glass bottles

Old Versus New…Does Provenance Matter?

So I’ve been out shopping for dining room tables and heaven forfend, it looks like I might actually be buying a new one, not an antique. The table is so beautifully made and lovingly finished that mixed in with other pieces you might never even notice. But truthfully, outside of upholstered pieces and IKEA Billy bookcases, I’m not sure I own any new furniture. I can tell you where and when every item was purchased and the story behind it. Which leads me to wonder if that is only my personal obsession? Does provenance really matter to you? Do you care if something is actually antique? Is it looking good and looking right that matters? Is it the story of finding something that matters? Is it the right price?

For me, nothing reflects those questions back more that my addiction to blue-green glass bottles and fishing floats. Having been in Tokyo for the last nine years I have been buying the Japanese variety almost exclusively – you never know a Chinese or Korean piece could have slipped in, but I don’t think so. I look for glass that has distinctive characteristics, from makers marks to hand blown evidence like bubbles and I particularly love wonky necks, spouts and glass screw tops. The floats I have gathered from shrine sale markets and from fisherman directly as they are considered obsolete and can sometimes be traded for a really yummy box of cookies. But funnily enough, while I consider that I have found floats “at the source,” many people think that beach combing them – finding them washed up on the shore – is the only true way to collect them.

glass and fishing float round up

The popularity of this kind of glass has skyrocketed in the last few years to the point of becoming almost ubiquitous. Floats and bottles are in all the catalogs and on all the flash sale sites. So the question is, does provenance matter?

At prices like these, I think the answer is most definitely yes. And if you read the fine print, it’s fairly fuzzy in its implications of age and history. We all know the colors are wrong and that these floats were never used, but if you like these colors do you care?

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 2.51.48 PM

OKL glass floatsWhat if you stumble across a store in Bali selling floats that arguably were made for the tourist trade? Does that make them more interesting or better than ones bought from a catalog back in the USA?

floats in Bali

For me personally, there is just no comparison to a variety of well used floats collected over time. The antique soba bowl holding them doesn’t hurt either. But you all knew I’d say that and I am not sure everyone would agree with me.

small floats in soba bowl

What about these large floats from Wisteria? Again, the fine print says handmade – which they may well be – but there is only an implication that these were used, because in fact, they were not. Note how conveniently the glass blowing pontil falls inside each float, giving it a perfect flat end so that you can style it nicely and easily on your bookshelf or coffee table – not something fishermen prioritized.  But the color and texture of the glass looks lovely. The price isn’t half bad either, especially if you are aware that they are recently made and not antique.

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 2.55.45 PM

But do you think it truly compares to the real thing?

floats and bottle

Bottles with fishing style ropes have become more popular and we all covet that rope bottle lamp that Tom Scheerer and Steven Gambrel love to use. Both of them have perfected the way of blending something that looks old with things that actually are old to create a seamless whole. I’m not sure this bottle does that. And bottles with fishermen ropes seem a bit made up to me actually…

glass bottle float net from hayneedle

The really giant bottles I collect were often covered in protective wicker for transport. Called demijohns, this was the method of choice for transporting liquids for thousands of years – even the ancient Egyptians encased their bottles in papyrus. Over time, many of the bottles lost their degradable wicker casing. leaving just the bottle. While you can find wicker-cased ones all over Europe, I had never seen any of the Japanese ones – used mostly for sake and other alcohol – covered in anything. That is, until right before I left. Can you believe this charmer actually has a bit of ivy growing on it? Swoon-worthy!

demijohn from shrine sale glass

New ones, like these from Pottery Barn, abound on the market. Again the fine print gives the impression of antiquity and use, but I am sure these bottles are new. Would you care? Or would you rather lug some back from that romantic trip in the south of France?

