About quality, value and collectability of Satsuma-objects

 

The nice thing in collecting Satsuma is that it is not hard to find. Search on E-bay or comparable online auctionsites and you will see hundreds of items offered every day by particulars, collectors or antique dealers from all over the world. And although a lot is hardly worth to mention, there is also a lot what is really not bad at all and sometimes even very good. Occasionally you even can find pieces what are true masterpieces. As with all antiques, there is fake Satsuma too, most Chinese imitations what often can be recognized quite easely because it is stamped in English on the back or bottom and all you have to do is read. Nevertheless, it must be said that it is possible to get a nice Satsuma collection within a year because there is still a large amount of good to very good items available. And of course, when you are prepared to pay good money for it everything can become yours, even the true masterpieces.

A huge amount of Satsuma ware was exported during the Meijiperiode and afterwards, and some of them are very attractive regarding to craftmanship of pottery and brushwork. By closer examination, you will notice that there is a lot of copying in the design, what makes that some of the ware are almost the same in design, form and colouring, although marked different. Try to find a special design, something what is obvious not copied or mass produced, but an indivdual creation by an individual maker, even when it is not signed at all. It’s not the signature but the item itself what makes that it is collectable. By looking and looking again on what is on the market, you get a good idea what Satsuma is different in the depiction or form. 

Because the supply is huge, there are a few considerations to have in mind when starting a Satsuma collection: What do you want to collect? How to recognize good quality Satsuma? What is it worth an where to buy it? 

What exactly do you want to collect?

Satsuma pottery was produced in all possible forms: vases, bowls, decorative plates, figurines and utensils such as crockery and buttons or brooches have been and still are produced in various quality. However, Satsuma as we know it in the west is not only appreciated for its shape, but especially for the refinement of decoration and painting. Two plates or vases that are identical in shape can be dismissed as mass production after painting or recognized as masterpieces. Many pottery objects were also delivered blank by potters in Satsuma itself and decorated in studios elsewhere in the country. The pottery is therefore the support, although it is clear that the delicacy of the form also adds value to the piece itself. The open pierced work in particular is delicate to see. The highrelief ware also has its charm. Nevertheless, it's obvious that a plate has little diversity in appearance, where an incense burner (koro) has more possibilities to distinguish itself. In most cases, however, the painting is the best indicator for quality. Personal taste and style of the maker, but also of the viewer play a role in this. 

For all this the main question is: what exactually do you want to collect? Of course you can go for everything what is on the market and called Satsuma. You also can decide to limit yourself to some extent. Only vases, or only plates or only koro’s, buttons or hatpins for instance. Or only miniatures instead of the bigger sized items. It’s not hard to display a 100 miniature items, but how does it look in your house when they are 40cm each?
 Collecting by the depicted image on it is another possibilty. Only story-telling items, for instance, or only floral decorations, or with repetitive decoration like mille fleurs, thousand faces or butterflies. Work of only a few artist is also a possibility. Collecting Kinkozan only, means that you can get a nice scope of Satsuma ware, because he worked in all styles possible, and produced very high quality, though not all of his work can meet this standard. Limiting yourself means also that you exclude a lot of other, wonderfull pieces of Satsuma. But it’s worth to think about.

Possible criteria in judging quality

Whatever kind of Satsuma you want to collect, remember that quality should be the main criterion. Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, everyone should make up his or her own standards for quality. A few considerations to keep in kind:

Good Satsuma was never done rushly, in contrast with the most what you can find on the market. The brushwork must give you a thrill of admiration, just by watching it. Look at the dots, if there are, and see with how much care every tiny dot was placed on the surface. Quality can be recognized by the way in which in particular the detailing has been carried out. Large amounts of repeating motifs, such as circles, parallel lines, the leaves on a tree, are each applied individually and with complete precision and not frayed, and the difference is clearly perceptible.

The lines and the use of color are nuanced. Satsuma paintings are graphical in design, the various figures and patterns usually have a clear contour. By applying nuances to the lines, from thick to thin and from dark to light, a three-dimensional effect can be obtained. Pay particular attention to the lines in face and clothing. The same applies to the larger areas such as air and water. The nuance is mainly due to the transparency with which the glaze has been applied, which makes it look like water color has been used. Look at the brushwork of human figures, on good Satsumawork the face shows a real person, and there is a kind of interaction between the figures. The hands and the fingers are done with care and skill, they are not five stripes on a row, but real hands. The goldwork and outlines accentuates the dimensionality of  the object, what can be seen very good on the clothes and dresses of the figures. The branches of trees gives you an idea of perspective. A tree is not a flat thing, you can walk around it. All these, and more can give you an indication of the quality of Satsuma ware, creating  a much livelier, less static image than with bulk products.

Just remember that in good quality Satsuma ware the details always have been applied with great care. Quality products are not mass products and the difference is clear to see. 

 

Buying Satsuma. What’s it worth and where to buy it.

WHAT'S IT WORTH? 
 The best and highest quality Satsuma is still available on the market, but not for a few dollars or euro’s. In contrast with paintings, where it is possible to find an old masterpiece among the junk on a fleamarket, and get it for little money compared with the true value, high quality Satsuma is allways  attractive, just by the beauty what is in it.  An old canvas with dust and a brown darkned varnish and an unreadable signature can turn out to be an early work of a highpriced master. With Satsuma that never will be the case, the seller really doesn’t need to be an expert to see that his vase has some value, because Satsuma was made to be attractive and pleasant for the eyes in every detail what is on it. And in contrast with paintings, age has little influence on this beauty. Of course it can be damaged and cracked all over, but in that case you will not be interested in it anymore. 

