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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.


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 aust­coun­trystyle@bauer-me­ 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.

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