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Full of Eastern promise; DON RODGERS Bargain Hunter.

I COULDN'T resist this little face when I saw it peering at me from a dealer's display case at a recent flea market in Abergavenny.

The two holes in the base identify it as a Japanese toggle, known as a netsuke.

Netsuke originated in 17th century Japan. Traditional Japanese robes didn't have any pockets, so men wanting to carry around such things as money, pipes or writing implements would suspend them from the sash of their garment, often in small cases called inro. These were held shut by ojime, or sliding beads, and the cord secured to the sash with the netsuke.

The netsuke evolved from a fairly utilitarian object in the early days to an elaborately carved little work of art. In the 18th and early 19th centuries in particular, the sagemono - ensemble of suspended objects - and the netsuke became symbols of social status and were selected with great care.

The Japanese classify netsuke into different types. The one shown here is an example of the largest group, katabori-netsuke, or sculpture netsuke, so-called because they are miniature sculptures carved in the round.

Other types include men-netsuke, which are little masks; round and flat manju-netsuke; and karakuri-netsuke, which contain moving parts or hidden surprises.

Netsuke can be carved to resemble people, animals, mythological characters or plants, and there are even erotic examples.

The materials used can also vary. Ivory and boxwood are the most common, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the netsuke pictured here is made of ivory. In fact, it's carved from a tagua nut, an interesting material in itself.

Tagua nuts come from the ivory palm and are sometimes referred to as vegetable ivory. When carved into netsuke, some of the outer shell is often left on - as here, where it's used for the hair and eyebrows.

Tagua nuts are usually soaked to make them easier to carve and are sometimes stained as well. Over time, they tend to go a dark honey colour, which is one way of dating a tagua nut netsuke.

Most netsuke made from this material date from the 20th century, although a few 19th century examples do exist.

Judging from the wear and tear and the colour of the face, this netsuke is probably about 50 years old. As a nicely, rather than brilliantly carved example, it's worth around PS30 to PS40.

I paid PS12 for it at the flea market.


Above, Netsuke front view and left, Netsuke base
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 23, 2013
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