Satsuma Table Lamp

This is the kind of post where I like to right some wrongs and dispel some errors when it comes to buying antique Satsuma pottery pieces.

If you look on sites like eBay, you will find many Satsuma Table Lamps for sale, which, although they are attractive, they are not what I would call authentic.  They even go so far as to advertise them as "antique" too.

My points are as follows:

  1. The majority of these lamps are made from Satsuma "Style" vases and pots that have been changed to hold a wooden stand and electrical connection.
  2. No right minded antiques collector would wreck an original piece to turn it into a lamp.  They would just be crazy.  Apart from drilling a hole in the base for the electrical cord to run through, they also block off the hole at the top too.
  3. These vases are only imitation Satsuma.  They are produced in the Satsuma style only - so be careful and wary of buying ones that claim to be antique.
  4. You may come across an old lamp from the 40's, after Satsuma pottery became massively popular all over the world, but that is most likely the most antique you will get.  There may be exceptions to this rule, but I think this is right.

So please be aware of my thoughts on this subject and buy knowing exactly what you are getting.


Royal Satsuma

example of a royal satsuma markingWhen you begin to collect or become interested in Satsuma Pottery, you may come across several terms that you are unfamiliar with. One such term which can also be misleading is "Royal Satsuma".

The term "Royal Satsuma" refers to the type of Satsuma Pottery that was mass produced to be sold abroad. It is also possible that the piece of pottery was even made in somewhere like China too - such was the demand for Satsuma style pieces after they were made known to the world.

If you have a piece of pottery that is marked "Royal Satsuma" on the bottom, then it is certainly not an authentic piece from Japan. It could have been made in Japan, but it will not be a proper antique. It was not until the late 1940's that potters in Japan began to use English to mark their work.

As a rule of thumb, when buying or checking any pieces of "antique satsuma pottery" if it has ANY english words on, then it will certainly not be from the Meiji Period. Also, anything sold as "Royal Satsuma" will not be from a Japanese Royal palace or have belonged to the Emperor - it will most likely not be from Japan at all.

However, these pieces are very beautiful and are collectible and can fetch a good price if they are in very good condition.  Just make sure you are fully aware of what you are buying before spending money on what appears to be an antique piece, which many sellers claim them to be.  Many people who contact me regarding pieces they have been given or bought have this style of Satsuma and the information that it could be next to worthless in terms of value, can be bad news to give.

You can read more on valuing a piece you own here on one of your recent articles.


Satsuma Meiji Period

The Japanese Meiji Period runs from 1868 to 1912 and during this time there were many events that shaped Japan and also the pottery and porcelain that was being made.

The Shimazu Satsuma Clan who were based on the same southern island of Japan and from the area responsible for creating the exquisite pottery began a revolt against the government as they were not happy with the direction they were taking. The Satsuma Samurai rose up against the army of the Meiji government, swords against guns.

The uprising was swiftly crushed by the government army but the tales of the rebellion and uprising live on in the pottery and art from that period. Images of war, of the Samurai - notably Saigo Takamori or Kido Koin - both important figures in this era appear on the sides of the Satsuma Vases and bowls, fighting for their beliefs.

Satsuma Pottery from the Meiji Period is a popular choice among collectors and antique buyers due to the historic times when it was created as well as the fine craftsmanship and quality.

The style of painting on many pieces from the Meiji period is known as Kinran-de or "gild on". Many of the scenes and images painted are usually of the upper classes of Japanese society undertaking leisure activities, such as walking.  The images painted in this period usually reflect back to the previous periods, such as the Edo period (1600-1867) and can feature landscape views of oceans, mountains and trees with beautiful cherry blossoms (a definite hallmark of Japan and Japanese art in general).

However, Meiji satsumaware was actually hardly seen or used in Japan and was mainly produced for export to other parts of the world, where the Satsuma style had become very desirable.


Satsuma Ginger Jar

Another item made by the famous potters of the Satsuma region and other parts of Japan, Asia and the East are jars that are used for storing foods or precious scents. These jars have become known as Ginger Jars.

