Iron hawk swoops in to steal top spot at Bonhams £2million Japanese sale

Fine Japanese Art
16 May 2013
London, New Bond Street

Following the resounding success of the 100% sell-out Netsuke sale earlier this week, another collection of six hundred Japanese antiques ranging from tiny carved netsuke to vast hand painted screens were sold today at Bonhams in a sale totaling over £2.2million.

The top lot was an iron articulated Hawk sculpture which swooped in as the sale came to a close, landing on the top spot at £121,250 and surrendering itself to a private bidder on the telephone.

The Hawk, which can extend its wings and move its head, tail and claws, won a Silver Medal at the Spring Exhibition of the Japan Art Association in 1894. It is not clear for what purpose these mysterious mechanical-like sculptures were made. What is known is that these works were first made in Japan during the peaceful Edo Period and after the wearing of swords was prohibited in 1876. Craftsmen and armourers who had previously produced vast amounts of armour and weaponry were forced to turn their skills to other pursuits.

The sale included sections dedicated to netsuke, inro, lacquer furniture, ceramics, textiles, ivory and elaborate metal work. Intricately carved ivory okimono figures, fine bronze and iron metal work vessels and satsuma in particular, exceeded expectations. Satsuma ware was first created when the Prince of the Satsuma region abducted skilled Korean potters during invasions in order to establish a local pottery industry in Japan. In a crowded saleroom, interest also focused on the exquisitely decorated inro (medicine containers) which represented three of the top four lots.

Other highlights included lot 148, a very rare black-lacquer 19th century inro by Yasuaki, with netsuke by Ikkyu, detailing a Komodo dragon and breaking waves in gold and silver, selling for £55,250.

Lot 232, a set of two inlaid gold inro by Mitsuharu, one delicately decorated with silver and gold showing plum, chrysanthemums and peony flowers and the other engraved with two dancers sold for £49,250.

Traditional Japanese dress lacked pockets so objects were carried in 'inro' containers, much like wallets, that were hung from the sash of kimono. Consisting of small stacked compartments held together with a chord and secured on to the belt or sash with toggles named netsuke, inro were made from a variety of materials; wood, ivory bone or lacquer.

Suzannah Yip, director of Japanese art at Bonhams said of the sale, "This sale achieved Bonhams' highest ever total in London for a mixed-owner auction of Japanese art. The market seems strong, balanced and resilient with active buyers spread across the U.S, Europe, Russia, Australasia and Japan. A surprising new development in the auction was selling some of the best Meiji material to a new group of buyers from Greater China."


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

  1. Suzannah Yip
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 8368
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 5840

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