Zodiac Incense Box Set, ca. 1850

Value (2005) | $6,000 Auction$8,000 Auction

These were a gift given to my grandparents by a couple whose husband was in Japan after the Japanese had surrendered to the United States in World War II.

Do you know what they are?

I have no idea.

Right here on the label, this says "the 12 animals of the zodiac," and then it says, "incense containers."

Oh, interesting.

So all of these pieces are for various types of incense-- like exotic woods, resins, things like cloves could be burned for incense. They're only to hold the incense wood. The incense would have been burnt in another container. And all of these would have been for special incenses, and special incenses that were appropriate to the season of the year.

Oh, how neat!

And all the animals of the zodiac are represented here. In the front row, there's the monkey, the dog, the ram, the hare, the cow, the chicken... Then in the back row is the tiger, the boar, the horse, the snake-- that little snake that's on the biwa, that musical instrument there-- and then the fan-shaped one is a dragon, and then finally, the mouse that's there on a daikon.

It is a daikon.

Yeah, it's a daikon. All of these incense containers were actually contained within these boxes that are labeled with the item that actually went inside of them, and they're all kind of unusual, too, because they're made by one person, and he has two readings for his name. His name here is... it's Ikko, and it's also Kazumitsu. And that's the character "to make." Also, this Kazumitsu, or Ikko (whichever reading you prefer) is actually on every single one of these in various seals-- right there on the bottom. So they were all by one maker. And this ware is known as Kyoto ware. Its origins are from southern Japan in Satsuma, but they began making things in this style in Kyoto. And these are probably mid-19th Century and probably the possession of a feudal lord, because they're such a complete set. Incense boxes are not particularly rare. The Chinese use them, the Japanese use them, the Koreans use them, the Vietnamese use them. But a complete set like this is really unusual. I've never seen a complete set.


Generally, people would have thrown these boxes away. And the containers are just wonderful. They're all made out of cypress wood, hinoki wood, and they're probably half the value of the set. (chuckling) Very, very conservatively, for, you know, auction purposes, I would say $6,000 to as much as $8,000.


And this is the kind of thing that even potentially could go quite a bit higher than that, because it's such a complete set. And the other thing is, it's specially to Japanese taste. This is not an item that was made for export to the West.


This was made for their usage, completely.

Appraisal Details

Tremont Auctions
Newton, MA
Appraised value (2005)
$6,000 Auction$8,000 Auction
Tampa, FL (June 25, 2005)
Asian Arts

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