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Betwixt and Between

Updated: Feb 16

I’ve come to appreciate 19th century Japanese transferware, but I’m afraid I’m one of the few who has.

Collectors of English transferware ignore it because it’s not English, and collectors of Japanese porcelain and hand-crafted pottery spurn it because it was mass produced.

The three pieces above are representative examples.

The first two have the traditional brown pie-crust border and are known as “Igezara” - "Ige" meaning "notch or thorn", referring to the pie-like indentations found around the rim, and "Zara" or "sara" meaning "plate". The third piece does not have that border but was manufactured using the same technique.

It is thought that the brown border was intended to highlight and focus the central design.

The generally accepted period for this transferware is 1880 - 1910, but there may be earlier and later examples.

This ware is analogous to Staffordshire transferware, a decorative ware made for the average consumer’s daily use at the time of industrialization - England’s in the early 1800’s and Japan’s in the late 1800’s.

As with Staffordshire, patterns were first prepared on copper plates for transfer to the piece. The similarity of the process leads me to believe that, just as they adopted many aspects of British industry as they strove to modernize their economy, the Japanese adopted the decoration techniques of the Staffordshire potteries to produce affordable attractive ceramics for everyday use.

Most of these wares are blue and white, although some have polychrome elements. The reverse of the rim can bear decorative patterns and in some instances the mark of the kiln where it was manufactured. They are very heavily potted and typically range from about 6” to 18’ in diameter.

The designs vary widely. Most include traditional Japanese elements like flowers, trees, or birds. Many incorporate geometric patterns that are similar to the patterns found on Japanese indigo-dyed fabrics.

The first piece has the Igezara brown pie-crust border and is approximately 12” in diameter. It has a dense design in dark blue. The border is decorated with a geometric pattern and cherry blossoms. The center is decorated with a design of two Hoo (Japanese phoenixes) with long tails confronting each other in a paulownia tree. The reverse is undecorated but bears a kiln mark.

The middle piece also has the Igezara brown pie-crust border and incorporates white space in its design. It is approximately 6” in diameter. It utilizes the entire surface of the plate with a design of chrysanthemums. The reverse is undecorated but bears the kiln mark of the Koransha firm, a highly regarded ceramics firm that is still in business today. Although it produced limited examples of transferware, those it did are of very high-quality.

The third piece does not have the Igezara border but is similar in manufacture. It is approximately 12” in diameter. One half is decorated with a fan-shaped landscape scene with pagodas, rocks, trees, and mountains. The other half is decorated with alternating panels of flowers and tree branches. The reverse of the rim is decorated with three simple blue designs.

The first (and for the longest time the only) book to investigate Igezara was “Igezara, Printed China”. It was published in 1994 by Andrew Seton, an Englishman living and teaching in Japan. More recently, Keigo Watanabe published “Igezara Museum”, which is lavishly illustrated with color photographs.

I believe that Japanese 19th century transferware is a very underappreciated collecting area and warrants more attention. To that end I always keep pieces in stock, so please take a look.

R.J. Ruble

Ericsson Street Antiques

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