JOHN MCPHEE EVALUATES READERS’ PRECIOUS OBJECTS.
I’VE TRIED VARIOUS
Japanese antique dealers in Australia, but haven’t been able to find out about the character on the base of this cup and saucer. I know it’s a Satsuma handpainted set — can you tell me more? Denise Mcgrath, HERVEY BAY, QUEENSLAND
You’ll probably never be able to identify the purpose of the mark on the base of this example of Japanese Satsuma ware. It’s rather like an initial, and might identify the kiln or factory where the piece was made, or the individual potter. It may also be the mark of the painter or gilder who helped decorate the cup and saucer. Satsuma ware of this kind was produced for the Western market, and the elaborate decoration and gilding on your cup and saucer suggest it was made in about 1900. The imagery depicts the Japanese ‘Immortals’, wise men who were said to bring good luck and wealth. Traditionally there were seven Immortals — you have nine for extra luck.
MY DANISH FATHER
had this Polyphon music box when he married my mother in 1926. He never spoke much about where it came from, except to say it was given to him in payment of a debt. I’m now the owner of this wonderful antique and 20 15.5-inch ‘tin’ records. Can you tell me more about it? Barbara Sprenge, OCEAN SHORES, NSW
The firm of Polyphon Musikwerke was founded in Leipzig, Germany, in 1870 and continued making music machines into the 20th century, until gramophones took their place. Large numbers of Polyphon music machines were exported around the world. Table music boxes such as yours were produced for home entertainment, while larger examples were often used to entertain customers in bars and shops. In 2015, a large standing Polyphon sold for $24,400. There are many collectors of music boxes, and the value depends on the condition of the mechanism and the numbers of bells. Yours appears to be the standard model, made in walnut and with the usual print depicting children dancing. Collectors pay $20–$50 for discs, as they like to add to the music they can play on their machines.
John Mcphee is an art historian who has worked in art museums for 30 years and was curator of Australian Decorative Arts at the National Gallery of Australia. If you have a precious (or simply mysterious) object that puzzles you, send your inquiry, along with a colour print or high-resolution digital image, your suburb or town, and your daytime telephone number, to firstname.lastname@example.org. The photographs must be clear and show the whole object against a white background. Photographs will not be returned, even if they are not published.