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 3.01.49 PM

I’m finding the shapes and details of the mass market ones to be lacking in variety and interest compared to the ones I have hunted up. Variety really is another advantage of vintage and antique.

other glass jugs and bottles

So before you start feeling bad for me that I have left the land of blue-green glass behind, take a look at one of my most recent Doha finds. Mostly likely Lebanese or from that region, these rustic forms of demijohns were used to transport regional liquids like olive oil. The protective wicker looks like a birds next and the bottle is crooked and handmade, just the way I like it. Since this photo it has cleaned up nicely and come to hang out with its new Japanese friends. The language barrier is slowing them down a bit, but I am sure they will get along fine.

glass bottle lebanon

If you think this post was just one big orgy of self-congratulation that my glass made it through the move intact, then you are correct. But I’d love to hear from you on this subject. Does provenance matter to you? Do you care about true antiquity?

If you want to read more about these treasures you can scroll through posts in the glass floats and glass bottles tags or even read the post that started it all: Buoys, Bottles and Bargains…the Rainy Day Special at Kawagoe

Moving Day…Precious Cargo

So the movers showed up promptly this morning and it was a whirlwind. I have so many fragile and precious items that we planned for a special internal tri-wall container in our container for breakables. So last week I had moved things from the staid and orderly…

antique Chinese bamboo altar table byobu blue and white procelain

…to over the top exuberant, by grouping like items with like. I hadn’t quite realized the sum total of blue and white porcelain I had collected over the years – and this still doesn’t represent all of it!

blue and white porcelain round up

In under an hour, the movers had reduced it (or built it, depending on your point of view) to this. Someone commented on how neatly it was all stacked – c’mon, this is Japan after all.

moving boxes altar table

I haven’t had a moment to blog, but at my final Kawagoe shrine sale a friend asked if there was anything I regretted not buying. Out of the blue I replied that I wished I had bought a blue and white benki – a vintage toilet. Lo and behold, the last dealer I went to had one for a bargain price. Stay tuned to see what I am planning on doing with it in Doha. You can see it tucked in there among the hibachi.

blue and white porcelain round up

Details of some favorite Seto porcelain…

seto porcelain details

…including another last-minute purchase from Tomioka Hachiman, a Seto jubako, as if I needed another.

Seto porcelain jubako round up

How long have I been promising a post on Kutani porcelain? At least two years! I promise to get to it one of these days. A little Imari snuck into this photo too.

Kutani round up

Candlesticks galore…

candlestick round up

…and the cream of a glass fishing float and bottle collection.

glass and fishing float round up

Not everything that needs to be packed originated here. I came with quite a few collections!

lavender transferware  round up

Lavender Staffordshire, better known as transferware, has been a lifelong passion. A rare color and quite difficult to find, I have been buying floral and neoclassical patterns since I was a teen. Mine was made in England (and in a few cases France) in the late 19th century as a shortcut to hand painting china. It actually has a reciprocal relationship with Asian porcelain if you think about it this way – Japanese inban is also transfer printed (they got the idea from the West) but many of the European transfer patterns (think Blue Willow for example) are based on Asian hand painted pieces. More about this here, here and here.

lavender transferware details

When we moved to Tokyo I knew it might be for 3-5 years – didn’t expect 9 – and we planned to rent out our apartment so we moved everything we owned including a few major antiques like this painted 19th century armoire. It has gorgeous flowers and birds on a background of that perfect French green-grey and its original bevelled mirror. You can see the campaign bed I wrote about the other day reflected and it has been in my daughter’s room since she was a baby. Typically, her bedroom in NY didn’t have a closet!

19th c painted french armoire

Our bedroom had another beautiful French piece, an antique Louis Philippe rosewood armoire – with its original mirror, sparkly with age. Luckily our wonky shaped Japan bedroom had an area with a raised ceiling or it would not even have fit.

Louis Philippe Rosewood armoire

When we moved to Tokyo originally, our container went at the beginning of summer although I didn’t travel there with the kids until late August. My husband took care of arranging the move in and we slept in our own beds the very first night we got there, which is actually quite unusual. What he didn’t tell me for months afterwards was that in order to get my beloved armoire into the bedroom, it had to be hoisted up through the window. I have to say I was happy to have missed it and just found it safely where it belonged when I arrived. So I went into today knowing that the only way out was the same as the way in and I was dreading it.  Truth be told – and you can watch it on the video yourself – it was a non-event as the movers here are so great.  Although, there are a few moments of drama around minute one.