Don’t start with buying, but with looking. 
Take the time to see what Satsuma actually is or can be. Search on internet the catalogues of the well known auctionhouses like Sotheby’s and see what they have. Most likely, and not surprisingly of course you’ll find the better pieces here. At least it gives you an idea about good quality Satsuma, with an adequate description and an estimate of the value. Don’t buy anything before you have a rough idea about what is good and what is bad quality in Satsuma. And even then: never pay too much, unless you are sure it will stay in your collection for a long, long time. Have in mind that you cannot keep it all, and that when it comes to upgrading and selling, it should be nice if at least you get your money back.

It is impossible to give a precise indiciation for the value of a good piece of Satsuma. It all depends of the item itself.  But in general it is difficult, though not impossible to find some real good Satsuma under 100 euro.   For 200-300 euro it is very good possible to get something of good quality, but for this price really high quality Satsuma is not always  in mint condition.  Minatures are most of the time in good condition.For 300-500 euro it is not hard to purchase very good quality Satsuma, also older pieces with gosu blue on it, and also of bigger size as miniatures. For 500-1000 euro it certainly is possible to find high quality work, and above 1000 euro you should ask yourself if it is really worth to pay a price what will be difficult to get back, once you want to sell it again. Very high prices are only paid for exceptionally work by exceptional makers as Yabu Meizan, Seikozan, Ryozan, Taizan Yohei and others. Unless your piece bears their signatures, it will be hard to get your money back.

WHERE TO BUY IT?

There are many places where you can find Satsuma of all kind and quality. 

Regular auctionhouses:  Bargains you will never find on the big auctionhouses, and although it is very pleasant to see what’s for sale, it is not sensible to buy there, unless you can afford it of course. Fortunately there are a lot of smaller auctionhouses nationwide, and most of them organize an auction at least three or four times a year. Most auctionhouses have nowadays the opportunity to bid online, so there is no need to travel around.  Those smaller auctionhouses sometimes offer Satsumaobjects of suprisingly very high quality. The difference with the big houses  is that most of the smaller auctionhouses have no in-house specialist for Japanese or Asian porcelain, and are not always able to see the difference between mediocre or high quality Satsuma, and for this reason cannot provide more information on their site as a good picture of the object itself, and a fair discription of the condition.  For a collector of Satsuma that is enough, the object itself is allways the best criterion. The lack of knowledge makes that in the smaller auctionhouses the estimate price of good quality Satsuma sometimes is far too low, what makes it possible to purchase it for a fair price.  Keep in mind that in auctions, there is a 25-30 procent additional charge on the hammer price of the lot that must be paid by the winner. So a winning bid of 300 euro on an item, means that you have to pay 400 euro.

Online trading sites such as eBay (www.ebay.com) offer a global trading platform where almost anyone can trade virtually unlimited. It is not a real auction site, trading can always be done through fixed prices, the seller determines for which price you can buy, or through an auction with a fixed date with or without a minimum price. Ebay is certainly an interesting way to find good or high-quality Satsuma articles. Because all deals are concluded between seller and buyer, there is no commission. The last bid is what you pay, in addition to shipping costs. Generally the seller is reliable and the description correct. The experiences with the seller is evaluated and rated by former customers what is shown on the site. So everything is transparent and negative surprises are not likely. Although there are sellers who ask ridicolous prices for sometimes mediocre products, it is always up to you if you want to buy it for this price. Bidding on an item what is sold in auction is of course always the best, in that case the market determines the price. For two or three hundred euro’s you can puchase a very good piece allready. True masterpieces in great condition are also offered sometimes, in which case it is more likely you have to pay a thousand or more euro’s.  Be aware that the description was made by the seller, make your own judgement based upon the photo’s. When the pictures are not clear, it is better not to bid on it to prevent disappointments.

Online pseudo-auction sites.

In contrast with the onlinebidding possibility offered by real auctionhouses, there are also a number of ‘auction-sites’ what are in fact search engines for art, antiques and collectibles from thousands of auction houses around the world, offering an huge amount of Satsuma ware sold recently or in the past by auctionhouses all over the world.  After clicking on the desired object, it will send you to the actual auctionhouse, where you can leave yor bid. Examples are www.Liveauctioneers.com, www.Invaluable.com and www.Lot-art.com

Another pseudo-auction site is Catawiki (www. catawiki.com), a Dutch internet company that has been organizing online auctions in dozens of categories since 2011. From 2019 there will be websites in more than ten European languages ​​and Chinese. Although Catawiki presents itself as a real auction house, it is not. In fact, there aren't that many differences with ebay, a global trading platform where almost everyone can trade virtually unlimited. There is a so-called auctioneer, but because there is no life contact between the auctioneer and the item itself (so no judgment is possible), and the seller remains responsible for what is stated in the description, it is doubtful what his function actually is. The estimates given are fairly arbitrary, the seller has influence (between margins) on the estimate, there is no direct communication possible between buyer and auctioneer, and you have to pay a commission of 9 percent. Nonetheless: if you use Catawiki as it is: a platform between buyer and seller, then it is a nice way to buy a good item of Satsuma, although you will find more often mediocre items.

Fleamarkets and garage sales.

Although it is always nice to walk around a flea market, to see all second-hand clothing, books, paintings and toys, you will find it hard to find something if you are looking for it. The best is always to go and be surprised by what there is, junk and gems. Finding a good piece of Satsuma at a flea market will only happen if you are not looking for it. And then of course it is a wonderful moment that you can get it for not too much money. Going to a flea market and enjoying all the things on offer is always fun and that should be the main reason to go. And if you find something unexpected, you will be happy, and if not, you will not be very disappointed. But going to a flea market, just to find some Satsuma, seems like a waste of time.