Many of us have had the experience of finding out that an article we'd thrown out long ago was, in fact, something quite valuable. My work in the past few years has brought me into contact with various specialists in Japanese pottery and I've assisted one of them in acquiring works of Japanese pottery from other countries. I've also done work with other specialists in antiques, but that's another article.
Every so often, we'll stumble across something at an online auction that appears valuable and I'll get further information on it. Once in a great while, a specialist determines that the piece is actually valuable and I'm asked to conduct negotiations and bid to acquire the work.
You're probably wondering what kinds of things might be valuable in the antique pottery markets in Japan and how you can tell if that Japanese heirloom vase you got from your grandfather or grandmother might be worth something. Well, first of all, look at the bottom for a signature, or something that might be a signature. If it says "Made in Japan" in English, chances are it's of recent origin and not worth any great amount of money.
If you've found what appears to be a signature, look at the condition of the piece. Is it chipped, cracked or damaged in any other way? If it is damaged to a major degree, then it might be better to forget it and just enjoy it as a decoration or pass it on to a friend or relative. You'd probably want to do the same if there has been what appears to be a major restoration.
If you have found what appears to be a signature and the piece looks like it's in good condition, you might want to put it up on an auction site that sells a lot of pottery. Be sure to get a good close-up picture of the mark or signature. I've seen cases on e-bay where folks have had their pottery sold at prices over a thousand U.S. dollars, so if you're lucky you might score big time. On the other hand, I should point out that there are many fakes in early Japanese pottery , so you might just wind up paying a listing fee with nothing to show for your efforts.
Another option is to contact me by filling out the Pottery Estimate Request Form on our site so that I can have a Japanese specialist look at photos of what you have. If you're interested in selling it, you can then put it up for sale at the Museum-Gallery in Kyoto that we have an agreement with if the specialist thinks it's worth something. A sales commission would be deducted when it gets sold and you'd get money for something that probably would otherwise just be collecting dust.
Who knows? That present from your grandparents that you have stored away in your attic may be worth something...
Copyright August 2002. Billy Hammond. Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited.