Archive for February, 2010

Dragonware and Chi, (Part 4 of 5)

CHI – Pronounced (chee) – the meaning of the word is linked to “air” and “breath”.  Chi is a form of energy which waxes and wanes in the body depending on health, and in a space depending on arrangement.  Many Asian cultures have a concept of some form of vital energy which runs through all things.  When it is in a proper state of balance, the energy moves smoothly through the space it inhabits, and supports rather than fights against space. In the case of spaces, many Asian traditions surround organizing objects within an environment to make the space harmonious. An imbalance of chi in a space is believed to lead to bad luck and ill health and there are many rules that surround how things should be arranged in the spaces we inhabit. (Feng Shui) pronounced (fing sway). The rules can be complex and many wealthy households hire professionals to organize their living spaces according to the rules of Feng Shui to bring good chi to themselves and their family.

It was Dragonware that started my 32 year quest for Asian antiques.  When I was a young man starting out on my own and traveling I visited home for a Christmas with my parents and brother and received as a gift from my parents the most beautiful Dragonware teaset you can imagine.  Very high Chi.  I was captivated by the beauty and workmanship. The story that surrounded the peice was very interesting as well. This set belonged to the founder of  “Moorman Manufacturing”  began in 1885 in Quincy Illinois. The founders, E.V. Moorman and brother C.A. Moorman. When E.V. was in his early 20s he married a young woman from Gorin, Missouri.  E.V. and his new bride, married around 1900, made a trip to Japan for a honeymoon (had to sail) and the new Mrs Moorman seen the teaset and had to have it, so E.V. bought it for her as a wedding gift. Packed it up and shipped it with their belongings back to their home in the midwest USA. Not only was the marriage successful but the Moorman Company is still in business today and is a multi-billion dollar success story.  Good chi!  My mother purchased the set from the Moorman Estate and was given the story by an ancestor.  I have owned and cared for it over the last 32 years and it is the cornerstone of my collection of Asian porcelain.  Each peice of Dragonware is painstakingly painted by hand by Japanese artisans who specialize in slipwork.


 I have never seen another Blue set over the past 32 years I have collected. From the Moorman Estate now part of my collection. Note the detail.  The last photo shows the eyes of the dragon. This Dragonware set has “Great Chi”, no matter what space it is in.  Examine the photos closely….not one dot is missing from any peice.


I actually have two complete Dargonware teasets. Both have been a part of my collection for many years. I bought the second set when my second daughter was born in 1989.  I have two daughters.

Dragonware is Japanese and was made by many different companies as was other Japanese pottery. It is a porcelain that ususally has raised moriage dragons on it, usually surrounded by wisp of smoke. The technique that was used to apply the moriage decoration is called slipwork.  Dragonware was made by Nippon in the late 1800s and is still made today.  However, there are hugh differences in the quality of the peices, so with practice the earlier peices are pretty easy to distinguish from the later peices.  The original Nippon peices have extremely ornate and very detailed large dragons, that wrap completely around each peice.  They usually have lots of enamel work around the edges of the item.  They also originally had glass beads for the dragon’s eyes.  The peices made after 1952  are easy to identify as the wormanship (slipwork) is of poor qaulity and undetailed and look as though the work was done in a hurry. Also the slipwork is not as pronounced or raised as the older work that was done. The older peices have enamel work around the edges which the newer pieces do not.


A service of 6 (from my collection) of Smoke Gray/White Dragonware with maroon enamel trim work and Gold Pagoda handles on serving peices. ca. 1920s

There are also other design techniques that are used on Dragonware instead of moriage. They include, Satsuma pieces with the moriage dragons – they look just like the moriage Dragonware but have Satsuma design with enameled handles.  There is Coralene – tiny glass beads are applied to an enamel design and then heated making the finish look like coral. There are many colors used on Dragonware items. The most common seems to be Smokey Gray/White or Black/White. Other colors are Deep Blue, Pastel Blue, Pastel Green, Orange, Red, White/Gold, Brown and Chocolate.  The newer, undetailed peices also have colors that include Pink, Bright Green, Purple and Yellow. There has been a few new peices made in the older colors. Any peice that has a souvenir scene is always new.

Normally Dragonware was made as table items, smoking sets or decorative items ie; ash trays, vases, tea sets, wall pockets, incense burners and lamps to name a few.

A hard to find Dragonware set would be one that has teacups that have a lithopane inside the bottom of the cup.  This is a design, ususally of a woman’s face or full body, known as Geisha. It can be seen clearly when held up to the light. The Geisha adds value to a teacup, with the nude Geisha being harder to find and the most valuable. Imagine that!

In my next post, the last of this series, I will discuss how to care for your collection. How to collect, catalog, photograph and document your collection.  I will also discuss evaluating what is a damaged peice (not noticable to the untrainmed eye) and values.  I will show some of the most recent additions to my collection. So… until then Happy Collecting and remember the best is yet to come.


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Noritake imports to the U.S. market ceased with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. During the course of the war Noritake did sustain some bomb damage and workers as well as materials were in limited supply but the factory did not close. It produced mostly dinnerware for domestic use in Japan.   

For the period from the end of World War II in 1945 through 1952 The U.S. and its allies occupied Japan.  Noritake wares from circa 1948 – 1952 may bear a number of marks including “Made in Occupied Japan” and “Occupied Japan.” It was not illegal for Japanese artist to label their work just “Japan” or “Made in Japan” during this period so not all items made were marked “Occupied”.

