Satsuma ceramics date from 17th century Japan when the Prince of Satsuma established a kiln on Kyushu Island that employed Korean potters. A cross between porcelain and pottery, Satsuma earthenware became popular in Japan and worldwide from the 18th century. Satsuma ware has a cream coloured body, thickly applied colours, gold leaf, and a crackled glaze. Vases are the most collectible Satsuma pieces because of their detail and fine decoration.
Examine the vase for any words or marking in the English language. These will indicate a fake. Genuine Satsuma ware only has markings in the Japanese language. The words “Royal Satsuma” or “Japan” in English are common on reproduction Satsuma pieces.
Check the glaze closely. It should form a crackled pattern like a random matrix around the vase. A cream-coloured body should be visible underneath. The earliest and most valuable pieces were covered in a thick dark glaze.
Tap gently on the earthenware body of the vase. The crackled glaze will make a genuine piece emit a dull sound. If it “rings”, it is a fake.
Look carefully at the decorations on the vase. These should be traditional Japanese scenes depicting landscapes, plants, animals, dragons, and geisha girls. Any contemporary scenes would indicate a modern copy.
Examine markings on the base of the vase. A circle with a cross inside it is part of an image associated with the Japanese emperor of the time, and also part of the Shimazu - the Satsuma family - crest. Artists’ markings may be in red, black, or gold lettering on the base of the vase, or in gold letters on a red, black, or brown background that is surrounded by a gold frame.
Consult a reference book on Japanese ceramics to identify the artists’ markings. One of the most famous names is Kinkozan, a family of potters working from 1645 to 1927 who included Satsuma ware in their collection from the 19th century. Ryozan was a famous 19th century artist working in the Yasuda factory. The work of Yabu Meizan, who produced Satsuma earthenware between the 1880s and 1920s, carries his own, usually gold, shield.
Avoid chipped or damaged vases. Satsuma ceramics are widely available outside of Japan. Any damage can cut prices by a significant amount.
Look out for Satsuma “Gosu Blue” vases. These have a deep blue glaze and were produced in limited quantities in 19th century Kyoto. They are some of the most sought after versions of Satsuma vases.
Tips and warnings
- Avoid chipped or damaged vases. Satsuma ceramics are widely available outside of Japan. Any damage can cut prices by a significant amount.
- Look out for Satsuma “Gosu Blue” vases. These have a deep blue glaze and were produced in limited quantities in 19th century Kyoto. They are some of the most sought after versions of Satsuma vases.