Postcard Image

Postcard Image
As the Victorian era passed into the Edwardian and Roaring Twenties, a market developed for bisque and china bawdy novelties and figurines of women in revealing outfits. Although now most of these figurines seem more coy and cute than ribald and risque, in their time they symbolized the casting off of the perceived restraints of the Victorian era.

These little lovelies included bathing beauties, who came clad in swimsuits of real lace or in stylish painted beach wear, as well as mermaids, harem ladies, and nudies, who were meant to wear nothing more than an engaging smile. Also produced were flippers, innocent appearing figurines who reveal a bawdy secret when flipped over, and squirters, figurines that were meant to squirt water out of an appropriate orifice.

Most were manufactured in Germany from the late 1800s through the 1930s, often showing remarkable artistry and imagination, with Japan entering the market during World War I.

My Maneki Neko Page (Updated August 11, 2017)

Often known as the "lucky cat" or "welcoming cat," the Japanese maneki neko is supposed to bring good fortune into a home or business. An excellent article from Alan Scott Pate gives more information on the history and meaning of the maneki neko. This page is dedicated to my small collection of antique, vintage, and unusual nekos.

I actually specialize in German bathing beauties and related "naughty" novelties, but I have found myself more than once being beckoned by an irresistible maneki.  My first maneki neko, a gift from my parents who came across this petite pussycat in an antique shop in England. Of heavy grayish ceramic, he is just 2 inches tall. If the rule of thumb (claw?) that the higher the paw, the newer the maneki, holds true, then this little guy is an early example.


My next maneki, out of an estate in Austin. A towering 10 inches tall, he has a sly face with side glancing eyes. Note his elaborate colorful bib with golden bells. I am one of those people that when I get two of something, suddenly I find myself starting a collection. So the following nekos have since been welcomed into my home.


A very well-fed feline, this 10-inch tall maneki is beautifully decorated, with variegated tortoiseshell markings and a bib with raised designs and applied bells and bow.



If the two preceding nekos are my biggest, this guy is my smallest. Carved of bone or ivory, he is only 3/4 of an inch tall. Note his right paw is raised.


This tiny tabby is also carved of bone or ivory and is a mere 3/4 inches tall. His striped coat is beautifully painted.


An old and unusual talisman or omamori. The ring is mother of pearl and hanging from it are six little charms: a geta (Japanese sandal), carved out of bone with red silk cording; a bachi (the plectrum or pick used to play the shamisen, a Japanese three-string lute), also out of bone; a pea or bean pod carved out of wood.  The pod may represent azuki beans, which, because of their red coloring, are considered good luck; and three miniature maneki nekos, carved out of ivory. 


Each maneki neko is only one half inch high.  The ivory has yellowed from age (and maybe from being touched for luck?), but the Schreger lines, the criss-crossing grain typical of elephant ivory, are visible on each kitty's curved back.  A Japanese friend suggested that the ring may be an obidome, a decorative ring or brooch used on the obijime, the cord tied over the obi, the broad sash worn on a women's kimono, to keep the obi place.  She also suggested that the talisman may have once belonged to a geisha (a traditional female entertainer), because of the red cord on the geta and the bachi (the shamisen is the traditional instrument of the geisha).  She said that a geisha needs "many guests" (only to entertain with her highly-skilled dancing, musicianship, singing, and witty conversation, as geisha are not prostitutes) and noted that the nekos each have their left paw raised; the left paw, she explained, calls customers, and the right paw attracts money.



Another early example, this 4.75 inch tall maneki is lavishly decorated with gold, with gilt touches even on his whiskers and claws.


This serene feline looks so benevolent, he appears to be giving a blessing instead of merely beckoning. An early example, he is 6 inches tall.


This fine feline is festive in his beautifully decorated bib. 8 inches tall, he is an exceptionally handsome early neko.


This neko is nearly identical to the preceding pussycat, except that he raises a left paw instead of his right, and his bib is differently decorated.


