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Q I picked this up at a local Goodwill store because of its detail. I am almost positive that it is an export piece but it is so intricate. The same picture is on both sides and it stands 13-3/4 inches tall. Any information is welcome.

— B.C.
via email

A Let’s talk Satsuma.

The Satsuma with which most people are familiar is late Satsuma or nishikide. It is a distinctive Japanese pottery present during the Meiji period (1868 to 1912). The ceramic example has a warm cream, ivory to beige background with a crackled glaze. It bears over-glaze designs in orange, green, blue, red, or gold decoration. One of the more distinctive features of this Satsuma is the crackled glaze and the overall painted decoration. That element is easily palpable and often done in a technique known as moriage.

A Goodwill store "Satsuma" purchase. 

A Goodwill store "Satsuma" purchase. 

Moriage, a Japanese word that translates as “heap up,” is a trailed-slip decoration originally used to indicate the gilt beading seen on Japanese pottery; however, the term has also become widely used in describing the matte, slip layered, heavy relief designs seen in Japanese ceramics especially identified with the style known as Dragon Ware, where slip is layered in a heavy relief design of trailing dragons. However, there are exceptions to this generalized description of a creamy, crackle-glazed, polychrome enamel-painted pottery. Those of you familiar with my articles and appraisals know there is usually one or two or more “however” qualifications. One true and certain fact about antiques is there are always rules and there are always exceptions to those rules.

Key to Authenticating Is Lack of English Marks

Now that I have deposited the above description of Satsuma in the Antique Information Bank of your brain, I am adding a codicil of sorts. The origins of Satsuma lie in the seventeenth century. Early Satsuma was sparingly decorated with large unpainted cartouches, and comes in a variety of colors including white and black, along with a number of glazes including blue/gray, and a mixture of yellow, black, and blue with over- and under-glaze decorations.

Genuine Satsuma is native to Japan and never anywhere else including China. Genuine Satsuma never has English writing on it; no “Made in…,” no “Hand-Painted,” no “Genuine…,” and no “Satsuma” anything.

Satsuma vase

Satsuma vase, circa 1820. 

Genuine Satsuma is hand-painted with Japanese images, Chinese figures do not appear on genuine Satsuma and genuine Satsuma is marked in Japanese. Not all Satsuma marks are the same. I am familiar with at least ten but I’m sure there are more. Satsuma usually has the artist’s signature along with the Satsuma mark. Whatever the Satsuma mark used, many Satsuma pieces include the Shimazu clan mark, a red, hand-painted circle with a cross inside (like the crosshairs in a gunsight). If you do have a piece that you suspect is genuine Satsuma, there are many on-line Satsuma resources that can help you identify the mark. One of the best is

Royal Satsuma marking

A mass-produced "Royal Satsuma" marking.

English marking on Japanese pottery is a post-WWII characteristic. Pieces bearing the mark on your vase, “Royal Satsuma,” date to the late twentieth to early twenty-first century when “Royal Satsuma” was mass-produced. A pair of vases comparable to yours recently sold for around $75 and a twenty-three inch Royal Satsuma floor vase sold in the same range. I would place a value of $30 to $40 on your vase.

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