Ginger jars are identified by their high-shoulders, rounded shapes, small mouths, and domed lids that often continue the piece’s exterior decoration all the way up to the finial. Though ginger jars were initially used to store and transport spices, hence their name, the containers (which usually lack handles) have been used chiefly as decorative objects since the 19th century, when demand in the West for Chinese antiques spurred the export of these pieces to Europe, as well as the manufacture of copycat jars in pottery centers such as Staffordshire.
Some of the decorative treatments on ginger jars have included dragons, carp, landscapes, and florals, either glazed in a rainbow of colors or limited to the blues and whites of flow blue. Because of their wide shape, ginger jars lent themselves to a “rose medallion” treatment, in which florid designs around the jar framed smaller scenes, almost like a graphic novel in porcelain. Today, because the jars are squat, giving them a low center of gravity, they are sometimes converted into table lamps.