• by vinux

Cultural sentiment is always the greatest driving force of the art market. The long history of Chinese tea culture has made tea sets become new stars in art auctions, and currently the tea set auction market that was once dominated by purple sand pot is being changed by Japanese old iron pots.

In early 2008, Japanese iron teapots first appeared at auctions in mainland China. At the Shanghai Bohai Auction, an iron teapot from 18 years of the Meiji period was estimated to be worth 5000-8000 RMB, but it eventually failed to sell. Since 2009, Chinese collectors’ pursuit has pushed up the price of Japanese iron teapots continuously, highlighting the people’s longing for and recognition of pure Chinese Han and Tang culture contained in Japanese antique iron teapots. The old Japanese iron teapots combine sculpture, painting, calligraphy and inlay artistry. Especially those with landscape, flowers and birds as the theme on them; their bodies were like a relief type of “Chinese painting”. Many old pots are inscribed with Chinese characters poems or famous sayings; Hall name and mastermaker mark on the body and cover of the pot were also written with Chinese characters.

Traditional crafts destroyed by invasions and wars.

The traditional Japanese art of making iron kettles began in the Edo period. The Edo period was the era when the Tokugawa Shogunate ruled Japan, from 1603 to 1867 during the “Great Meiji Restoration”. Japanese kettles were initially called tetsubin in Japanese tea ceremonies, later adding handles and spouts, they were called tetsubin or kyusu, which is now known as an iron kettle.

Made of pure iron, the teapot is renowned among modern tea drinkers as a “natural water purifier”. When used to boil water, it can absorb chlorine ions in the water and release ferrous ions which are easily absorbed by the human body. Water boiled with a teapot tastes soft and sweet. Boiling with a teapot can also raise the temperature of water, making it especially suitable for brewing deeply fermented teas such as Pu-erh black tea.

According to Tibetan collectors from mainland China, Japanese iron kettle craftsmanship is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. It is typically famous for its handcrafted workshops, such as Longwentang, Guiwentang, Jinshoutang, Jinlongtang and Qinglongtang. Each workshop has its own unique style and exquisiteness is the main common point of Japanese iron kettle craftsmanship.

Japanese teapots are made using cast iron crafting processes, which are done entirely by hand. It takes more than 80 steps to make one teapot, and if a craftsman wants to do it alone, he must practice for at least 15 years. To engrave his name on the pot, he will need almost 40 years of practice.

The collection value of Japanese old iron teapots comes from their pure handmade production. The dewaxing method adopted follows the traditional “one mold one pot” approach. The benefit of the dewaxing process is that no inner mold needs to be dragged out after sand mold forming, and there will be no demoulding lines or pouring holes, making the entire work delicate and transparent. Teapots made in this way are unique for each one, and even if they are made by the same pottery master, they cannot be exactly the same, which gives them their collection value.

From the Edo period to the Meiji Restoration, Japanese iron teapot making skills gradually reached their peak. However, during Japan’s invasion of China in the last century, due to the need for steel in war, almost all Japanese iron teapot workshops were closed and the traditional teapot casting craft was interrupted. After World War II, light metal products were more portable and cheaper than iron products, greatly reducing demand for teapots. The emergence of mechanized teapot production machines also made it difficult for traditional handmade pots to survive. Today, almost all masters of Japanese iron pot production have passed away. In addition to still creating and producing in southern Japan, Kyoto Iron Pot has been silent since the Showa period.

Compared to the traditional and semi-manual wartime tetsubin of pre-war Japan, modern Japanese tetsubin are mostly industrial kettles and souvenir tetsubin, whose craftsmanship value cannot be compared. According to statistics, the total production of Japanese old tetsubin is about 300,000, but less than half of them have been kept after years of sifting.

“A Work of Renown Deserves to be Collected”

In 2009, Japanese iron kettles made their debut in mainland China auctions. At the Tea Utensils Specialty Auction of the Jia De 2009 Seasonal Auction, 12 Japanese iron kettle items were launched, including works from famous production halls such as Jin Shou Tang, Turtle Text Hall, Jin Long Tang, and Zang Liu Tang. 11 kettles sold for higher than expected prices; among them, “Xiang Yun Tang’s Treasure Ship He Shou Iron Kettle” was sold for 358,000 yuan.

