Netsuke were tiny sculptures used as toggles on traditional Japanese dress. As the kimono had no pockets, men would hang their tobacco pouches, purses and other things needed on a regular basis on a cord passed behind the obi (sash). The netsuke sat at the end of the cord preventing it from slipping through the obi. All parts of Japanese life and culture were captured by netsuke with
whimsical depictions, mythical beasts and true to life portraits. They were carved from ivory, bone and wood and were made for over three hundred years from the 16th century.


By the end of the 19th century fashions and clothing began to change and demand for netsuke as purely practical items declined. Many of the talented masters of netsuke carving then moved onto making okimono. These were larger wood or ivory sculptures made as works of art and souvenirs with very similar themes to netsuke.

Netsuke became collectable during the 19th century and this encouraged the production of fakes. Fakes can be identified in a number of ways, for example, the hole through which the cord was threaded may be missing, they may appear too uniform in size or lack the signs of regular use and wear.


An authentic ivory piece would have irregular fine veins running through it, while the fake, if made from moulded resin, would have parallel lines and a pale creamy colour. Those made from resin are often too rounded and lack the fine detail and quality carving, in extreme cases staining or even dirt may have been added for effect. However, the most obvious difference is how they feel; ivory is cold and heavy to touch compared to the resin of fakes which is warm and lightweight.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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