Learn about Netsuke

As the kimono, the traditional form of Japanese dress, had no pockets, the Japanese men suspended small items they needed to take with them, such as tobacco pouches, purses, pipes and writing implements on a silk cord from their sash, and stop the cord slipping, it was fed through a toggle - a netsuke.

Originally the toggle was made from found objects such as roots or shells, which were selected for their aesthetic appeal, but over time the toggle itself developed as an art form. Many fine carvers devoted themselves to netsuke, but the demand was so great, that their manufacture was taken up by other craft persons such as lacquerers, metal artists and potters.

While ivory is the most commonly used material, netsuke were also made from wood, bone, lacquer, metal and other materials.

The custom of wearing netsuke flourished in Japan for more than three centuries - from around 1600 to the mid 19th century, but the golden age of the netsuke is considered to be from 1800 to 1850. The custom developed in the 16th century when tobacco smoking using a pipe was introduced by the Portuguese. more...

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An old Japanese carved ivory Manju netsuke, carved in relief with a fierce figure confronting a mythical dragon, fine detail, carved character marks to the reverse. Diameter 5.3 cm

A 19th century Japanese carved ivory Manju netsuke, circular disc form, incised carved with a mythical beast, double signed character mark to reverse, black stained recessed detail. Diameter 5.3 cm

A 19th century Japanese carved ivory netsuke of two pups, one upon the back of the other, good old yellow tone and polish. Character mark signature to base.

A Japanese carved ivory netsuke, late-19th century depicting a rat on a coiled hank of rope. Inlaid black horn eyes. Signed, length 6.5 cm

A netsuke type carved ivory figure of two back to back Hotei figures, both with smiling expression, seated with bare chest and fat stomach. Painted inkwork decoration, signed

Japanese ivory netsuke, early 20th century, depicting a squirrel on a chestnut, details engraved and stained with ink, red incised signature to underside, single himotoshi, together with Japanese Negoro lacquer netsuke of Shishi, lying with its cub, unsign

Japanese wood and ivory netsuke, Meiji period, 19th century, the crouching figure wearing an ivory kendo mask, his garment engraved with geometric motifs, unsigned, single himotoshi, height 4.8 cm. Provenance: Christie's, London, October 1989, lot 6197

Japanese ivory netsuke, Meiji period, late 19th century, by Minjo, depicting two sumo wrestlers, details engraved and stained with ink, signed on an inlaid red lacquer tablet, single himotoshi, height 5 cm

Ivory and lacquered netsuke, Meiji period, late 19th/early 20th century, probably by Kokoku, the seated figure depicted cleaning the floor, wearing a stained and lacquered garment inlaid with mother-of-pearl, signed and inlaid red tablet to underside, leng

Ivory netsuke of a Shishi, Edo period, 19th century, the mythical animal with its cub, shown on a pierced ball enclosing a small stained ivory ball, the eyes inlaid with blue glass, signed, height 3.5 cm

Antique Japanese ivory netsuke, depicting a man holding a fan, signed to base, 4 cm high NB These may not be exported without CITES documentation.

Antique Japanese ivory netsuke, depicting a man holding a fish, signed to base, 4 cm high NB These may not be exported without CITES documentation.

An antique signed ivory netsuke of a Mandarin duck, Edo period, 19th century, with signature of Tomokazu, the seated mandarin duck or oshidori finely engraved and inked to delineate feathers; signed underside; with valuation certificate from Hikari Traders

Early 20th century Japanese ivory netsuke. Fukurokuju with his staff, accompanied by five attendants, all standing atop a dragon turtle. Signed. Height 6 cm

19th century Japanese ivory netsuke. 7 monkeys climbing on a gourd. Signed.. Height 4.5 cm

Early 20th century Japanese ivory netsuke. Fukurokuju with two dogs. Signed. Height 5 cm

Early 20th century Japanese ivory netsuke. Man holding a bowl of sake. Signed. Height 3.5 cm

Early 20th century Japanese Karakuri netsuke. Wooden lion head netsuke with trick mechanism. Mouth opens to reveal ivory mask carver with mask. Signed. Wood, horn and ivory. Height 4 cm

Meiji ivory carved netsuke of Fukurokuju modelled with a child on his back. Signed to the base. Height 4.8 cm, weight 36g

Antique Japanese ivory netsuke, depicting a man with revolving face, signed to base, 5 cm high approx

A vintage signed ivory netsuke, early 20th century, well carved as conjoined tumbling Buddha figures carrying fans, one with black ink decoration, the other with tan colours, with himotoshi and engraved and inked signature, height 4 cm

A signed antique ivory netsuke of a scholar, Meiji period, late 19th to early 20th century, a finely carved seated figure with light engraving and inking, reading a text upon a barrel, with himatoshi and signature of two characters underside, height 4 cm

Three Japanese carved ivory netsuke, early to mid 20th century, tallest 5 cm high

Antique carved ivory camel netsuke, circa 1920s, height 3 cm approx

Antique Ivory netsuke of man with 2 faces, height: approx 5 cm. NB this item may not be exported.

Antique ivory netsuke of figure of a man, height: approx 4 cm. NB this item may not be exported.

Two signed Japanese Kataburi netsuke, in ivory, a figure of an elderly seated man playing a drum, signed Nan-Taku underside and with himotoshi to the back, the other depicting a man apparently hitting a child on the head with a clacker and in the Company o

Japanese ivory netsuke of a fisherman with eel on his back

Japanese antique carved ivory netsuke circa 1900, signed to base, 5 cm high. NB this item cannot be exported.

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