A much more important truth to tell is that at the end of the day, the only truly precious cargo is the one reflected in the mirror, not the mirror itself.


But cross your fingers and wish my stuff luck anyway!

Glass Fishing Floats for the Holidays

Sorry to be so MIA, but I have been constantly in motion for the last month – both physically and geographically, but also emotionally, quite frenetically. Not quite ready to talk about any of that yet, but it, along with jet lag and poor internet access, has led to an inability to get posts out in a timely manner. It hasn’t helped that we landed at JFK the morning of the Newtown massacre and that subsequently left me utterly too disheartened to write.

Recent posts on ami, the Japanese fish net pattern, and even a photo in my last post of a great glass fishing float perched on an itomaki silk spool, reminded me that I had an unfinished post on one of my most popular topics still in the hopper. I realized I had a lot of images that pertained to the holidays, so what better way to add a little cheer than some vintage Japanese glass fishing floats for Christmas?

Small floats look wonderful lined up along a windowsill to catch the light, highlighting the variations in color and form.

NYTimes floats in kitchen

The sun streaming through the colors is magical.

fishing floats senbei canisters wi

Look at how it lights up this pair of rare amber ones I recently found.

amber floats

Bottle and float pairings are always perfect and the glass was designed to be exposed to the elements, so catching the sun’s rays outside is another great way to display them.

floats and wine jug via dirty deets

Colorwise, vintage ball jars make great companions.

floats and ball jars via scambledpreservedfriedcured

Here they have been grouped to great effect for a gorgeous holiday display!

fishing floats christmas

I know this is actually the powder room mirror in this photo, but doesn’t it look just like a sparkly silver modern wreath?

Small floats were designed to be strung together in their nets for use.

Seeing these working photos makes me think they would make great garlands on a tree or strung in front of a fireplace.

As ornaments anyone? Amazing photo, no??

hanging fishing floats

Of course it turns out there are a number of great DIY tutorials on how to turn simple glass Christmas ornaments into ones that look like floats, from this one at Sand and Sisal

Glass Float Ornaments (1024x739)[4]

…to this one over at Matsutake.

home made float ornaments

Can’t resist including this photo that has been circling the internet all month – a fairly “alternative” tree in a gorgeous glass bottle!

christmas tree in glass jug

As for upcoming parties and hostess gifts, if you are in a float mood, how about bringing your wine in a bottle net from Alder & Co. They’re even made in Japan and knotted in the traditional manner!

Alder and co net bottle carrier

Obviously I have tons of older glass fishing float posts – just click the glass category on the right if you’d like to read them!

Have the Merriest Christmas and a wonderful New Year! I’m headed to (hopefully) sunny warm Florida, where there are always great antiques and design shops to report on, so you may as yet be hearing from me before 2012 is out.

Image credits: 1. The New York Times, photo credit: Bruce Buck, 2-3. me, 4. via The Dirty Deets, 5. via Scrambled Preserved Fried Cured, 6. via Patina White, 7. Coastal Living, 8-10. from my files, no credits available, 11. Sand and Sisal, 12. Matsutake, 13. via Remodelista, 14. via Alder & Co.

A Few (Glass) Jewels For My One Year Anniversary

Gasp! I thought September 16th was my one year blogging anniversary, but I was wrong. It was the 12th of September and I missed it! I guess I could cheat and back date this post, but to keep my journalistic integrity, I won’t. We’ll just have to celebrate a few days late!

Since I started out at Nogi Shrine, what better way than to commemorate with a few sparkling jewels seen there this past Sunday? Some of my favorite finds are the humblest of objects, like these Taisho era shoyu (soy sauce) bottles.  The disposables of their day, they had no particular value and were simply a method for delivering a product. Fast forward 80-90 years and now they are collectible!

A favorite dealer had basically assembled a complete collection and had I wanted one instantaneously, it was there for the purchasing. While I am often featuring glass in all forms on the blog, what makes these bottles particularly special is their rare glass screw tops.  I had bought a huge green bottle at Kawagoe last spring simply because I was so in love with that screw top. It seems amazing to me that they have lasted in perfect working condition.  These two blue-green ones were my favorites – I love the art deco detailing.