These jars come in various different sizes, from as small as 5 inches tall to over 2-3 feet tall and were used to store food items such as salt, rice, ginger and spices. They are typically smaller at the base, rising to a wider "hip" and then returning to a smaller opening at the top which is usually covered with a lid to keep the contents fresh.

As per the other items of Satsuma Pottery, the ginger jars are covered with intricate and beautiful designs, patterns and images of Japanese life, culture, plants, flowers and people.

In modern times, it is popular for the larger of the ginger jars to be turned into lamps. Due to their size and weight, the design makes a perfect lamp base to be displayed and used all over your home or office.  However, it is very unlikely (or foolish) for someone to use a real antique piece in this manner.  The lamps on sale are mostly in the Satsuma style, with the relevant designs and hallmarks, but not of any real value.

The smaller Satsuma Ginger Jars are more collectible than the larger ones, and jars that are highly decorated with hand painted enamel are the most sought after. Make sure you look for any damage when buying a jar and also make sure that you are buying an authentic piece, not a mass production version.


Books For Identifying Satsuma Marks

Finding a good resource for identifying markings on Satsuma Pottery can be difficult. After all, we don't all have a well studied antiques expert in our pocket to ask for advice when we need them.

There are various books you can buy on the subject of identification of Japanese Pottery which includes the Satsuma range of pieces. These books form a good series of reference materials that you can use to identify the designs and styles of Satsuma and also examine the makers markings located on each piece.

Japanese Porcelain 1800-1950

Japanese Porcelain 1800-1950

(Schiffer Book for Collectors)
303 Pages

This book treads the line between a visual reference material for all manner of Japanese pottery styles including Arita and Imari, Kutani and Satsuma among many others. It features amazing full page images of each piece. noting the common styles and points to look out for. It is an excellent book for enthusiasts or trade collectors and sellers alike.

1100 Marks on Foreign Pottery & Porcelain book

1100 Marks on Foreign Pottery & Porcelain

64 Pages

Featuring an excellent guide to finding markings on many different types of Satsuma and other world pottery, the 1100 Marks book will give you the confidence to make sure you are buying the real thing.

the best book on satsumaPossibly the best and most detailed book is called (unsurprisingly) "The Best Book On Satsuma" by Thomas S Kiernan, an expert on Japanese pottery and antiques. Featuring 236 pages of glorious images and markings, each described and translated, this is the book you need if you want to know as much about Satsuma Pottery as possible.This book is quite expensive and only normally available to buy direct from the author in Australia, so we recommend looking for it on eBay where copies of it turn up quite regularly.

Click here to search eBay for this book.
You will be automatically directed to your nearest eBay store.

Dragonware satsuma

Dragonware and Moriage Pottery

During the late 19th century, techniques used by the makers and styles of oriental pottery such as Satsuma and Dragonware began to evolve and progress as the potters became more skilled and had access to better and more advanced machinery and kilns.

The use of Moriage is widespread throughout the range of Japanese and Chinese pottery that has been available over the last 200 years. Moriage is the term used to describe the layering of small beads or lines of slip clay onto the surface of the pottery, vase or bowl which is then glazed over to leave a relief that can be felt and seen. The Moriage beads were often painted gold after the glaze had been applied, giving the pottery item a unique and special finish. The beads were all placed onto the pottery by hand before it was fired in the kiln. Later, when the mass production of such items was started, the addition of the slip clay beads was replaced by adding small dots of enamel which speeded up the production time of each of the items.

Moriage was also taken one step further and was used to create pottery vases and barrels that have heavily stylized relief designs. Pottery such as Dragonware featured this style and method heavily. The term Dragonware is used to describe a pot or vase that has an oriental dragon motif that has been built up using fine layers of slip clay, making a deep relief of the dragon or serpent that curls around the outside of the piece of pottery. Slip clay is a thick liquid clay that is used to make porcelain and pottery. The Dragonware was then painted in bright colors with scenes or images of Japanese or Oriental life, and the dragons were usually left with a minimal or white coloring. Although it began to be made in the late 19th century, Dragonware is still made today and is still very popular, being exported all over the world.

