Meiji Silver Insects
Appraised Value: $30,000 - $50,000
IMAGE: 1 of 2
Director, Asian Works of Art
GUEST: My dad was stationed in Japan in 1949. My mother and I went in November of '49 and stayed through December of 1950, when the Korean War broke out. And these came from a little village called Shibuya-ku, and my mother paid 50 American dollars and a small portable washing machine.
APPRAISER: A portable washing machine. Well, kind of like the washing machine, all of these pieces have some considerable moving parts, as I think you've noticed. They're all made of silver and all finely articulated and beautiful examples of each individual insect that's here. You have the rhinoceros-horned beetle, then you have a dragonfly, a cicada that you hear all over the time that flies in the summer, a stag-horned beetle. And then you have this insect that... I'm not certain what type it is. But the thing that's amazing about it is the articulation that you see on it. Every single thing on this moves. The wings move, the legs move.
GUEST: And they'll come back as well.
APPRAISER: Yeah, they're magnificently done. These are from the Meiji Period.
GUEST: Ah, they are Meiji; I thought they were Edo.
APPRAISER: Yeah, no, they're Meiji, made between, like, 1868 and 1911. And what happened was, in 1873, there was an edict forbidding the wearing of swords, so all the armorers that used to make sword mountings started manufacturing pieces like this to sell to the tourist trade. And they were making them out of very, very expensive and exotic materials, like the silver that these are made of. They're just very, very finely crafted, great workmanship. And basically, this workmanship pretty much died after the First World War. You know, all of a sudden they weren't making them quite as detailed. Like you have this one here-- the wasp that's down on the bottom, and it's amazing. The thing is so articulated that you can even see the stinger come out on it. It's incredible. You know, then they have to have a counter pin in there to make certain it doesn't stick and all. They're incredible. And she paid $50 and a washing machine. 50 American dollars. Do you have any idea what they're worth now?
GUEST: No, I don't. I'm hoping they're worth a lot.
APPRAISER: Well, they are. They're... individually, they're worth between $3,000 to $5,000 apiece
GUEST: Holy cats!
APPRAISER: So, you're talking like $30,000 to $50,000 here on the table.
GUEST: Oh, my goodness.
APPRAISER: And I know that because recently I had a sale where I had an articulated dragon-- it was much larger, but still more common than these are-- and that sold for $11,000.
APPRAISER: So, you know, these are just incredible examples.
GUEST: That is outstanding.
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