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Japanese Porcelain Marks

Sumida Pottery

This colorful ware was made for export to the West and is usually heavy and covered with figures in relief. Most pieces are everyday objects such as tea pots, vases, and mugs. This distinct type of wares got its name from the Sumida river running near the Asakusa pottery district near Tokyo. The style of applied figures on a surface with flowing glaze was invented about 1890 by the Seto potter Ryosai I, who worked in Tokyo from about 1875 to 1900. They are often embellished with glazed plaques with hand written signatures or general good luck symbols. A great number of the pieces are probably the work of a single family - Inoue Ryosai I (1828-), Inoue Ryosai II (born c. 1860), and Inuoue Ryosai III (1888-1971) who moved the manufacturing site to Yokohama in 1924. After the move to Yokohama more colours e.g. orange were added to the wares. The later pieces also have an unglazed background. The production is continued up until today.

Japanese Sumida pottery is found in a wide variety of shapes and forms and are called by many names.

Sumida pottery was created specifically for export between the late 1800s and the 1920s. It was still produced until World War II and briefly after the war.

Sumida pottery can be found in all kinds of shapes imaginable, is heavy, sculpted and usually has applied three-dimensional figures. The most common characteristics are items whose upper half (or less) is partially glazed with a flambé glaze or glazed with two or more colors in a splashed application. Often, the glaze has run, creating curtains or droplets. Some pieces are entirely glazed while others are bisque.

The applied figures range from plants, landscapes, a wide range of humans and more. Many scenes on Sumida pottery depict fables from Japanese folklore. The animal most often seen is the monkey. The monkey is a common figure in many of those fables because of their human-like actions of caring for the young, stealing and interacting with one another in a community.

In the earlier works the intricacy of the applied figures is often amazing, individual features on faces can be seen in detail. Later on, perhaps when demand required mass or faster production, the features were often drawn, with only a line for the mouth, for instance

Sumida pottery has often been called by many names - Poo ware, Sumidagawa, Banko, or Asakusa Banko. Sumida acquired its name from the Sumida River that runs through the Asakusa district of Tokyo. It was near the banks of this river where it was first made. The Japanese word for river is gawa, hence the name Sumidagawa. Sumidagawa is a softer, raku pottery created in the early 1800s. Poo ware was the product of a Shekwan potter, Poo You-she, whose patterns were similar to those of Sumida. "Banko" was the general term given to the Japanese export or souvenir ware sold in Tokyo.

One of the most prolific producers was the Inoue Ryosai studio. It has, unfortunately, become common practice to attribute any signature found on Sumida ware to Ryosai. Other major and lesser potters were Hara Gozan, Ishiguro Koko, Sakurai Fuji and Sezan.

The marks can be found on the base or side of the pottery or on a white tile affixed to the piece. Over seventy different marks are known. The marks are inscribed in kanji. However, not all pieces are marked.

Pieces can be found that are marked "Nippon," "Made in Japan," and "Foreign." In 1890, the McKinley Act required foreign goods to be so marked. The ware was then marked Nippon.

In 1921, the government required all products to be marked in English, so "Made in Japan" appeared. Those words were also printed on paper and attached, but paper marks are rarely found these days.

Sumida pieces marked "Foreign" were exported to England.

Fakes are few, but they do exist. A prevalent problem is pottery being presented as Sumida that is not.

Jan-Erik Nilsson

Sumida is a Japanese pottery that was made from about 1895 to 1941. Pieces are usually everyday objects-vases, jardinieres, bowls, teapots, and decorative tiles. Most pieces have a very heavy orange-red, blue, brown, black, green, purple, or off-white glaze, with raised three-dimensional figures as decorations. The unglazed part is painted red, green, black, or orange. In 1924 the factory was moved to Yokohama, at which time more colours e.g. orange were added to the wares, so this piece is made after 1925. The later pieces also have an unglazed background. Sumida was sometimes mistakenly called Korean Pottery or Poo Ware in the past.
62. This mark is one a several marks associated with Inoue Ryosai, Sumida Pottery, this mark probably late.
1285. This mark is one a several marks associated with Inoue Ryosai, Sumida Pottery.

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790. Sumida gawa ware with the signature of Ban-ni.

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1286. Sumida gawa ware with the signature of Ban-ni.

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The marks page was originally initiated by a donation of marks from the collection of Karl-Hans Schneider, Euskirchen, Germany in July 2000. The section have since then been greatly extended by a large number of contributing collectors.