Japanese Antique “Smalls”

Cloisonne on porcelain vase marked on base in hand-painted Japanese calligraphy,

Greetings, all! I started out collecting Lladró Spanish porcelain, which quickly led me to other areas, including Asian porcelains. I started out with Chinese porcelains but quickly learned that the field of Japanese porcelains was more rewarding because it was somewhat easier to ascertain the correct origin and age of items than it is with Chinese porcelains.

My interest in Satsuma and Kutani porcelains also opened me to other areas in collecting what are called in the antiques trade “smalls” – primarily decorative items of a size small enough to display on furniture. My collection now includes a cloisonne on porcelain vase signed by 19th century artist Takeuchi Chubei (for which I paid the grand sum of $10 at an antique shop), a tixi lacquer covered box with alternating layers of red and black lacquer (for which I paid all of $8 in another antique shop), and an ivory blotter and pen with carved tiger motifs(for which I think I paid around $15).

My experiences in buying these items show another attractive aspect of collecting Japanese smalls: They are frequently vastly undervalued in the market because generalist dealers don’t know what they are nor have the eye to appreciate them. So collectors with a good eye can find some wonderful things out there! (Training the eye is, by the way, essential; there’s a lot of “junk Satsuma” and “junk Kutani” on the market, and it’s important to be able to tell the difference between that and finer stuff.)

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