Founded by Hungarian sportswear designer George Zoltan Lefton, Lefton China of Chicago, Illinois, imported porcelain decorative objects such as figurines and head vases, as well as kitchen wares such as cookie jars and salt-and-pepper shakers, from postwar Japan. From 1945 through 1953, these pieces were stamped with the words “Made in Occupied Japan.” Figures from 1946 to 1953 may also bear a red sticker with either silver or gold trim on their bases, which reads “Lefton’s Exclusives Japan.” Objects made after 1953 added the words “Reg. U.S. Pat. Off,” while those made after 1960 swap that phrase for the simpler “Trade Mark.” Unfortunately, during the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, the use of these stickers (and others) overlapped, so they are not a perfectly reliable way to date a piece of Lefton.
Beginning in the 1970s, Lefton began contracting with potteries around the world, from China and Malaysia to Italy and England. Fortunately, this global diversification had little impact on the quality of Lefton pieces, which is generally better than that of direct competitors such as Nike NAPCO and ENESCO. More variable is the look of Lefton figurines. For example, there is no such thing as the quintessential Lefton dog. Some are realistic, capturing the appearance of poodles, German shepherds, terriers, and basset hounds. Others are a good deal more syrupy and sentimental, such as the numerous versions of big-eyed puppies with bows around their necks. And then there are the figurines that are just plain silly—how else to describe a puppy wearing a hunting cap and carrying a shotgun, looking down at the innocent duckling that’s staring up at him from inside the canine’s bag?
Christmas figurines were a perennial favorite; Santa and Mrs. Claus, of course, but also adorable elves, angels, and children, some of which resembled candy canes with faces, arms, and legs. Especially popular is a character called Little Miss Mistletoe, whose cherubic face and short ponytail are tilted as she leans down to tie her red slipper. In fact, recurring characters were a big part of the Lefton catalog, so much so that Lefton had a number of lines devoted to them, from the secular Doll House Originals and Bloomer Girls to the religiously inspired Christopher Collection, which featured within it a group of Heavenly Hobos. In particular, many people gravitate to Lefton’s angels, which are often marked with the name of a month or a day of the week.