How significant can a metal plate be? If it’s an antique Japanese charger, it can create a pretty big bidding frenzy as we witnessed last month at one of our Saturday auctions.
The mixed metal decorative piece measuring 17.5 inches in diameter sold to a bidder who drove all night from California to examine it in person before getting into an exciting bidding war over it. As the winner, she paid $11,300 for it.
She and others knew this wasn’t an ordinary metal plate. In our research, we couldn’t find any markings to identify an artist, but we knew it was an antique and we listed it as Komai-style Japanese mixed metal charger, most likely from the Meiji period (1868-1912).
History buffs will know that some of the most beautiful Japanese art was produced during this period. It was a time of enlightenment, reform and modernization. Prior to this era, Japan had been a feudal society with the ruling Samurai class in charge. Then, when a group of warlords took over in 1867, they restored power to the emperor, even though he was just 15 years old.
With a close-knit group of cabinet advisers, the emperor began making ambitious plans to compete with the West. The class structure was abolished and one of the edicts banned the wearing of swords. Until that point, the metal craftsmen’s main source of income came from the Samurai, who would purchase sword guards and fittings. Fortunately for these talented artisans, the new government encouraged them to focus on art, and they went on to produce lavish metal sculptures, chargers, boxes, vases and other elaborate pieces.
The Japanese metalwork that came from the Meiji period also had a profound impact on the silver industry here in the United States. When Japan emerged from international isolation, designers at Tiffany & Company and Gorham Manufacturing Company began to incorporate Japanese aesthetics, motifs and techniques into their designs.
This was one of those items that comes through the auction house and makes us stop in our tracks. When you think about where it originated and how the artist of that time helped to contribute to a major shift in society, it’s kind of cool that it wound up here in Arizona.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Consignment in Glendale.