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Markings on Japanese Imari indicate pieces aren't antique

Dear Helaine and Joe: I was reading your response to J.C. concerning a charger that supposedly was from Ireland but proved to be Japanese Imari. I have been collecting Imari for several years now, but only the pieces clearly marked Imari. They are extremely hard to find, and I have noticed in antiques shows dealers are selling pieces advertised as Imari but not marked accordingly. My question is this: Are the pieces I have collected, which are clearly marked Imari, more valuable than the unmarked pieces? — N.J.D. Sydenham, Ontario, Canada

Dear N.J.D.: Let's get the bad news over with right away. All pieces of porcelain that are marked with the word "Imari" in English are mid- to late 20th century giftware. They are not antique, and they are "hard to find" because most of this type of ware still is in the possession of its original owners and has not yet moved onto the secondary market.

The hard facts of life are that the vast majority of all authentic, antique Japanese Imari is completely unmarked. Occasionally, there may be some sort of symbolic mark that may mean something like "good luck," and on even rarer occasions an artist signature in Japanese characters might turn up — but no authentic piece made in the 17th, 18th, 19th or even early 20th centuries has a mark on it that reads "Imari."

We are answering this question because we received a large number of inquiries just like it, and we felt it was important to follow up and talk a little bit about the 20th century Imari that seems to be confusing some of our readers.

In our earlier column, published after the first of the year, we discussed how Imari production began in the 17th century, in and around the town of Arita, and that Imari was the name of the port from which this porcelain was shipped to the West.

What we did not make clear is that the making of Imari has not stopped for any length of time since its inception, and some very attractive examples have been made in recent years.

Current collectors, however, are mostly interested in the wares that are no later than the early 20th century. In the near future, it is likely that the better modern examples will be embraced and will become part of some collections.

E.A.B. from Minden, Nev., also wrote about a piece in her possession and sent the picture of her "Gold Imari" marked item that accompanies this column. Pieces with this "Gold Imari" mark turn up rather frequently in estate sales, and they are very attractive, high-quality wares that were relatively expensive when they were new.

We spoke with the owner of a prestigious giftware store who remembers carrying "Gold Imari" more than 30 years ago but could not recall who actually made it. He said that if we found a piece we should let him know because he would really like to have one for display in his house.

Helaine Fendelman is feature editor at Country Living magazine and Joe Rosson writes about antiques at The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee. Questions can by mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.