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Do you Netsuke? Well, you're not alone. This ancient art has become a modern collectible. Netsukes are tiny carvings from Japan. They have become so popular there are special magazines, societies, conventions, and galleries just for netsuke collectors.

Though the exact origin of the netsuke is not known, history does show them being widely used in the late 1600’s to the early 1700’s. They were designed to act as a toggle or counter balance to keep a sagemono cord from slipping out from under the obi (or belt) on a kimono. The netsuke needed to be small enough to be easily threaded under the fabric belt of a kimono, but bulky enough not to slip down again, even with the weight of an inro or other type of case hanging at the other end of the cord. Originally the netsuke was a natural object such as a gourd or a seashell. Even once artists began carving intricate Netsukes, many people still preferred the old style. The simplicity of mother nature and the variety of shapes and colors made them very popular. Later designs were made from ivory or wood.

Netsuke carvers are often inspired by nature. Some were fashioned after animals, the most popular items for collectors being the animals from the oriental zodiac. Everyday items were also depicted, such as tea sets, flowers and foods. Some of the more intricate netsuke tell a story from Japanese history or legend here you will find the warrior and the fisherman, the fierce and the mild all carved with the same degree of talent.

Early Netsuke artists did not sign their work so it can be difficult to determine the date of a piece. Researchers have studied ancient art, and books looking for depiction’s of netsuke’s to get an idea of when they were first carried and how they have changed through time.

Today, there are contemporary netsuke artists, but their work is strictly ‘art’. With the ban on ivory, they have had to use other materials to create the netsuke and this work is not cheap. Ironically, a contemporary netsuke can be more costly than its historical brothers, selling for upwards of 10,000 dollars for an exceptional piece.

When it comes to buying antique netsuke, it is always a case of buyer beware. Know the auction house or shop you are dealing with. Buy what you like, not what you think will be worth more. Go for the charm, the glow, and the warmth. Pick up the netsuke and hold it in your hand - a really good piece will seemingly come alive.