In 2010, major domestic auction companies such as China Jia De, Beijing Poly, Beijing Hahn, and Xiling Auction began to auction a large number of Japanese iron teapots. Among them, the “Yalan Chrysanthemum – Carved Orchid Picture Chisel Gold Chrysanthemum Liang Peacock Stone Button Iron Teapot” made by the first generation of Kyoto Jinlongtang was sold for 950,000 yuan at Xiling’s “First Collection Pu’er Tea and Tea Set Specialty”, which made Chinese collectors recognize the huge market prospects of old Japanese iron teapots.

In 2012, at the Beijing Kuangshi Spring Auction, “The First Edition of Putuowentang’s Bodono Seishin Zao Si Junzi Kaiguang Hanshi Lin Shou Iron Kettle” was sold for 1.495 million yuan, creating a new record for the Japanese old iron kettle in domestic auction.

Collectors believe that when it comes to collecting old Japanese teapots, the “tougo” (hall mark) and the kettle smith who made the pot inside of the hall are the core of its value, especially renowned smiths who practice their craft in workshops.

There are more than 100 old hallmarks of Japanese iron teapots, mainly from the Kyoto area. Japanese iron teapots are divided into “Kyoto teapots” and “Southern teapots”. Currently, Southern ironware is very popular, but actually Kyoto ironware is the “expert”.

In the Japanese iron teapot collecting community, Southern ironwork is the most famous. Southern ironwork almost became synonymous with cast iron teapots. In fact, Southern ironwork is just a general term for Iwate Prefecture’s ironmaking workshops, and most of the cast-iron teapots produced here are consumer products. In the eyes of collectors, the works of renowned Kyo-Toku are real masterpieces. Comparing it to ceramics, if Southern ironwork is like folk kilns, Kyo-Toku would be official kilns.

The most famous kettlesmiths of Kyoto, Japan are Tōroku, Nakagawa Jōyaku, Makoto Kogure Shizuyori, Ishi Heikō Nanami and others. The most renowned ones include An’nosuke from Ryūmon-dō, Masatane from Kappa-dō, Munetsugu from Kinju-dō and Daigokujirō from Kingorō-dō.

The Dragon Wen Tang is the most influential one in the history of iron kettle making, and in its heyday, it produces no more than 150 kettles a year. As it was made purely by hand, no two kettles were the same. The old iron kettles of Dragon Wen Tang were not only collected by folk museums in Japan, but also by the British Museum in London and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

When selecting a renowned kiln teapot, it is essential to distinguish between genuine and fake ones. Nowadays, some high-quality counterfeit teapots have been shipped back to Japan from China, posing difficulties for new collectors to identify them. For example, the teapots of Long Wengtang have very fine fonts on the lid, but the fakes are quite rough.

People in the circle think that the collection of Japanese iron teapots requires original pot with original cover. Generally, the material of the old Japanese teapot is cast iron, but most of the teapot covers are made of copper. The iron cover of the teapot is easy to rust after being steam-smoked with boiling water. In early cover materials, there was a kind of cover made by seven metals casting, commonly known as “Qibao copper lid”. This copper lid looks like several colored metals such as purple copper and brass, and some even have warty textures. A good pot must be an original pot with an original lid, especially those made by famous furnace masters, which are perfectly combined into one piece. Each hall number and each furnace master’s teapot and lid have their own unique style in Japan’s old iron teapots. Especially the button on the lid is ingenious, with flowers, birds, fish, insects, dragons, turtles, snakes, beasts, plums, orchids ,bamboo , chrysanthemums and pine nuts used respectively. The button seat of the lid is equally creative.

Experts advise to pay attention to the coating material of the inner wall of iron kettles when purchasing consumer-grade Japanese iron kettles. The lowest grade kettles have industrial rust-proof paint sprayed on the inside wall, which is unhealthy when used; secondly, teru-tungsten material is used, which is stable in nature but its surface is oxygenated iron and divalent iron cannot be released; a slightly more upscale product uses porcelain atomization spray coating, the thinner the atomization, the more times it is dried, and the stronger its stability; at present, high-end cast iron kettles use plant ester inner walls.

The lowest grade iron kettles are made of remelted iron as the body material. Some products are made with ductile iron for industrial use. Ductile iron has strong fluidity, high plasticity, easy molding, and density close to steel, but poor permeability. High-end iron kettles mostly use gray-mouth iron as material. Gray-mouth iron is granular and easy to permeate, but has poor plasticity, resulting in a very high scrap rate when making iron kettles.