The raised, 3 dimensional parts of the moriage and Dragonware pieces were often added to the pottery using a technique known as slipwork. This involves mixing the clay with water to form a runny substance which is then poured into a shaped mold and allowed to set for a period of time before being added to the pottery just before the firing process.

Some of the Dragonware and beaded moriage pottery may not be marked, painted with or stamped with the mark of the designer or factory where it was made. It was common for pieces of Nippon pottery to have a small paper label applied which may have now been lost or destroyed.


Japanese Immortals On Satsuma Pottery

Among the many images and designs that are found on Satsuma pottery, vases, plates and figures are those of ancient wise men, versed in the arts of knowledge, magic and power.

These people are referred to as the Japanese Immortals, men who were of such greatness that they were unable to die, forced to live a life of study, worship and poverty. The Japanese symbol for Immortal is made up from 2 other elements meaning "mountain person". Often, the immortal would be a person who had lived in the mountains which were revered by the Japanese as places of magic and awe.

The Japanese immortals are depicted frequently on prints and in paintings from early Japan, right up to this day. The 3 gods, Daikoku, Fukurokuju and Ebisu are pictured frequently playing a game of Go. Also deities such as the Seven Gods of Good Fortune or luck were depicted, their promise to the people of the world was of endless riches, wealth and good health.

As with other Satsuma pottery, the images of these immortals features on a number of different items. Satsuma Vases are lavished with the images of the immortals either together in a group or often on their own. Although smaller items such as the satsuma buttons were usually decorated with flowers or plants, the faces of the gods were also hand painted on to them with enamel paint.

As with most religious or mythical imagery, the satsuma immortals are shown as images that convey good luck, fortune, peace of happiness. They are shown as figures of peace who are fun loving, meditative or at comfort with each other and the rest of the world. Possibly images that were supposed to reflect upon the owners of the satsumaware items.


Satsuma Bowl

If you are looking to buy a Satsuma bowl, then you are in for a real treat.  These small pieces of Japanese pottery originally made in the 19th century on the southern island of Japan are highly collectible and beautiful items.

The bowls come in various different shapes and sizes and feature the classic and well known style of decoration that has made the satsuma name, method and items like the bowls such as the satsuma buttons popular.  In fact, the bowls and smaller items may be less valuable due to their size, but the designs and decoration is often more intricate and beautiful than the larger pieces of satsuma pottery.

The Satsuma style of pottery has been made in Japan for hundreds of years and can be best described as a thin, transparent, cracked glaze over a finely decorated piece of creamy or beige pottery.  This style of bowl was also mass produced in the Japanese region and was exported all over the globe.

One of the things that has made Japanese Satsuma pottery so popular is the designs that adorn the surface of the items.  It is common for the pieces from the 19th and 20th century to be heavily illustrated and decorated with scenes from Japan featuring people or animals or Japanese landscapes.  You might think that a small bowl was not able to be decorated in the way, but the amazing artwork on the Satsuma bowls is amazing.  Using gold, raised enamel and minute images, these bowls are amazing collectors items and look beautiful as part of any display.

Some of the Satsuma bowls have handles which might indicate that they were actually used to serve food or store items for carrying.  There are also bowls that are larger in design and feature a lid and handles, making them look more like a jar than a bowl.

Due to the number of makers of this style of Japanese pottery, there are many identifying marks on the pieces you will find at auction.  Also, as the items were mass produced and also copied by other countries such as China, a good rule of thumb is that if the item says SATSUMA on the bottom - then it is not originally from Japan.  Many makers and copiers of the Satuma style thought that putting the word SATSUMA on the base of any fine pottery item that looked as if it was made in the same way or from the same location as all of the other, more expensive bowls, vases and plates that people would think it was authentic.


Satsuma Vase

One of the most collectible pieces of Satsuma Pottery is the Japanese Satsuma Vase.  These pieces of earthenware pottery, decorated with amazing images or scenes from Japanese culture or society are highly collectible and sought after items.

