Treasures From the Attic

Some Observations on the Recent "Treasures From the Attic" Event in Winnipeg

by David Pepper

On Saturday March 19th, I had the great pleasure of being the appraiser for the above event, held at Winnipeg's Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. At my suggestion, a television camera with audio feed was set up in the examination room and connected to a large screen in the area of the main hall seating area where people waited with their artifacts. This enabled them to see in detail what was going on, rather than just sitting, and was highly successful.  I strongly recommend doing this at any future events of this type. I understand that the entire event was taped for future reference. The Centre's staff had made all preparations beforehand, ensuring a smooth and problem-free programme. A timetable for the appraisals had been pre-arranged, with a limit of two items per examination, and roughly 10 minutes per item. It included two ten-minute breaks and a half-hour lunch for me. From 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. I had 19 appointments and saw 30 separate items or sets of items. All of the guests had some connection with the Centre, and all were satisfied, often greatly pleased with the results of their appraisals. For many, the information I gave them confirmed family stories about the artifacts.

Viewers of the various major television Antiques Road Shows might not realize that literally thousands of items are looked at by appraisal teams, and only a few highlights, less than 1%, are shown on TV. At Winnipeg I was pleased to see a comparatively much higher percentage of items of interest and value. In the Japanese Canadian context it should be remembered that this value is not only monetary, but also cultural and historical. A number of items which came in were from a time when even household items were hand-made in Japan from traditional materials. In the 21st Century much of this has been replaced with mass-produced ceramics, plastic and synthetics. Many "traditional" items including dolls and folk toys, even "antique" samurai swords are now made with cheap labour in China. All the more reason to preserve and value family possessions, and most important, the stories which go with them, even if they may not have a high dollar value. For all Canadians, it is vital to cherish the simple things as well; the material links to our ancestors. This is specially important considering the many family possessions, and their stories, which were lost during the evacuations and internment of Japanese Canadians from 1942 to 1945. It is a miracle that anything survived.

Having said the above, I will give just a few highlights from the items I examined. For the sake of the clients' privacy I won't discuss monetary values here.

1. A rare samurai sword blade, signed and dated to just a few months before the Emperor Meiji was restored to the throne in 1868.

It was mounted in a WW II army officer's mountings, with the original owner's family crest on the hilt.

2. A complete set of Ohina dolls for the girls' festival, all hand made, bought for the client in the late 1930's when she was a little girl. With it were dolls representing fairy tales including "The Tongue-cut Sparrow ".

3. A hand-crafted wood sewing box with drawers and compartments, circa 1910, with the original maker's label inside.

4. Two people brought in very good old Imari porcelain teacups dating from the mid 1800's. There were at least half a dozen large Imari bowls and dishes dating from between 1850 and 1910, including a matched set of three in different sizes.

5. A triple-paneled woodblock print of Kabuki actors, from the early Meiji period, by an artist of the Utagawa family.

6. A traditional Japanese archery bow, almost 8 feet long, made by Hayato circa 1920, with a group of arrows.

7. A number of dolls, including clay Hakata dolls from Kyushu, and a pre-war Yamato-style doll with real human hair.

8. A picnic set (sageju), circa 1900, featuring lacquered bento boxes stacked in a hinged frame. Each box was made with a different regional style of lacquer.

9. A calligraphy painting on silk, made by Ambassador Tokugawa in the early 1900's, and presented to the present owner's father at the time it was made.

10. A  well-crafted wooden box with a drawer and hand-forged steel plane blade, used for shaving dried bonito, circa 1930.

Should you have any questions, please contact me or the Winnipeg JCCC.


David Pepper, President
Okame Japanese Antiques,
709 Devonshire Road,
Windsor, Ont. N8Y 2L9
(519) 252 - 6930

Japanese Dolls and Lacquerware

Japanese Ceramics

Japanese Scrolls and Swords