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JAPANESE NETSUKE - Origins & Types

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antique ivory Japanese netsuke 19thC
NETSUKE first appeared as early as the 14thC in Japan and were strictly utilitarian items to hold a small pouch or case that could be fastened to a wrap-around sash, properly called the obi, on old-styled Kimonos that actually had no pockets. This small pouch or case was used to carry personal items, such as medicine, tobacco and other little objects. It was held by a thick cord, whose other end was attached to a Netsuke and firmly tucked between the obi and the kimono, with the pouch or case hanging at one's side.

Original netsuke were made in simple oblong shapes, mostly out of ordinary wood or bamboo root. In fact, the term Netsuke, used the same in both its singular and plural form, comes from the Japanese words for "fasten" and "root". As it evolved from a purely useful garment accessory to a fashion statement, netsuke became significantly more intricate in design and use of materials. Finely detailed miniature carvings on special woods began being produced in large numbers, originally by wood carvers of masks using scraps that remained at the end of the working day. Ivory netsuke were first made by makers of musical instruments and quickly became very popular with those that could afford them. These special and very expertly decorated netsuke are now regarded as a proper form of Japanese OKIMONO, i.e. an ornament for display, and gradually expanded their original purpose by transforming to some sort of jewelry adorned by men and women alike, often wearing them in dangling clusters meant to impress others.

Collecting netsuke requires extensive knowledge of the Japanese art forms of the past and related symbolism, but most importantly it is essential that one can recognize materials. Because of the dramatic increase in prices for truly antique or vintage netsuke, many have been recently reproduced in huge numbers, but made of resin. These resin fakes, while pretending to be ivory, are practically worthless to serious netsuke collectors and have no artistic value whatsoever as they are fused using mass production molds at an industrial setting, whereas original and authentic netsuke were hand-carved meticulously and with great skill. Similarly for netsuke made of artificially aged wood that are hurriedly carved by groups of low-skilled workers in under-developed regions.

In addition to their differences based on the various materials used in making them, there are distinct types of netsuke that are classified based on their functionality and decorative features. Related categories for these various types include KATABORI, MANJU, KAGAMIBUTA, RYUSA, HAKO, SASHI, ICHIRAKU and others. Some are quite explicit, and along with whimsical ones, are very popular with collectors, if indeed authentic and antique. Most intricate and highly desirable nestuke found in the antiques market today date from around the late part of 18thC to early 20thC, while prior specimens can be admired mainly in Museums or very fine private collections.

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  • ANTIQUE LACQUER NETSUKE Antique and well
    carved, lacquer netsuke of a shi-shi seated on a plinth, with gilt wash (wear), unsigned, 19th Century ... [more like this]
  • CARVED LACQUER NETSUKE Unusual and extremely
    well formed, lacquer netsuke of a Daikoku's hammer; with well carved miniature ivory of a seated Urashima Taro (signed Ryuminsai) that fits neatly inside the hammer, coral ... [more like this]
    well executed, carved wood netsuke of a carpenter seated at work, his ropes finely lacquered (usual wear), unsigned, 19th Century ... [more like this]
  • ANTIQUE WOOD NETSUKE Rare and well carved,
    antique wood netsuke of a delicate butterfly with inlaid shell and lacquered plaques on its wings, perched on a curled leaf (loss to inlay on inner wing), unsigned, 19th Century ... [more like this]
  • Group of wood and ivory inro with manju and
    kagamibuta netsukes. 20th century. ++ Four section ivory inro with an etched design of a geisha. 2 3/4"h. ++ Five section lacquer case with gilt decoration. 3 1/2"h. ++ Four ... [more like this]
    AND NETSUKE, SIGNED, EDO PERIOD the four case inro decorated with gold and silver lacquer and inlaid red chrysanthemum, as well as gold bamboo leaves, by silver bales of ... [more like this]
  • 40. Japanese Meiji Export Bamboo Cane -Ca.
    1880 -The cane is fashioned of a straight bamboo shoot with a shaved natural root bulb as knob and carved in the traditional Far Eastern taste with a wider nature study extending ... [more like this]
  • CARVED IVORY NETSUKE Well carved ivory netsuke
    of a worker in patterned clothes with a chisel, carving out a large "wood" bucket, signed on lacquer reserve ... [more like this]
  • ANTIQUE GOLD LACQUER INRO Extremely pristine
    and beautifully crafted, antique Japanese gold lacquer four-case inro with two ladies in elaborate dress and seashells on front, the verso with a single lady; with coral ojime, ... [more like this]
    and lacquered wood manju netsuke of a coiled dragon; well detailed, the bottom with ivory inset, unsigned (usual minor wear), 19th Century ... [more like this]
  • An ivory and gilt lacquer figural netsuke Well
    carved and incised as a crawling karako wearing a gilt-decorated bib with a sekigaha pattern and tunic tied with a large bow, the chubby face framed by a soft gold-color cap ... [more like this]
  • An ivory four-case inro Well painted in
    black lacquer with Chinese beauties and attendants in a garden landscape with viewing pavilions and bridge over a meandering stream sheltered by trees issuing from rockwork, ... [more like this]
  • A five-case gilt lacquer inro 19th Century Decorated
    to the front with a flock of cranes feeding along a pine-sheltered stream, reversed by a group of minogame at a waterfall, well rendered in gilt, silver and iro-e hiramaki-e, ... [more like this]
  • A four-case gilt lacquer inro 19th Century The
    front featuring a pair of beauties collecting seashells along a beach sheltered by large pines, well executed in gilt, silver and iro-e hiramaki-e, takamaki-e, e-nashiji and ... [more like this]

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