Japanese Antique Lacquerware Letter Box

Japanese Lacquer 'Fubako' Letter Box, 19th Century


Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 8-0” x 2 3/8” x 1 ¾"H

Covered boxes of this type, called fubako, were used for storage or transport of small rolled documents in the form of scrolls. This rectangular lacquer box has tapered edges, having brass and silver Meiji decorative fittings, (kana mono), one side having a fan-shaped decorative brass and silver-plated ornament, and on the other side a brass and gold-plated ring with a paulownia blossom with attached, green silk Kumihimo, (braided and gathered thread) cord. The exterior intricately decorated with overall gold powder, (nashiji), with a lid that has two complementing and textured pinecones with detailed scales, (which were a favorite subject for decorative motifs on lacquers of this period). The top has an inset of coral simulating the pinecone stem and interlocking pine needles, (takamaki-e (high relief lacquer), hiramaki-e (low relief lacquer), on black lacquer ground with sprinkled gold flecks, (nashiji). The Interior finish has the same overall lacquer finish. Meiji era craftsmanship.

Condition: Very minor handling wear and consistent with age, hairline separation at corner/end piece of the lid, minor wear to inner gilt rim and bottom edge of the box, minor imperfections in lacquer particularly on the corners. All-in-all the piece is in beautiful original condition. The silk-tied cording and Flower knot is in exceptional original condition. 

NOTE: The Meiji period saw an expansion in the production of lacquerware. These were especially popular in the West since their form and decoration were unlike anything seen before, and were seen as distinctively "Japanese". Indeed, the rich black lacquer and gold nashiji work which adorned many of the smaller decorative objects was so associated with the country that it was simply referred to as ‘japan’ and was an ancient technique, involving the use of the resin from a tree native to East Asia, and remained a mystery to many in the West until the end of the 19th Century

Lacquerwork also became more impressive, as craftsmen dabbled in new techniques of applying colored lacquers, inlaying metals, and polishing lacquered surfaces down to a glossy, almost-mirrored finish. Lacquer was not only applied to wooden furniture, but also to smaller decorative objects such as boxes and koro. The technique of Shibayama became hugely popular during the Meiji period, again as a means of decorating many objects, particularly small scholar pieces. Shibayama refers to an inlay technique in which cut pieces of ivory, mother-of-pearl, coral, precious metal, wood and horn are inlaid onto a wooden or lacquer surface. The technique is similar to Western marquetry but produces a more three-dimensional, textured surface and often depicted more elaborate scenes. Artistic development in Shibayama occurred in the Meiji period when makers started to use new materials, such as colored enamels and precious metals, to make ever more complicated and sophisticated works.