Both serious collectors and “dabblers” have enjoyed Imari porcelain for hundreds of years. And there’s a good reason for it – Imari’s timeless design just never goes out of style.
A noble history.
Imari is named for the port where porcelain made in nearby Arita was exported by the Dutch East India Company. At the time, Dejima Island in the bay of Nagasaki was the only port open to Dutch, Korean and Chinese traders under the isolationist Sakoku policy. Because the shipping containers were stamped with the name of the port, the porcelain they carried became known as Imari.
Traditionally, Imari began in Japan when Ri Sampei, brought to Japan from Korea, discovered kaolin clay. Made into white translucent porcelain, it was then underglazed in a lovely cobalt blue. It further evolved as Japanese artisans began to overglaze with iron red, green and gold.
Japanese Imari became extremely popular throughout Europe in the 17th Century, and soon the Chinese began to copy the style and, according to some experts, surpassed the original Japanese exports. By the late 1700s Imari’s popularity in Europe started to wane.
Plates or bowls typically have a circular design in the center, surrounded by repeated panels of complementary designs that divide the rest of the space. Authentic colors are iron red, cobalt blue, green, gold, and sometimes, black. (Of course, the older pieces are often blue and white.)
Some pieces will have a Japanese character on the bottom. This is often a symbol for long life or happiness – meaning that the piece was probably made as a wedding gift.
Late 19th Century and early 20th Century Imari is also very beautiful and collectible.
That’s because, whether the piece is from 1733 (antique) or 1933 (vintage), Imari is so lovely that it really doesn’t matter how old it is. Just be sure that you know what you’re getting. Unscrupulous dealers have been known to pass of more modern pieces as “rare antiques.” While it’s common to see pieces listed for several hundred dollars, lovely items can still be had for less than that.
Tips for collectors.
Consulting an Imari expert is always the best way to build your collection or evaluate pieces you already own. However, there are some things anyone can look for when scouring yard sales, flea markets or antique stores:
– NO truly antique pieces are marked “Imari” in English. If such a mark is on a piece, it was made in the mid to late 20th Century.
– “Gold Imari, Hand Painted” appears on modern items made in Arita between 1959 and 1984. These pieces can be collectible.
– To be on the safe side, avoid any “Imari” pieces from China or being shipped from China unless you have expert authentication.
– Toshio Mitimura reproductions of 16th Century Imari are clearly marked as such, and are collectible.
– Japanese and Chinese porcelain often have different marks, left by their kiln supports. It pays to know the difference.
So go out and have fun starting or building your Imari collection! Antique or simply vintage, its history and eternal beauty will make it a lovely focal point for any decor.