Japanese auction collection the largest ever in Australia

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 10th April, 2024

International and Australian buyers are salivating over the largest collection of Japanese and Chinese artefacts ever seen in Australia.

To be auctioned online concluding from 8pm Wednesday April 10 by Melbourne-based Philips Auctions, the Coopers Collection is currently on view in the company’s rooms at 47 Glenferrie Road, Malvern East.

With more than 400 lots on offer, director Tony Philips says he already has more than 250 international bidders and more than 200 from Australia.

“Interest in the sale has been massive,” he said. “The collection is a great insight into Japanese culture unlike anything I have ever seen.”

Many of the pieces pay tribute to the samurai era of Japanese history, particularly the Edo period (1603-1868) – such as the kozukas or knife handles listed in lots 126, 124, 152, 151, 150, 108 and 104 (see composite photo).

These are used to house knife blades – essential for additional protection if the samurai sword was broken during a fight or battle.

Bronze tsubas (starting from lot 5) were used as hand guards to prevent the hand from being cut off during swordplay and the Coopers Collection features a sizeable number of these, along with fuchi-kashiras or decorative collars and pommels fitted to the handles (lot 25 is a good example).

One of the major attractions of the collection is the extensive number of inros (starting at lot 18), or portable seal boxes up to 10 centimetres long widely used during the Edo period and often decorated in gold and silver. Because the traditional garment called kimono did not have pockets, Japanese wore the inro suspended from their sash by a silk cord and netsuke toggle.

“We have never seen so many of these before in Australia,” Mr Philips said.  

Other features of the collection include Meiji period (1868-1912) Satsuma vases such as the reticulated pierced example by the highly regarded Kinkozan studios in Kyoto (lot 22).

Japanese Edo period Shokudo fan shaped place card holders made from bronze and gold alloy are a further attraction (lot 149), while a pierced ivory table screen (lot 188) and a large mirror (lot 147) should garner plenty of interest.

A Japanese Meiji period bronze figure of an eagle attacking a monkey (lot 361) would make an unforgettable table centrepiece.

The Coopers Collection auction is preceded by Philips Auctions online fine and decorative arts and jewellery sales finishing from 9.30am Monday April 8.

One of the major features of these auctions is a superb Victorian era silver wine cooler with a catalogue estimate of $40,000-$50,000 (lot 147) along with an 18-carat gold diamond lined tennis bracelet (lot 5) estimated at $26,000-$36,000.

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