Underneath someone has written in pencil "Okinawa April 1 1945 D Day" and a yellowed stick states "Okinawa Shima May 1945."  The battle between American and Japanese forces for Okinawa raged from April of 1945 through mid-June, with the land battle for Okinawa beginning on April 1, 1945. The Americans suffered some 62,000 in casualties and the Japanese forces lost over 100,000.  Many civilians were caught between the combatants and it is estimated between one tenth to one third of the civilian population was killed. Was this neko a war prize brought home by an American member of the armed forces who had survived one of the bloodiest campaigns in the Pacific?


Striking an unusual pose, with one hind leg folded in front of him, this 5.5 inch tall neko has finely brushstroked markings and a bib delicately decorated with raised designs.


Another "righty," this 2.75 inch tall neko has a molded collar with an oversized bell.


 Painted with panache with bright colors and gilt, this neko has an endearing folk art quality. His raised left paw is applied and, unlike many maneki nekos, he has a long tail curling behind him. Of a heavy gray ceramic, he is 5.5 inches tall.


This 4.5 inch tall neko could be the little brother of the preceding puss, because he is made of the the same sort of material and decorated in the same bold manner. The modeling is similar, but he wears a collar instead of a bib and it is his right paw that is raised.


Obviously from the same folk tradition, this maneki mother and her two kittens are also made of heavy gray ceramic and decorated in similar bold, bright strokes. The mother cat wears an unusual pleated bib, while her kittens are clad only in collars. The seated kitten copies his mother by raising a front paw. Only 2.25 inches tall, this piece packs a lot of charm in a small size.


Another mama maneki with two kittens, the one between her legs copying the mother's gesture, while the other mischievous offspring peeks from between her ears  Also of heavy gray ceramic and decorated in broad strokes, this charming trio is just over 3 inches tall.



Glazed a pale celadon, this 3.25 inch tall cat is an early example with nice molded details and a cunning facial expression.


This unusual all black neko wears two molded gilt bells on his bright red and green bib.  He is quite a character with his oversized head, tiny paws, and plump pot belly, and is 9.5 inches high

 

Here's a neko any collector would flip his/her lid for. A sizable 9 inches tall, he wears a beautifully decorated bib with applied bow and gilt bells. He looks like any traditional neko. . .


but he has a secret! His head lifts off, revealing a hidden compartment (perhaps to store a stash of catnip?). Underneath is a paper label of the upscale department store, Neiman Marcus.


These twin maneki nekos are a pair of wonderful wall pockets. Of heavy china, the ears and the beckoning paws are applied. The brown and black spots are airbrushed and the blue bibs are decorated with raised white dots. Unmarked, they are each around 6 inches tall.

 

This fine flowered feline, bedecked with butterflies, was found in a local antique shop. He is done in satsuma style, with crackled glaze and decorations outlined in gold. His bells and bow are applied and the bib is handpainted, but his other designs seem to be gilt decal outlines, which the artist colored in with light tints of color. Well modeled, he is 7 inches tall, and unmarked. But how old is he?


This colorful kitty, at 5.5 inches tall, seems to be the smaller version of the preceding neko. The modeling appears to be identical, except that in the smaller version, the bells and bow are molded, not applied, and the upraised paw is molded to the side of the head. The butterfly and flower trim are also similar. The painting is not as fine as on the larger version, and he has very uncatlike "Tammy Faye" eyelashes! This neko has a raised lip running along the rim of the base and an airhole the size of a quarter; although the larger version has a flat bottom and a tiny airhole underneath, you can see the outline of a similar lip. I can date the smaller neko because he was a present to me, purchased new some 20 years ago at a gift shop in San Francisco (which I guess makes him vintage at this point in time!). He is marked with a red chop over "Takahashi" and carries a round gold paper label with the words "Takahashi San Francisco 91403 Made in Japan" circling a stylized daisy. So is the preceding neko a finer, earlier piece from the same model, or he is contemporary with his "little brother," but was just lavished with more care because of his larger size?

 

And here is the same model, but with the more traditional spots. Also 5.5 inches tall, he has the same lip on the base and large airhole as the preceding neko, as well as the same bib and long lashes. But he is marked only with red Japanese lettering underneath. This neko was also a present, purchased in Japan by a friend. She had been told he was very old.


