Japanese art and collectible items have been imported into this country for a long time. Even before Commodore Perry officially opened Japan to foreign commerce in 1854, there was some trade, particularly along the Pacific Coast.
In today's What's It Worth? we answer a question about an intricate Japanese vase, the style of which has a long history.
Also up is a very useable piece of furniture featuring glass ball feet.
Q. This was left to me by my father. It has been in the family for a number of years. It was given to my grandmother by a neighbor in Lewistown, Mont. I assume it is a vase and probably made in Japan or China. The family has always wondered what it may be worth. -- Linda in Kennewick
A. What you have is a modern piece of Banko-style Japanese pottery.
The origins of Banko go back to at least the middle of the 1700s. It is named after a potter of that era, who is said to have lived near the Great Ise Shrines, now about four hours by train southwest of Tokyo.
Banko made ceramic objects called Rakuyaki. In Japanese, raku means "amusing accomplishment" and yaki means "ware." The pieces were different than anything anyone had seen before. Banko became famous, moved to Tokyo and made pots and tea ceremony implements. They were plain, simple and very beautiful.
Later, artists in the more rural region created this pottery form -- involving molding in relief and reverse relief. By the 20th century, as many as 12 molds could be used to form each Banko piece.
Made of a light brown clay covered with a brown glaze, this vase shows a tree in relief. The glaze and handles with rings are typical of these designs. It is not often seen in the marketplace, even though returning GI's brought them back by the thousands at the end of World War II. My mother, a nurse at Seattle's Veteran's Hospital in the early 1950s, received one as a gift from a recuperating officer.
Linda's vase was most probably made in the late 1940s or 1950s. Being out of the ordinary, these pieces are somewhat difficult to value. That's because many people don't know what to make of them and sell them quite cheaply at estate sales and flea markets. Specialist dealers, however, will price a Banko vase like this between $300 and $500.
So, what it is worth depends on where you buy it.
Q. What would be the value of this table? -- Duane in Kennewick
A. First, let's explore what this is. By form, collectors will call it a parlor table. Duane didn't provide dimensions, but these generally have tops about 26 to 28 inches square and stand 30 inches high. If the top is smaller, it might be a "Bible table" or "stereopticon table."
It is made of oak -- a wood sacred to the ancient Druids and favored by the Norse god Thor. Oak furniture was most popular in America during the late Victorian Age and right after, from about 1870 to 1930. This piece probably dates to the period between 1880 and 1900.
Unless it is marked, a specific maker will be impossible to identify. It most likely was made in or near Grand Rapids, Mich. So much of this style of furniture was made in that area the term "Grand Rapids furniture" now is in common use.
It could have been sold by Sears-Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, Eaton's or any local store.
The table has several things going for it. Condition appears excellent, although it appears to have been refinished. The top and lower shelf are "quarter sawn" oak, a technique that exposes slim, wavy rays of silklike ribbons in the grain. It has brass "ankles" at the end of each leg, ending in claw "feet" grasping a glass ball.
All of those are points of quality a collector looks for and appreciates.
Generally speaking, the market for oak furniture has softened dramatically. In the early 1990s, a table such as this might sell for $400 to $500. Today, $150 would be more expected.
-- Terry Maurer is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, email questions to email@example.com.