Japanese glass floats

Shrine Sale Stories…Treasures From My Trip To Tokyo

My long weekend in Tokyo was simply sublime. Days of friends and food and lots of shopping were just the restorative I needed. The weather didn’t cooperate, but it didn’t really matter. Kawagoe was a bit thin on the ground because of the threat of rain and unfortunately the next two days delivered the promised precipitation, although it didn’t keep us from the markets. It did however keep me from taking lots of photos, so most of the finds recorded are from the first day out. I also broke my own rule of “buy it when you see it” a few times, mulling over the weight and difficulty of transport, which meant I lost out on a few things, although as usual, there is a funny story attached to one of them.

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There were some things that didn’t get away – like these swirling blue and white dishes – and others that did – like these kutani lidded teacups – so beautifully painted they looked like brocade.

kutani lidded teacups

This very fine takamakura, complete with original buckwheat filled pillow went home with a friend.

takamakura

A search for a tansu was successful, yielding this lacquer beauty for a fraction of its retail price. Tansu at shrine sales are often in poor condition which is why they are a bargain, but this dealer had lovingly restored this piece.

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Brought home and placed in the entry it will be a workhorse, holding gloves and scarves and general entry clutter.

lacquer tansu

Speaking of tansu in poor condition, I also popped in to the The National Art Center to view the Joint Graduation Exhibition of Art Universities. Not sure what the meaning of this installation of destroyed tansu by Shunsuke Nouchi is meant to represent, but I couldn’t resist including it. Student exhibits in Japan, as elsewhere, can be really fun, ranging from discoveries of major talent to down right awful. I can’t help but feel bad for these chests!

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Another friend and client scored really big, bringing home all kinds of treasures. The giant wooden gears – very Vincente Wolf – will be hung as a focal point on a bare wall. We got very lucky, finding three with just the right amount of variety in size, shape, color and detail. A vintage onbuhimo, better known as a baby carrier, has lovely indigo cloth woven into its straps. And a large lacquer carrying chest, billed as Edo period by its dealer, but not, is extremely decorative with its etched brass hardware.

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As for my haul, I had to keep reminding myself that I had to carry anything and everything I bought home. So I left behind an entire basket of small fishing floats and even some charming porcelain. I had to have the gray and white bowls – which were likely the more expected blue originally but now faded – because I knew they would look great with the dining table and they are that perfect not too big, not too small size. I picked up a few wooden pieces, a tray and some itomaki, including this unusual long one. A small hibachi with the great geometric asa-no-ha or hemp pattern was also a keeper. But as always, my eye and my wallet are equally lured by non-Japanese discoveries and I fell in love with these bright Turkish glasses and a cut glass jam pot. I’ve been having a bit of a glass fetish lately – wait, aren’t I always having some kind of glass fetish?

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The promised funny story is about the glasses, made for serving arabic tea, but I can imagine them holding dessert or even wine. I saw five of them, 3 pink and 2 purple, on a table at one of my favorite dealers at Kawagoe and passed them only because I decided there weren’t really enough to be useful and their fragility made them hard to transport. My mind kept returning to them over and over (those silver mounts!) as I wandered so I went back only to discover they were gone – massive bummer!

arabic turkish tea glasses

Imagine my surprise when later that evening I walked into the kitchen of the dear friend I was staying with for the week. Long my partner in crime and shrine sales, SHE had bought the glasses and they were now sitting on her kitchen counter. It was one of those moments of fierce purchase jealousy, but the truth was if I couldn’t have them, better she did than some stranger. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself while contemplating going to the mat for them.

Turkish glasses

The surprise continued when we saw the same dealer the next day and once again he had 5 of the glasses out on his table. It was a confusing moment of déjà vu, but we at least had the good sense to ask if he had more and it ended up he had an entire box! So all’s well that ends well and one day we have to have a massive party together and use them all!

Related Posts:
Shrine Sale Stories…Recent Treasures
Shrine Sale Scorcher…Vintage Mirrors on an Extremely Hot Day
Shrine Sale Stories…Vintage Matchboxes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel and The 1948 London Olympics
Shrine Sale Stories…Yamamoto’s Steamer Trunk
Shrine Sale Stories…My French Moderne Bar Cart

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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Sayonara Series…Styling Rules and Japanese Accessories

This is one of those posts in which I could have based entirely on photographs of local collections but unfortunately, everyone’s movers worked way faster than expected and most of my anticipated photos got packed up! But everything in this post, while geared towards styling Japanese vintage and antique accessories holds true for just about anything from anywhere. But don’t expect this post to be exhaustive in topic or example. Obviously I could write ten posts about groupings of blue and white porcelain (just look at this month’s House Beautiful) or Japanese glass fishing floats (and I have in the past here, herehere and here for example) as well as some of the more unusual decorative objects we find regularly in Japan (kashigata, katagami, hagoita, come to mind). The focus of this post is really not what you are displaying, but how. I have a few simple “rules” to go by, nothing particularly original, but if you use these, your displays will be better.