This scarce Satsuma button features a neko perched on a deep red silken pillow.  The button is 1.25 inches in diameter.


This 4 inch tall maneki neko is of a heavy, somewhat rough, white bisque, similar to that found in the all bisque dolls and figurines first produced by Japan during WWI, when the country moved into a market once dominated by Germany.  Unlike many maneki nekos, this plump pussycat is realistically modeled, from his feline face to his deeply textured fur and detailed paws.  Like many Japanese bisque pieces, he was cold painted and has lost much of the red in his molded ribbon collar.


This terrific teapot is known as banko ware, a type of Japanese pottery typically decorated with raised enamels against the natural color of the clay.  It is 6 inches tall.  Such whimsical teapots were a specialty of the banko kilns.


 Although a modern production, this maneki neko from the renown Hungarian Herend Porcelain Manufactory is as elusive as many of his vintage and antique feline family, at least in the United States.  Hand painted and carrying the Herend shield mark and inventory number, this elaborately decorated china cat is 2.25 inches tall.


Another modern maneki neko, this one made of shimmering crystal by the famed French maker Baccarat.  His features are touched with gilt and he is 4 inches tall.


A folk art example, this 5.5 inch tall neko is of painted clay. His time-worn patina adds to his considerable charm.


Another pottery piece, this vintage black cat is a bank with a slot in the back of his head for coins, but no opening on the bottom to remove them. The only way to get your money back would have been to break him, but apparently his appealing expression spared him this cruel fate. He is 4.25 inches tall.


This golden cat's large down-turned eyes give him a wistful look. Found at an estate sale, this 4inch high ceramic neko may have originally been intended to be a bank, as there is a molded slot in the back of his head, but it was never cut open.


This unusual clay maneki neko holds the uchidenokozuchi, the lucky hammer carried by Daikoku-san, the Japanese deity of wealth and prosperity. According to legend, shaking the hammer or striking it on the ground produced showers of gold coins. He is a bank, because there is a slot in the back of his head, but the opening underneath is still sealed by its original rice paper, covered in Japanese calligraphy. 6.5 inches tall, he is decorated with tarnished gilt, has traces of spots and whiskers, and deep intaglio pupils.


These nekos are finds from two different garage sales. The sale where I purchased the smaller cat featured a large number of vintage oriental items, such as one might pick up as souvenirs after World War II. These nekos are both banks, with slots in the back of their heads for coins and large round holes underneath, once covered with with thin paper, for the easy extraction of your savings. The large one is 6 inches, the smaller is 5. They are made of a lightweight pottery. Only the smaller neko is marked; there is a torn blue and silver label on the bottom with Japanese writing and a portion of a name ("Omosh. . . ").


This merry maneki not only sports a charming smile, but an unusual pose, exposing the bottom of his right foot. He is of pottery and is 9 inches tall. He is a bank, with slot in the back of his head and two holes underneath for the removal of the money, both still sealed with paper.


This gleaming black vintage pottery puss is also a bank, with a slot in the back of his head and two holes underneath, one still sealed with a round label carrying the stylized image of a king resembling those found in a traditional western deck of cards. He (the cat, not the king) is 9 inches tall.


Looking rather prim as he perches on his pillow, this shiny black pottery neko has a naughty secret. . . .


for underneath is an extremely explicit erotic scene (I have added the hearts because a lot of children collect maneki nekos and I don't need some enraged parents complaining to my server that I have corrupted their little darlings). This adult-oriented neko is 4.5 inches tall. Instead of a lucky cat, I guess you could call him a "get lucky cat."



This 2.25 inch tall wooden maneki neko perched atop his original box also conceals a couple.


But his secreted pair are are far more innocuous, two miniature kokeshi dolls.  These traditional folk dolls are of wood, with a simple stylized torso and oversized head.  This tiny twosome is a mere half an inch tall.


Another treasured gift from a Japanese friend, this neko clothed in a kimono is known as hatatsu-san.  These nekos are associated with the Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine in Osaka.  To ensure good luck, a person must collect a hatatsu-san (conveniently offered at the shrine) every month for 48 months.  


