Arita Buttons

In the recently mounted Oriental Exhibit at the Keep Homestead Museum, there are several buttons on their original button cards. Looking through the various button resource books we have at the museum, I was able to identify them as Arita buttons. Myra had originally mounted each of these small cards on a 9×12 card and framed them for display purposes. Examining the back of the card, there was a note stating that these buttons had been sent from Okinawa in 1958.

In tracking down the origin of these buttons, it was learned that although Arita buttons were made in the 1930s, they were not commonly exported until the 1960s. I went onto the Internet, looking for Arita, Japan on the island of Kyushu, and found this information: It seems that the porcelain that was used to make the Arita porcelain was discovered by a Korean potter, Risampei, who discovered superior white porcelain stone in the Izumi Mountain of Arita in the year 1616. Very often the beautiful porcelain ware that was exported became known by the name of the port from which it was shipped out, i.e. Imari ware. This creates another dilemma—according to The Big Book of Buttons, p. 544, the Arita porcelain gods from Japan were sold by the Toshikane Art Porcelain in Tokyo. Although they pictured only the gods on this page, this clears up why the button cards say Toshikane on them.

According to Peggy Osborne’s book, Button Button, p. 145, these buttons were made by many different small family enterprises. There are well over 100 makers of Arita porcelain today, not all buttons! The buttons on the museum cards have a matte glaze and depict various subjects. There are double masks, griffins, dragons, flowers, and birds. On the large card above, there are more Arita buttons depicting various gods. They have a high gloss glaze finish. The other buttons on this card depicting gods are Satsuma buttons with the typical crackled glaze. These buttons were also sent from Okinawa in 1958, according to the information on the card. Many of these Arita buttons are pictured in Sally Luscomb’s Encyclopedia, on p. 9.

There are also some gods and masks in their original wooden boxes in the exhibit. They appear to be made of Arita porcelain, what do you think? When you visit the Keep Homestead Museum, let us know your opinion about these boxed sets. Or you can email Jacquie Hatton with your opinion  here [add email link].

Written by Jacquie Hatton, President, Massachusetts State Button Society

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