One of my most basic rules is the rule of multiples. You can display a single item of a kind, like this Japanese basket perched above the drinks cabinet…

…but beyond that, with the exception of matched pairs, you need a group a similar objects placed together, like these amazing ikebana (flower arranging) baskets on the side board of an apartment designed by Emily Henderson for Michael Reisz on an episode of HGTV’s Secrets of a Stylist. Like objects should always be grouped tightly together, not placed around a space separate and unlinked from each other. I call this the “anti-pimple” rule of display.

Also demonstrated by these baskets is the rule of odd numbers, with the exception of matched pairs again (more on that later). If at a glance you can instantly count the number of objects in a grouping an odd number will always look better. I am sure there is some organic mathematical or mystical reason for this, depending on your personal perspective, but in this case just take my word for it.

The next rule is is that of varied elevation. If the baskets were just lined up on the sideboard, they would look nowhere near as good as they do with some placed higher on wooden boxes. Even their own variety of height would not achieve the same effect.

The rule of containment is to use a single decorative object such as a tray or bowl to corral another collection. We find these roughly hewn soba bowls at shrine sales all over Japan and they are great for holding collections of glass fishing floats…

…floats plus shells and souvenir rocks (love this idea!)…

…or how about hard to store baseball paraphernalia?

Another rule demonstrated by these bowl displays is to use no more than 3 types of objects and ideally either 1 or 3 (odd numbers again). The grouping of all floats is cohesive, the combo of floats, shells and rocks is cohesive, and the mitts and balls work even though there are only two types of items because one of the mitts is very dark in color and reads as a third type of item. If you put too many kinds of items in the bowl, then it will just look like a bunch of junk.

Here Lauren Liess of Pure Style Home uses her bowl to hold magazines. Isn’t it amazing how attractive even the most mundane items can be when displayed correctly?

Another favorite local collectible I have not yet written about is kokeshi dolls, the simple armless painted wooden dolls which originated in northern Japan, but are now made and sold all over the country. Vintage examples from the last 100 years or so of different varieties are a shrine sale staple. They are charming, and easy to collect.

While cute, it is important to give enough gravitas to their display to keep them from looking insignificant. This grouping is crowded by the other unrelated objects on display…

…in comparison to this grouping, where the dolls have space to breathe and coordinate with the other objects nearby. This collector has also chosen to use the rule of strict palette/shape/style to limit which colors and types she buys to create cohesion through the simple black and red paint, while using a variety of heights to create dynamism in the vignette.

This shelf effectively boxes the collection much in the way the soba bowls did above. The enclosure helps to unify the variety of dolls collected.

And here the kokeshi have been literally “boxed” to create cohesion from their variety. Note this display follows the rule of odd numbers and the rule of varied elevation in a vertical format. I do love these cute washi (Japanese paper) lined boxes – they remind me of this and this. And if you are interested in making these there is a DIY tutorial on Poppy Talk too!

Here we have a beautiful grouping of antique iron teapots, but the collection is not yet complete. Imagine this grouping if you either added one or took one away. Imagine if all the teapots sat at the same height instead of having one raised. The plan for the fifth teapot to complete this vignette is for it to be a larger fairly horizontally volumed one. Perhaps another small kettle stand with shorter legs than the one pictured will also be added.

Summer calls, but I owe you some follow up posts on rule-breaking display, because if there are rules, they must be broken, as well one on matched pairs, which have their own display rules. Watch for upcoming related posts on a basket wall installation I did in Tokyo right before leaving for the summer and in contrast, some tiny decorative items that ingenious friends are putting to good use.

Related Posts:
Vignette Arranging With Shrine Sale Goodies at the Beach House
Ways to Display…Porcelain on Brackets
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…Vintage Etched and Engraved Plateaus
En Masse…Iron Teapots, Vincente Wolf and the Art of Grouped Displays

Image credits: 1. Cottage Living via Bryn Alexandra, 2-3. via Emily Henderson, photo credit: Mark Champion, 4, 9 & 12. me, 5-6. M. Small, 7. via Pure Style Home, 8. Wendy Withers via Apartment Therapy, photo credit: Bethany Nauert, 10. via Decor Allure, 11. Janis Nicoay via Poppy Talk.

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