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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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NETSUKES ONCE SIMPLE ACCESSORIES NOW ESTEEMED AS IVORY ART

NETSUKES ONCE SIMPLE ACCESSORIES NOW ESTEEMED AS IVORY ART
Finely carved ivory Okimono, signed: Dosho. Sold for $1,495. Photo courtesy of I.M. Chait
The traditional form of Japanese dress, the kimono, had no pockets. Women tucked personal items in their sleeve and men suspended their money, medicine, and tobacco pouches on a silk cord from a kimono sash. To keep the cord from slipping through the sash a finger-sized toggle was used called a netsuke.

Netsukes started out as simple accessories for an ancient form of dress much like a man’s cuff links are in the West. Over a 300-year period, they evolved into highly respected works of art in ivory, coral, wood and sometimes ceramic.

The elaborate carving, exquisite detail, perfect balance, and inlays speak of a master carver’s hand.

Netsukes are sometimes mistaken for small statues, but traditional netsukes have characteristic features. The first is himotoshi, two holes through which the cords are threaded.

The holes are usually placed in the bottom or back so that the cord knot is hidden. The second is the lack of any bulge or edge that might snag the kimono’s fabric. Netsukes should have a wonderful, soft feel to them like a well-worn stone.

In the late-1800s, the Japanese gave up the kimono for Western dress and netsukes lost their practical value. Their importance as a work of art increased. By the 19th century, netsukes were exported in huge numbers to European and American department stores as decorations for mantelpieces and what-not shelves. This included old ones no longer used for dress, and new ones made especially for export.

Many netsukes represent people or animals. You can judge the quality of a piece by starting with the face. Does it have expressive eyes? Accurate features? Can you see every wrinkle and nuance? This detailed carving should be carried out throughout the piece including the back and bottom.

Some of the most valuable netsukes are the older ones made in the 18th and early-19th century by masters such as Okatomo, Tomotada, and Kokusai. You’ll find signed netsukes as well as unsigned netsukes. But a signature does not necessarily guarantee origin because students and imitators used the masters’ signatures freely.

Netsukes of the finest quality are still being carved today. They adhere to the standards of the original netsukes in terms of quality and attention to detail.

Approximately 150 netsukes including famous contemporary carvers went on the block on Oct. 3 at the I.M. Chait Gallery in Beverly Hills, Calif. About 100 of the netsukes came from Herb Brochstein, a Texas collector of 30-years.

An ivory netsuke of an oni (mythical figure) carrying a pipe and tobacco pouch, signed Mitsumasa, pre-1946, sold for $6,900. An ivory tiger with inlaid eyes, signed Masatoshi, mid-20th century, realized $6,900. Two ivory monkeys playing with a persimmon, signed Masatami, late-19th century, brought $3,450. A wood netsuke of a carpenter’s box with tools, signed Kazuo (Mitzutani) reached $1,100.


Q. I have an original of The Richmond Virginia Daily Dispatch newspaper dated July 10, 1863. The paper contains numerous reports on the Civil War. Any value? George Dillon, Murrysville, Pa.

A. By 1880 there were more than 1000 newspapers being printed in America. Most disappeared.

Old newspapers usually hold little value except those containing information dealing with important historical events like the Civil War.

Newspapers reporting history as it happened are collectible and first and last issues of a paper are sometimes important. “Centennial” and “Anniversary” copies, those with unusual titles, and bold graphics are what people look for.

Age doesn’t always mean much. A paper from 1800 describing everyday happenings is valuable to a historian who likes to soak up the flavor of an era, but from a collecting standpoint probably not.

Generally, an issue containing the first report of an important national event will be desirable. Your paper is worth around $50 based on condition.


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