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Satsuma Pottery

( Originally Published 1911 )

WHILST in porcelain Japan copied Chinese patterns, in pottery native talent had full scope for its original and personal character, so ably shown both in shape and decoration. Amongst all the pottery Satsuma takes the first place ; indeed, no collection is complete unless it has a specimen, although fine pieces are very rare. Much of what is called old Satsuma has been produced at Kyoto and Yokohama for export, and has very little in common with the ware so highly prized by collectors in Japan. Showy, brilliant, and decorative reproductions are met with frequently, but neither in paste or painting are they comparable. Real old Satsuma, at first sight, looks like ivory, and the designs display infinite care, the colours being low in tone, whilst the gold is pencilled with such a multitude of minute lines as to be truly wonderful.

The glazes are often enamelled ; yellow and black, both remarkable, but exceedingly rare, are mono-chromes ; so, too, is olive-green, which is seldom used alone, but in conjunction with a dark yellow or dark brown. Various articles, such as tea jars, teapots, and incense boxes, have usually these glazes. Another glaze, called " Flambees," or " Flammees," is like shot-silk, e.g., red jasper and violet, and violet and blue. The colouration, no doubt at first accidental, was later obtained by the combination of metals with the oxygen in the air and during the firing, so that the results were defined and certain.

The old potters confined their decorations to diapers, floral subjects, landscapes, and the Chinese subjects—the Ho-Ho birds, the mythical lion, the dragon, and the kylin.

Two kinds of pottery were made at Satsuma, and the self-glazes, either monochrome or flambee, are, for the most part, applied to the red, and not to the white kind. In other words, the paste or body of the piece is red, and by comparing a few specimens the difference between that and the white can soon be determined.

When the potter cuts the turned piece from the clay on the wheel he uses a string ; and in Satsuma ware the string-mark can be detected on the bottom of the piece. Again, the Satsuma potter turned the throwing-wheel with the left foot, but other potters used the right ; hence the spiral in the paste is from left to right in Satsuma, from right to left in other factories. Pure white faience, cleverly moulded and reticulated, was a celebrated and favourite pro-duct of the ancient potters.

Spurious Satsuma is one of the most common and disfiguring features of both public and private collections.


Much of the later pottery from Kyoto was made in imitation of Satsuma. At the Paris Exhibition of 1878, such imitations of pieces decorated in relief had a great success. But Kyoto has one name which stamps the seventeenth century productions as marking the adoption of the representative Japan style. There was Ninsei, who shook himself free from the influence of China and Korea, and, having acquired the secrets of decoration with enamels, he set to work to practice and impart them in the various factories at Kyoto where he worked.

He introduced a crackle, which of itself is a test between old and modern ware. The glaze was of a light buff or cream colour, and the crackle was nearly circular and very fine, and is best described as fish-roe crackle." The paste of his pieces varied from hard, close brick-red clay to a fine-textured yellowish grey. The coloured glazes—blue, green, red, black, and gold—were also introduced by him to the Kyoto kilns. The black glaze was run over a grass-green one, so as to give brilliancy of effect, whilst panels of cream crackle on the surface were painted in diaper patterns or with floral designs in gold, silver, or coloured enamels. Another glaze, since imitated successfully, was a pearl white with a kind of pink blush spreading through it.

As a rule Ninsei marked his pieces ; the mark is given. Two or three hundred dollars are readily paid in Japan for a small bowl of the best type, so genuine specimens are exceedingly rare in Europe. It is well to reiterate two tests which may be easily applied to Ninsei pieces—the paste is hard and brick-red or yellowish grey in colour, and the crackles are equal and circular in shape.


Here, too, Satsuma ware has in recent years been largely imitated. At the Amsterdam Exhibition a fine collection was on view. But Awata had kilns as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century, and a clever workman, Kinkozan, about a century later, did much to bring back the reputation lost after Ninsei's influence had passed away. The glaze under his treatment was creamy and lustrous. The enamels, which harmonised so well with the glaze, were grass-green, ultramarine, and red. Gold was almost invariably used in decoration. Silver, purple, and yellow are most uncommon.

It must be borne in mind that the majority of the Awata pieces were unmarked.

Generally, three rules are equally valuable in judging the age of all Kyoto wares, including Awata and other places close by. First, the paste of the old pieces is close-grained and hard ; second, the glaze has a lustre, which may be due to atmospheric influence long continued ; third, the enamel colours are carefully painted, and are very bright and clear.


(1) The chrysanthemum, arms or crest of the Mikado.

(2) The kiri, said to be stamped on articles for royal use exclusively.

(3) (4) (5) Satsuma marks.

(6) The marshmallow, crest of Tokougava Satsuma ware.

(7) Ninsei's name ; stamped with sunk letters, Kyoto.

(8) Shimizu, a maker's name, in a long oval. Kyoto.

(9) Taizan, a potter of Kyoto.

(10) (11) Used at Kyoto by Yeiraku.

(12) Awata ware, also used in a small size.

(13) Awata, mark of another factory.

(14) On pottery made in imitation of Satsuma.

(15) Awata. Kinkozan's mark stamped.

(16) Seal character, " Prosperity."

(17) Seal character, "Gold."

(18) Seal character, " Felicity."

(19) Shigen, a maker's name, probably Kyoto. (2o) Seal character, " Happiness."

(21) Seal character, " Precious."

(22) Inscribed mark, " An eternal spring of riches and honours."

(A) Crest of Shimadzou, Prince of Satsuma.

(B) Crest of Ikeda, Prince of Bizen.

Other blasons of Japanese princes.

The sale prices of " Old Japanese " will, for a little, vary the subject under consideration. The demand is great, the supply limited ; so prices will rise higher yet.

Old Imari dish, painted with vase of flowers, having shaped panels on dark blue and gold ground, £7 7s.

Set of three octagonal vases—old Imari—similar decoration, with festoons and tassels on the shoulders, £36 5s.

A pair octagonal vases—old Imari—similar deco-ration, £65 2s.

Another dish, old Imari, vase of flowers in centre, Ho-Ho birds round the border, with flowers. Colours : red, blue, and gold. £12 12s.

From the Hayashi Collection.—Hirado cat, life-size, couching. £20 8s.

(NOTE.—Hirado, Hirato, or Harito are used indifferently.)

At the same sale.—Two Arita porcelain cups, £5 ; two scent or incense burners, £4 4s.

Other sales.—Bowl, in Ninsei pottery, £26 ; scent burner, Satsuma, £28 16s.; vase, Bizen ware, £26 ; blue, red, and gold ground, probably Imari, £10; another vase, decorated with Ho-Ho birds, same colours as the last, Hotel Drouot, Paris, £10o; bottles, pair of old Imari, fluted and painted in red, blue, and gold, L27 6s. ; vases and covers, pair, old Hizen, decorated with birds, flowers, wheels, and scrolls in rich colours and gold, L35 14s.

It must be remembered that the finest Japanese, copied from Chinese models, is sold frequently as Chinese.

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