is when they are transformed into lamps. I also love when they’re used as vases.

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A ginger jar from Singapore made into a lamp. Not your typical blue and white either!
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The white oval in the middle of the cherry blossom design on this lamp is called a ‘window.’ Two Fu guardian lions guard heaven at its center.

Where to Find Them?

Of course, now you can find ginger jars everywhere from Homegoods to Pottery Barn to Restoration Hardware. They’re ubiquitous. But c’mon, what’s the fun in that?  Isn’t it much more satisfying finding those great vintage pieces that have a little history to them? I’m not saying we invest in collecting true antique Chinese porcelain (unless of course you and your wallet are up for that!).  But I do love the hunt for ginger jars that have been around the block a few times, that hold some stories and will add wonderful layers of personality to your home. That’s what we’re looking for!

So, here are some fantastic places to start (or continue) your search:

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Photo via Ashlyn Goldberg (Instagram)

Ashlyn Goldberg @ashlyngoldberg: I met Ashlyn through the amazing online community that is Instagram. She has a beautiful home and a knack for thrifting fabulous finds (follow her if you like bamboo, textiles, art…you get the picture!). She holds periodic INSTASALES through instagram. Be sure to tune in to her next sale, scheduled for Saturday, June 23rd! This one will be featuring quite a bit of the blue and white stuff we all love!

J Cline Vintage J Cline Vintage: J Cline Vintage is another contact I made through Instagram. Jennifer sells her collected and curated wares through her Instagram account as well. It includes a wide variety of Chinoiserie decor that I know you’ll love.

Finding Joy Vintage You can follow Finding Joy Vintage on Instagram and shop her on Etsy  for “Classic yet current home decor finds” (including a nice selection of ginger jars and the like).

Oriental Collectibles: An Etsy shop featuring Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian ceramics, art and collectibles.

High Street Market: O.k., so maybe this online store doesn’t always sell vintage, but they’ve got a great selection of blue and white (and other enviable home goods!).

The Pink PagodaOne more good online resource for blue and white (not vintage, but had to throw it in here!).

And of course, some of the best and most rewarding finds will come from your own estate sale sleuthing. So get out there and enjoy the hunt. Your home will thank you, I promise.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of places online to buy ginger jars, so if you have other great resources you’d recommend please include them in the comment sections.

Before I leave, I’d like to give a big thank you to my mother in law, Becky Dulac, for sharing her knowledge on ginger jars with me for this post (and for sharing some of her beautiful collection with me so I could photograph it!).

Thanks for stopping by!

–Jen

Would love to hear your thoughts!