EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 17, 2013

Satsuma pottery fell in quality over the years

By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Dear Helaine and Joe:

These two vases are each 181/2 inches tall. I inherited them from my mother, who got them from a sale in 1946. I understand that they were quite old then. As you can see, the bottoms have different markings, and although the vases look alike, there are slight differences in the patterns. They are in good condition with no chips or cracks. Anything you can tell me about them would be most helpful — especially the age and valuation.

— M.H., Bonita Springs, Fla.

Dear M.H.:

First of all, these vases were made in Japan, and are known as “Satsuma.”

The first Satsuma was produced in the early 1600s after the Lord of Satsuma captured 22 Korean potters and their families in a war to conquer Korea. The unlucky potters were brought to Japan and settled in Kagoshima and Kushikino, but in 1601 they were resettled near deposits of white clay found at Naeshirogawa.

These potters, their families and progeny were kept as virtual pottery-making slaves for several hundred years. The body of the pottery they created was semi-porcelain and was covered with a crackle glaze that ranges in color from beige to cream or ivory.

This crackle glaze provide a beautiful surface for raised enamel painted decoration. The best of these Satsuma wares were very attractive and artistic in nature, and when the Americans arrived in Japan during the mid-19th century, they liked Satsuma wares almost as much as the Japanese did.

The demand for export grew and the Japanese set up kilns outside the Satsuma region to make Satsuma-style wares. The kilns were set up in Tokyo, Kyoto, Awaji and Yokohama, and the pieces made in these export kilns tended to be more brightly colored, and extensively painted.

Over the years, the quality of these export wares went down until, by the 1920s and ‘30s, they had become rather crude. They came to the United States by the literal boatload and were often retailed in 5-and-10-cent stores.

Today’s collectors sometimes call this type of Satsuma “Woolworth Satsuma,” and it has little appeal to serious collectors of more artistically made Satsuma wares. Unfortunately, the two vases in today’s question were not “quite old” when M.H.’s mother purchased them in 1946. Instead, they were maybe 20 years old.

The marks on the bottom are by the persons who painted them, and because they were different individuals, that is why there is a slight difference in the two.

Checking current auctions, we find that vases such as this pair often do not do as well as one might expect. Our pieces are brightly decorated in a style that immediately identifies them as being from the late second quarter or early third quarter of the 20th century. They have nice clay cording down the side and the painted figures are somewhat crude, but attractive.

We feel these Satsuma vases should be valued at retail in the $400-to-$500 range for the pair.