Satsuma: marks and makers

Satsuma: the joy of beauty offers you a data-base on Satsuma marks and makers. The database might be helpfull for collectors to identify their satsuma-earthenware. The database is free to use for anyone who is interested.

How to read the datafile Marks and makers.

> scroll down to datafile

This file consist of  three sections:

1: Characters what can be seen frequently within a mark, without being part of the actual makers name. 

The name of the maker can appear isolated, but it is often surrounded by several other characters. Multiple names can be listed on the same item, for example the potters name in addition to that of the decorator. Common characters are:

  • Dai Nippon: Greater Japan. Is placed usually in the right column, is therefore mentioned first.
  • Geographical indications such as Satsuma or Satsuma Yaki (Satsuma work): to indicate that it is Satsuma pottery. More specific geographical indications are also found, such as Kyoto, Awata, Yokohama or Kutani. Usually it is placed after Dai Nippon, if present. The name of the maker does not allways occur, sometimes only the indication of the region like "Satsuma" or only Dai Nippon.
  • Other characters can be found directly below the last character of the name itself, meaning "created by"" . It can occur as sei, zo, tsukuru and is also often abbreviated. The characters above are the actual maker's name, so it's a good indication for the place of the makers name

2: A list of signatures with the character 山 in it (Group 1)

Once you have isolated the characters for the makers name by excluding the other characters, you will find that many of the signatures appears to end with the character 山, pronounced yama which means mountain. If it appears in the name, however, it is usually pronounced as Zan, for example Kinkozan, Taizan or Meizan, only occasionally as Yama, for example Kazuyama.

3:  A list of signatures without this 山 in it (Group 2).

A brief guideline for the identification of a maker, found on a piece of Satsuma.

  • Be aware that Japanase is read from left to right and from top to bottom. In more complicated marks you must read 'the columns, not the rows.
  • Once you have identify the caracters for makers name, go to group 1 or 2, depending whether you find this 山 character in a makers name.
  • Count the number of characters. Most makers name has two or three charters. When there is a 山 in the name, it can be reduced to a single character what have to be identified.  
  • Focus on easy to scan elements in a character.

For instance: 大 日本  薩摩焼  保土田  製  (Dai Nippon Satsumayaki Hododa Sei )

  • Exclude all the common characters, what is not part of the actual name (Dai Nippon, Satsuma yaki  and sei). What is left are these three characters 保土田 being the makers name.
  • There is no 山 in the name, so go to group 2, being the list of names without a yama character.
  • Focus on the character or characters what is easy to recognize. In this case it can be the last two characters 土田. Follow the list of names from A to Z, but keep focussing on 土田. 
  • Unless you are familiair with the Japanese language, remember that you are not 'reading' a text, but 'comparing' an image in your head with the picture on the screen. This 'scanning' can be done fast and easy. Once you have recognize 土田 in the list, you can identify the full signature as 保土田, being Hododa. The other characters you allready had identified, so you can read the wole mark 大 日本  薩摩焼  保土田  製  now as Dai Nippon Satsumayaki Hododa Sei, translated as: Satsuma ware, made in Great Japan by Hododa.   

What's in a name?

 

For every collector of art or antiques it is a sensation to find out for a specific object who the maker is, how old it is and where it comes from. This also applies to collectors of Satsuma. A signature or a trademark can help with this, but its meaning should not be overestimated. The true value of any Satsuma object is in the craftsmanship and the beauty what is in the work itself and not in the signature. The signature can offer you only a rough indication to the maker, the age or origin of the production, the object itself tells the true story.

A few remarks should be kept in mind:

  • The signing of a piece of arts or crafts like Satsuma earthenware was not common in the Japanese tradition. In the west people attach more importance to a signature and with the increasing demand for Satsumaproducts  the Japanese artists and artisans simply met the expectations and demands coming from the west. This does not change the fact that a lot of Satsuma work remained unsigned and that even objects of very good or high quality can often be found without signature.
  • A signature does not mean that the work in question was actually made by the artist in question. Satsuma pottery was produced in very large numbers, by thousands of artists working in hundreds of larger and smaller workshops. The signature therefore often relates to the workshop or the trader who placed the order. Kinkozan and Hododa are examples of this, but alsoYabu Meizan or Kozan signed products were rarely produced by the master himself, but made under their supervision. A signature is therefore rather a brand name than that of an individual creator.
  • A signature on Satsuma products differs in meaning from the signature as understood in the West. Here, a signed work of art serves as a guarantee that it was made by the master himself. If this is not the case, one speaks of a counterfeit. In the Japanese tradition this was not seen as such.  It was not uncommon to use the name of a master to honour him,  and by doing so also meeting the demands from the West to deliver signed work. The annotation that this should be considered as a counterfeit is a western way of looking to signatures. 

Searching the file.

This document is a PDF-file. If you know a name or part of the name and want to look if it is included in this file, you can search for it using the shortcut Ctrl + F, after which the search screen appears. You can also search by using Japanese characters. 

 

Download here:

SatsumaMARKS-UPDATEoktober