Making beauty from everyday objects like these is something Amy Merrick does particularly well. In addition to drooling over her spectacular flower arrangements, I have followed her posts about found glass and ceramics from Dead Horse Bay in New York. I would love to go junk collecting there but never have the time when I am back in the US. Her collection of found bottles on an antique spool thread display shelf is stunning. To see more of her work, you must go take a look at Amy’s gorgeous new website.

Dealers in Tokyo do a great job of presenting their glass wares, often grouping them by color like these at the Azabu Juban Saturday market.

And this summer I snapped this photo at Lakeview Antiques in Bolton Landing, NY, where they arranged their glass by color and style. I think Ball canning jars like those on the second shelf are some of the most multi-functional and inexpensive vintage glass around. They come in different sizes and colors, display beautifully and have many uses. My friend K used them as vases for a summer night party – nothing simpler or prettier! I just wish I had a photo to show…

…kinda like this.

And Joni just posted this kitchen by Susie Bohnsack over at Cote de Texas. Note how the old turqouise seltzer bottles positively glow like jewels in the backlit cabinet!

If you are interested in glass bottle collecting, Martha Stewart Living recently featured an outstanding article naming and dating different bottle types.

Photo credits: 1-2, 4-5. me, 3. Amy Merrick via An Apple a Day, 6. via Covet Living, 7. Susie Bohnsack/Pearhouse Design via Cote de Texas

Shop Talk…Navigating the Stacks at Yamamoto Syoten

Some antique stores always have primo stock while others are of the hit-or-miss variety. Yamamoto Syoten, a neighborhood antiques shop in Yoyogi-Uehara is the latter. A few visits will yield nothing of interest, and then “kapow!” and you want to buy the whole place. I had been hearing about it from local friends for years, but not actually visited until these past weeks, when I went with friends who are leaving Japan this year and want to stock up on memories. The key to visiting such a shop is a discriminating eye to help you sort through the mixture of vintage, truly antique, not actually old and just plain junk. Japan is not the only country that abounds with shops like these – they can be found all over the world -and they make for some of the most fun shopping around.

One thing found in abundance at Yamamoto Syoten is tansu (Japanese chests). Stacked 3 high in some places in the shop and arranged in tight rows, it is difficult to get a good look at them. I was happy there were no aftershocks while we were in there because I worried they would topple over on us. In addition to large mizuya tansu (kitchen cupboards) and iron strap isho tansu (clothing chests), they also have a large selection of smaller decorative burlwood tansu from the 1930-1940s era. Prices are reasonable and condition is good, although perhaps not excellent. In addition they had lots of vintage lighting, wonderful bevel-edged framed mirrors, piles of porcelain hibachi and many other bits and bobs. The tight quarters made photos difficult, but you can get the flavor of the place from these.

Perhaps the best way to show you what can be found is to highlight my friend’s purchases. She came through and plucked the best pieces and that is the way it always works with stores like this. It will take a while for them to recharge, at least on items like the ones below, but remember, every customer has their own eye, so you may see your own jewels there.

Neither of the light fixtures show to advantage sitting around back in her house. The wooden one on the table cast a soft glow when lit, with patterns coming through the fretwork. The larger iron and glass chandelier will be perfect hanging in her breakfast nook back in Atlanta. And the ceramic geisha pillow (used to preserve elaborate coiffures) is a great conversation piece.

My friend also purchased a big mizuya tansu with some nice details, a rustic ladder on which she is planning to display her vintage quilt collection from India and two huge blue-green glass bottles like mine that she will have turned into lamps when she gets home. And of course there is the requisite glass fishing float too. Sometimes I wonder if I have accomplished anything with this blog other than to turn all of the Tokyo expat community fishing float crazy!

She bought two huge senbei (rice cracker) canisters as well which I forgot to photograph, but they looked much like the big rounded ones in this photo. And don’t forget, I got my fabulous and funky green lamp shade there too!

« Older Entries

Tokyo Jinja

Back to top