From my collection:


Figurines, “Made in Occupied Japan”


In the 1946 – 1947  recovery period for post-war Japan, Noritake production for American servicemen became an important part of their economic recovery.  Noritake marked their items immediately after the war as “Rose China”  However, it is believed by collectors that this period’s wares were not of the quality as pre-war years.  Noritake sales to the U.S. Military PXs continued for many years as a significant market as GIs would buy Noritake wares to send home to loved ones. But also, it is important to keep in mind that the U.S. consumer was reluctant to purchase Japanese wares immediately after the war.   Those sentiments eventually wore off and by 1948 Noritake china again became available in the U.S. markets.

Sango China – Made in Occupied Japan. Service of 12  (78 peices total).


This has been in my family for many years.  We use it every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course I always wash the dishes as all peices are in perfect condition!

For today’s collector, the questions that surround markings of Noritake and the Morimura brothers operations can be extensive.  The loss of  company records during the war makes some questions forever unanswerable. There are some records in “old Japanese” that are yet untranslated. The questions of the color of backstamps, the many different types of backstamps, the dates that peices were made, and the factory location they were made in is questionable by many experienced collectors.  Various collectors have various timelines, so if you collect this porcelain it is important to research and decide for yourself.  Some people call all china made in Japan “Nippon” and I hope I have clearly defined that is just not the case.

Note: The use of a new backstamp, the letter “N” in a wreath was adopted in 1953 by Noritake repacing the long used “M” in a wreath making Noritake wares immediateloy collectible worldwide. From 1945 to 1952, occupation of Japan by the Allied Occupation Forces had been in place and many backstamps for this period say “Made in Occupied Japan”, also collectible because of the limited supply.

In my next post I will discuss Dragonware until then Happy Collecting and remember the best is yet to come.

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Noritake Lusterware

One of the most important contributions of Noritake china was the development of Lusterware.  This was a glazing technique using a bright, single color glaze (brown, blue, orange, green) covered in a thin metallic film.  The result was a polychromatic, iridescent look that grace these peices of Japanese porcelain in a bright rainbow-like sheen.  This technique became very popular with other manufacturers during the 20th century.  The major importer being the U.S.  This was a time after the depression and the beginning of the roaring 20’s and Art Nouveau was in vogue.  In fact, many of the peices of Lusterware from the Noritake family of china is very Art Nouveau. Their biggest production being small peices of giftware that was offered in many U.S. Five & Dime stores.  This is what makes it so collectible.  Although not as popular as “Nippon” and other works by Noritake, some peices of Lusterware command high prices. But there are still great bargains to be found:


An “Art Deco” ashtray marked “Hand Painted, TWNO, Made in Japan” ca. 1921 – 1930 (from my collection).


Years 1921 – 1941

In the first part of this series I discussed “Nippon” and the years 1894 – 1921 and now moving further along in the production calendar for the Noritake company I will explain why they stopped putting “Nippon” as part of their backstamp.

This period of 1921 – 1941 is clearly set apart by two major events, a change in U. S. law and the beginning of World War II in 1941. 

In 1921 American import laws changed to require the place of origin be marked on a product in English.  Since “Nippon” was more a description of an island and a native word to that island, the word “Nippon” was no longer acceptable for imports and the new law.  Backstamps after 1921 state “Japan” or “Made in Japan”.  Thus, it is easier to identify the earlier peices of china by those marked with “Nippon” and later peices by those marked with “Made in Japan”.

Here is an interest mark where the “Hand Painted Nippon” is  overstamped with “Made in Japan” ca. 1921 (from my collection)



Other Makers Marks you might see on Lusterware and a nice photo of a Lusterware cup and saucer (from my collection)


Collector’s can still find excellent purchases and colorful peices of lusterware and it is a wonderful subject of Japanese porcelain to collect at this time.  I believe that Lusterware will increase in value over the next few years and be hard to collect without significant money to invest.

In my next post I will discuss the war years and peices marked “Made in Occupied Japan” so until then Happy Collecting and always remember the best is yet to come.

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The word “Nippon” found in the back stamp on asian porcelain means Japan.  Nippon china was made strictly for export to the U.S. by Japanese artisans who hand painted the porcelain.  Japanese painters thought the scenes were garrish but it was a profitable trade from 1865 to 1921. During the Meiji period 1868 – 1912, much of the porcelain was decorated with gold trim. There are many Nippon china backstamps that were in use during this time, representing the many different porcelain factories of Japan. One of the more successful makers was “Noritake”, which I will discuss in part 3 of this blog.  I have many peices of “Nippon” made by the Noritake company with their backstamp.  Here is an example of a Nippon, very nice Cigarette set with tray, ashtray, match holder and humidor from my collection:


VERY COLORFUL.                                                                                           FAMOUS “GREEN” “NIPPON” BACKSTAMP

Because the Noritake factory subcontracted to other porcelain manufacturers in Japan, there are as many as 400 different markings for Noritake from 1891 – present.

Here are a few more from the late 19th to early 20th century:




In my next blog post I will discuss Lustreware made in the early 20th century, why “Nippon” was not in the backstamp after 1921 and the beginings of the Morimura dynasty in Japanese porcelain.

Until then Happy collecting and remember that the best is yet to come.


3/11/2010  Purchased three Nippon (Tobbaciana) ashtrays.  The middle one with blue rising sun mark and the other two with the green M mark.




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What have you Collected?

Retiring in July 2009, at a young age I decided to unclutter my living, sorting through and cataloging the many things I have collected in my life.  Or maybe, they have collected me.  Never the less, I needed to get organized.

Is this you?  Does your garage look like this?

If so,  first things first, UNCLUTTER.  Then clean, catalog and know what you have and why you have it. 

Want to get rid of some stuff.  eBay it!  Great fun and a good way to capitalize on selling your collectibles.  Also a good place to network with others doing the same.

Stay in touch, I will soon be opening my eBay store front and get caught up in the world of ecommerce. I will be discussing and showing the many items I am buying or selling and why they have value to collectors.

My next post will be “Collecting Asian Antiques.”

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