Satsuma Pottery

Satsuma pottery was made in or around Kagoshima in Kyushu, Japan in the later part of the 19th century through to the early 1920's in Satsuma in southern Japan.  It is also known that in the same location, there were kilns making pottery going as far back as the 16th century - so the location on the southern island of Japan was already steeped in pottery making history.  The term Satsuma, derived from the location where they were made then became the way that the pottery was described.  A typical piece if Satsuma pottery will be of a yellowy complexion and usually decorated with intricate and minute Japanese figures, landscapes and even dragons.  The designs also feature a form of decoration called moriage which is a term used to describe the use of raised enamel of Japanse pottery.

The clay used to make the Satsuma Pottery also differs depending on the location the item was made. For example, the clay used from the Kyushu area gives a darker tone to the pottery where as clay used from Kyoto gives a lighter appearance. The darker clay from Kyushu also allows the crackled glaze to have a darker, more pronounced appearance.

The Satsuma pottery business was also in full effect to mass produce many pieces of earthenware for export to Europe and America and there more perhaps more than 20 factories producing the pottery.  Therefore the majority of the pottery items from this location may be low quality and common but there were also makers of amazing fine pottery at the same time too.

There are several things that Satsuma Pottery is famous for and can be identified using these things.  The pottery nearly always has a cracked glaze and it also does not ring when tapped like some other china pottery does.  The craqueleuer of the glaze was done on purpose by the maker and is not a sign of the age of the piece as many people think.  The early pieces of pottery made in the Satsuma region were covered in a thick heavy glaze and the pieces are very rare and are seldom found at auction.  These earlier pieces do not feature many surface designs.  The highly collectible decorated pieces were made in the 19th and 20th century.

Another hallmark of the Satsuma vase, bowl or piece of pottery is the design that adorns the piece.  Lavished with scenes of Japan, the images are tiny and intricate and are possibly the most fascinating thing about the vases you can buy.  Images of people, immortals, dragons, flowers, landscapes, birds and events are all hand painted onto the pottery surface and then a light glaze is put over the surface which then cracks slightly.  These items are very beautiful pieces and are very collectible.

The factories and makers of Satsuma also produced smaller pieces such as bowls and geisha buttons which are also hand painted with the most amazing images.  The small sets of satsuma pottery buttons are highly collectible too and are a perfect addition to any satsuma collection.

When buying a Satsuma bowl, vase or piece if satsuma pottery, the marking on the piece will usually denote the name of the factory or company who has produced the item.  Due to the fact that there were so many makers of this fine china and export pottery, the markings will vary from piece to piece. If the item has the words "ROYAL SATSUMA" or the word Satsuma written in english, then it will be a fake, made for the mass market and possibly made in China.


Satsuma Figure

Apart from the array of pottery that the Satsuma region on the southern island of Japan is famous for such as vases, bowls, buttons and plates - there were also other types of pottery made using the same style and practice used by the same makers.  One of these types of pottery is the figure or figurine.

Some may dispute that there are no Satsuma figures made as they seem to fairly seldom found or collected but there are some that can be traced back to the same makers of satsuma bowls and vases.

The satsuma figure will always be of a person or Satsuma Immortal from Japan, often holding an item such as flowers or a fan and posing rather than performing a task such as working.  The characters and figures also feature heavy decoration to their clothing and any part of the landscape that may feature in the design.  The artwork on the piece follows the usual Satsuma style with heavy use of gold, intricate, detailed images and patterns covered with a cracked glaze.  The pottery is also of a creamy or light brown or beige appearance.  A Satsuma figure was never made from porcelain which was used in Japan to make the also well known white and blue items that you can find at auction, but the Satsuma pieces were all made from earthenware pottery.

It often seems that many of the figures that were made in the satsuma style are slight caricatures of the people they are imitating.  Possibly not the kind of caricature that we many know from modern cartooning, but certainly designs that distort the size and forms.

The figurines are certainly collectible items and are often found at auction houses all over the world.  As per other Satsuma pieces, ensure that the item is not one of the mass produced types that also came from the Satsuma region around the time that many of the other finer pieces were being made.  The Satsuma style and name was also copied all over the world and many imitations made that claimed to be from the Japanese area made famous by these beautiful pieces.