Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Antique Japanese porcelain basics

Before the early 17th century, all the porcelain used in Japan was imported from China, but the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan wanted to be free of the Chinese merchants and, during raids carried out on Korea, captured their native potters.They brought them back to Japan and settled them inland at Arita, which became the main area of production after 1616  when the correct type of clay was found locally.



Between the collapse of the Chinese Ming Dynasty in 1644 and the establishment of the Ch'ing Dynasty 1682, many of the imperial kilns were destroyed. The main traders in Chinese wares, the Dutch, turned to Japan to replace the vast quantity of porcelain that arrived in Europe by the shipload. By the time the Chinese had re-established their porcelain industry, the Japanese had begun a retreat into a long period of self-imposed isolation.


Between the late 17th century and about 1860, only small quantities of wares were exported from Japan by Westerners who managed to retain a small trading post in Nagasaki in the south.After the reopening of trade in the 1860s, the West was flooded with Imari, Kutani and Satsuma wares and the fashion for Japanese goods took off under the banner of the Aesthetic movement.



Collectors are spoilt by choice because of the sheer volume of porcelain exported to Europe and the United States from the mid-19th century until the outbreak of the Second World War. Many of the pieces are still very affordable: if you hunt carefully you could find a 19th-century Imari vase and cover of middling size in good condition for under 100 GBP.if you become a committed collector the sky is the limit: from a Nabeshima dish for 10,000 GBP to a rare Kakiemon bowl for 40,000 GBP.



What to look for

– Brown rims on the edge of plagues or vases – a sign of quality
– Figural subjects, animals, birds or insects, which all add value to the piece.
– Quality enamelwork, often evident in border designs.
– Pieces that bear a mark.



What to avoid

– Worn gilding.
– Scratched enamels and interiors.
– Wares which have been used for fruit and become damaged by their acids.
– Blistered glazes, black speckling or any disfiguring of the decoration.



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