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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