This kanban, a wooden shop sign, has a maneki neko carved on each side. One side shows the neko with his eyes open and I have been told that the Japanese down his front means shopping time or period. Turn the sign over, and the neko's eyes, and the store, are closed


Hand carved out of a single sizable piece of bamboo, this 8-inch tall maneki neko was purchased in Japan. He has a wonderfully expressive face and the natural striations in the bamboo create the impression of fur.


Of a rich red wood, this hand-carved sculpture came from Japan.  As the mother cat relaxes with her twin kittens, one raises a beckoning paw.  The carving is 3.5 inches tall and 5 inches long.


Another Japanese wood carving, this time a plump parent cat seated with two kittens resting on her lap, one again raising a waving paw. Hanging around the mother cat's back is her sugegasa, a broad-brimmed flat woven hat often worn by farmers and others as protection against the sun.  This carving is 6 inches tall and 7 inches wide.


Only 1.75 inches long, this charming wooden neko was a gift from a generous Japanese friend.  This neko serves as a netsuke, with two holes underneath for stringing on a cord.  Japanese kimonos have no pockets and Japanese men would carry personal items in punches or boxes suspended on a cord  strung through the obi (sash).  The netsuke was a toggle strung on one end of the cord to keep the cord from slipping out.


Although this tin toy neko looks very vintage, he was produced by Billiken Shokai, a Japanese company that specializes in retro-style tin toys and character figures, established in 1976.  When wound, this neko blinks and beckons.  He comes in a colorful box with a choice of three tin koban (the sign or coin often displayed by a neko).


This tiny toy neko is indeed a vintage piece.  Only 1.5 inches tall, this celluloid neko seated on a red ball or lantern is weighted, so if tipped, it returns to an upright position.  It is embossed "Japan" on the back.


Carved of hard green stone, this 2.75 inch tall neko was found at a local estate sale.  I suspect this sculpture was carved out of green amazonite, which can resemble jade in color and luster, but is a far less expensive material.


I have always admired the jeweled evening purses by designer Judith Leiber.  These marvelous minaudieres, encrusted with sparkling Swarovski crystals, include a maneki neko design, which I particularly coveted.  But her handbags are as pricey as they are pretty.  Last year, however, I lucked upon this fabulous feline, completely covered in scintillating crystals at a vintage bargain price.  Although every bit as shimmering as a Leiber creation, I knew that it was not from her atelier.  After a little research, I think this crystal-coated kitten is by Eileen Tokita, a designer in Hawaii.  


Push the jewel on top of the neko's head, and the evening bag opens, revealing an interior lined in soft golden leather, and a detachable chain shoulder strap.  This pussycat purse is 5.5 inches tall.  Frankly,  I prefer this design, because the it more resembles the traditional tri-colored maneki neko.    


This unique neko is a hand-made gift from a dear friend.  This style of Japanese style of knitting or crocheting small cute stuffed animals and objects is known as amigurumi.


Here my Cornish Rex cat, Dexter, does his own maneki neko imitation.


This is a portrait of Dexter dressed as a traditional maneki neko in bib and bell.  The painting was a gift from a wonderful and dear friend.  The artist is Heather Thompson of Ice Kat Design Studio.

 

Another Cornish rex also imitating a maneki neko.  This strikingly handsome fellow is Kasper-Asti, one of a pair of brothers who live with a dear friend.


LUCKY CAT LINKS!: For many more maneki nekos, visit Donald Hargrove's web page featuring his extensive and eclectic maneki collection, with lots of links to other lucky cat sites!

There is a Maneki Neko Museum in Okayama, Japan, as well as Seto.  If any of you are lucky enough to go, send me a postcard!

The Mingei International Museum in San Diego had a special exhibit entitled "Maneki Neko, Japanese Beckoning Cats--From Talisman to Pop Icon" that ran through January 15, 2012.  The exhibit featured selections from a collection of 155 nekos donated to the museum and an informative and beautifully illustrated hardcover catalogue by Asian art expert Alan Scott Pate (still available from the museum gift shop or from the author at info@antiquejapanesedolls.com).


No comments:

Post a Comment