Japanese Antiques by Ichiban Oriental and Asian Art

A Brass Tonkotsu with Coins and Menuki - Taisho

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Directory: Hidden: Viewable: Pre 1940: Item # 1255042

Please refer to our stock # INROSAA when inquiring.
This is a handsome Tonkutsu (tobacco holder - see Footnote) dating from the Taisho period, circa 1912-1926). It is made from eight pieces of brass - four pieces make up the two cases - two pieces make up the top and bottom - and two cylindrical pieces make up the himotoshi for the cords. The eight pieces were joined together by braising with solder - this can be see at each place where the pieces come together.

On both sides of the main body there are two Japanese coins. We have had two of them translated - one is a ten Sen coin dated 1923 and another is a 50 Sen coin from 1923. On the top of the lid a brass menuki of a running dog or shi shi has been braised in place. (A menuki is a decorative piece on the handle of a samurai sword). The suite is then completed with a red carnelian ojime and a circular bone netsuke with a recessed bronze interior. (It is possible that the netsuke's recessed metal interior was used as a portable ash tray - the amount of tobacco used in Japanese pipes was very small).

The suite is in fine condition with excellent patina. Because of the soldered connections between all the brass pieces, the tobacco would have stayed quite fresh in this tonkotsu. The tonkotsu measures 7.7 cm (3.02") tall by 9 cm (3.43") wide by 3 cm (1.18") thick - it weighs 219 gm (7.7 ounces). The netsuke is 3.8 cm (1.5") diameter and is 1/5 cm (.6") thick. Footnote: The Japanese, both men and women, had been serious pipe smokers since the 16th century, when Portuguese and Spanish traders introduced tobacco from their colonies in America. Tobacco and its paraphernalia had become deeply ingrained into Japanese life at all levels from the ruling samurai class to humble peasants. But traditional Japanese clothing has no pockets, so a set of utensils called a tonkotsu had been developed.

Traditional Japanese clothing has no pockets, but people always need to carry things. This was done by using sagemono (“things that hang down”), containers hung from the waist. The upper classes carried lacquer inro, small rectangular boxes divided into compartments for medicines. When the need arose to carry tobacco, the inro model was simplified to a single compartment. And since everyone was allowed to smoke, these new containers, called tonkotsu, were made in a variety of materials to suit all budgets.

The tonkotsu of the middle class were more fun. They embody what the West calls folk art and what the early 20th-century aesthetician Yanagi Soetsu defined in a word he coined as mingei, literally “people art.” Like folk artists everywhere, the tonkotsu artisans used ordinary materials—straw, paulownia wood, tree roots, bamboo, white metal, small bits of mother-of-pearl, and glass. The containers are only 4″ high, but the small scope did not hinder creativity. Japan has always had a genius for miniaturization.

We invite you to take a look at the entire Special Collection of Fine and Rare Inro, Tonkotsu and Netsuke. Simply enter the words "INRO" or "TONKOTSU" or "NETSUKE" in the Search Block to see all of this group.