Due to the fact that there was a period of mass production of this type of pottery and that it was copied heavily by other pottery makers during that time, there are many styles of Satsuma pottery on the market that may bear the images and hallmarks of the Satsuma style, buy may be from other locations and time periods.

Read how to check if your vase is a genuine Satsuma piece.

A Satsuma vase can be the term used to describe an oriental style piece of pottery that  has the following characteristics.  The images that are on the surface of the pottery are very small and intricate and will usually feature either people, places, animals, Japanese Immortals or scenes from Japan. 

After the image was hand painted, the vase was then covered in a thin protective glaze which cracked slightly giving another of the satsuma pottery hallmarks to look out for.  Some of the vases also heavily use gold coloring in their design which makes the vase look extra special.

Another of the valuable and more sought after vases are the ones decorated with the images of many people, also known as the 1000 faces design.

Often sold as a pair, some of the Satsuma Vases measure up to nearly a meter tall, but the more common style vase you will find will be around 9 to 10 inches tall.  The vases were often used for Ikebana, the art of formal Japanese flower arranging.

The majority of Satsuma vases will have a lid too which is unusual for an item which we may think would be designed to hold flowers or other plants, but these vases were for purely decorative means.  Some of the other pottery from the same region such as a Satsuma Bowl also featured a lid which some may think is unusual.

The designs on the surface of the vases were mainly created so that the pieces could be used to decorate Japanese residences rather than be practical items.

If you are looking to purchase an antique satsuma vase then ensure that the item is in good condition and has no cracks or chips - or has a little damage as possible.

Due to the age of some of these pieces, it is not always possible to buy items that have no damage at all.  Finding a vase that is very old and also in very good condition is not an easy task.

Also, ensure that the item has no markings or identifying words written in English such as ROYAL SATSUMA, as this will denote that the vase is not a genuine antique.


Satsuma Buttons

One of the more intricate and beautiful types of Japanese Pottery you will find are the sets of Satsuma Buttons.  These porcelain or earthenware pottery buttons are amazingly tiny sewing buttons adorned with beautiful images in the style that the Satsuma region on the southern island of Japan is famous for.

Measuring roughly only 1 inch in diameter, the satsuma button is designed to be sewn on to clothing and features an intricate image or design on the surface.  The design of the buttons often features images of plants or flowers that are native to Japan.  Some buttons also feature images of faces or landscapes and buildings.  The buttons have a hole post on the rear that allows them to be attached to clothing.

The button are all decorated and painted by hand by the skilled craftsmen that made the other Japanese Satsuma pottery such as vases and bowls and the same skill and care went into theses items as went into the larger pieces.  Using an array of colors and the heavy use of gold enamel, these tiny buttons really spring to life.  The artists also employed the use of raised enamel too which makes the buttons ever more pretty and detailed.

The buttons follow the usual method of manufacture that has made the Satsuma pottery very collectible all over the world.  The pottery is of an off white or creamy color and is heavily decorated and covered with a thin translucent glaze which is then deliberately cracked through over heating to give the hall mark look and design to the pottery.  The cracks are known as Kannyu. These hallmarks are the same on a Satsuma Vase.

Often available in sets of 6, these antique kimono buttons may have been made for the Japanese Geisha girls or ladies of higher standing.  Sold as a complete set, it would be possible that the buttons were designed to fit a standard piece of clothing such as a Kimono or coat.  The sets of buttons were also sold attached to a piece of card with thread - so finding an antique set of these with the original card still attached would be highly sought after.

As some of these antique satsuma buttons are quite rare, it is important that you check they are from the region of Satsuma or Osumi.  It is common for buttons to be made by copiers of the style and design as they were so popular when they were made hundreds of years ago.  The original satsuma mark is often a circle with a cross inside followed by the name of the maker underneath, although not always.  Satsuma is the name given to Japanese pottery that was created in that area of Japan, so there may be items that are not what they seem.