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Asian Special – Fine Japanese Antiques

This stunning cabinet is known as a Shodana, and is seen here being used as intended – it’s a ‘curio cabinet’, to store your precious objects in.
What makes this example so interesting is the architectural element – the central portion contains two three-shelf corner partitions, the lower one having four sliding screen doors – miniature versions of the Japanese house doors – and the entire segment hinges outward, to leave the interior space clear. Above is another larger shelf section with four similar sliding doors. The open fretwork on these is amazing for its fineness and accuracy, true miniatures of the full-sized house doors in Meiji Japan. Add to that the rich wood inlay, and this is a truely spectacular piece of Japanese Meiji period craftsmanship.

Suzuribako writing box

A fine quality Japanese piece fresh to stock is this Japanese Suzuribako writing box. The lid has an intricate panel of quail and a maize plant, modelled in high relief with various woods and bone, the rest of the box adorned with an intricately carved cell pattern, the interior lined in jet black lacquer with gilt foliage to the inside of lid, fitted with a full set of writing instruments, including silver butterfly Suiteki inset within a silver dish, a carved slate ink-stone with gilt rim, two brushes, a bodkin with lacquer sheath & a matching steel blade with inscribed maker’s inscription, and two gilt-decorated ink blocks.  

Meiji period, 

Circa 1870 

23.5cm x 20.5cm, 6cm high
blade 6.5cm, in sheaf 19cm

An Inro Treasure

This is an ‘Inro’, a small box with cord to carry at your waist. Standing just 8cm tall, it was intended to contain ‘medicine’, via a series of segments that seal tightly together, a small usable compartment in the base of each.

Japanese Shibayama Inro
Japanese Shibayama Inro
Japanese Shibayama Inro
Japanese Shibayama Inro

The quality of this piece speaks for itself, with a very finely detailed continuous scene – probably from a popular play – depicting two gracious ladies seeing off a bare-foot bald-headed Samurai, clutching his sword. They were enjoying a quiet picnic in the woods a moment ago, as can be seen by the red rug with picnic box, wine bottle and cup….. and the intruder on the other side, a wizen old Samurai warrior with his sword, is receiving a good telling-off by the startled ladies. No doubt it’s illustrating something form a popular play of the period – if anyone knows, please send us a message!

Shibayama | Shokasai marks

There is a signature to the base of the lowest segment, which is interesting as it bears to parts; first, an inlaid mother-of-pearl plaque with ‘芝山’ , and second, three characters in gold lacquer “松花齋”. These signatures reveal the origins of this piece; the lacquer case and landscape is by Shokasai, a well known & respected Edo lacquer artist, while the fine inlaid figures is by the fabled Shibayama artists, made as a joint effort & hence signed by both.

Japanese Shibayama Inro
Japanese Inro, signature of Shokasai in gold to the left, for the lacquer; Shibayama on the inlaid plaque for the inlay work.

Shibayama: this Japanese family workshop of artisans was founded by Shabayama Dosho, also known as Senzo. He was a farmer from Shibayama who became a famous artist in the 18th century after moving to Edo to practice his trade. He had many descendents, such as his grandson & successor, Shibayama Naoyuki, who continued the workshop’s tradition for fine inlaid work into the 19th century. Records are not distinct when it comes to the later Edo period Shibayama artists, as they all used the simple signature “‘芝山” , for ‘Shibayama’.


ref. Bonhams NY 19 Sept. 2008, lot 5036 for a comparable example.

Japanese Woodblock Prints

Japanese artists began to print in the 17th century, and technological advances meant that by the 18th century they were able to produce large & colourful images. For the multi-coloured images, a different wood block was carved for each, and carefully lined up consecutively to create the multi-colours image.
They were initially commissions by the wealthy Edo period patrons to illustrate calendars, which they gave as New Year presents. Subjects were often beautiful courtesans, actors, or illustrations of popular opera scenes. Scenic splendour and historical events followed. They were hugely popular in Japan, and specialty shops existed just to sell ‘the latest’ from the famous artists. Collectors would be inclined to ’collect the series’ by a particular artist, storing them away in specialty wooden boxes. In many ways, it was just like the present day Comic Book scene!
The simple lines, and the bright separate zones of flat colour were the result of the techniques used. They were very important factors in the development of Western Art, once collectors discovered them in the later 19th century. In fact, it’s well documented that the great ’fathers of Modern Art’ such as Gauguin and Van Gogh both collected and were inspired by Japanese Woodblocks, as they set about their quest for a break with the traditions of Western Art.

We have a selection of these vivid prints for sale, some shown below with more to come shortly.

This Satsuma vase was no doubt directly inspired by a woodblock print of the time.
Vase: Kyoto Satsuma, featuring rare ’Gosu Blue’ enamel, circa 1880


Satsuma is a favorite Japanese decorative item, and is distinct & unique

The Allure of Japan

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A Chinese Musical Ensemble

Chinese Qing Dynasty Musical Instruments Painting

A remarkable folio of 200 year-old Chinese paintings recently came to Moorabool. They are large-scale examples of the ‘China Trade’ paintings, usually seen on a smaller scale on ‘Pith-paper’. These are on a thicker paper, using Mulberry bark as the basis, hence known as ‘Mulberry Paper’.
They were popular with the European traders who came to Canton to buy Tea, Silk, Porcelain, and exotic Eastern produce. Rare early examples can be the mid-18th century, but they became very popular by around 1800 as trade flourished.
Their subject matter reflects this intention as a ‘souvenir album’ – the distant ancestors of the postcard folio of the modern tourist.

‘The Story of Tea’, small folio, ex-Moorabool Antiques

One theme was ‘The Story of Tea’, showing the process it went through from the bush to the tea chest- appropriate considering the intended customer, visiting European merchants. Another rarer series follows the manufacture of Porcelain.

By far the most popular subjects were the everyday people that visitors would have seen on the streets – the umbrella mender, the fish sellers, the hat maker. Crime & punishment folios featured many macabre details not suitable for children… Others have children playing with toys, the dress of the wealthy & court, and the bright & lively processions for various holidays and celebrations.

Camellia Sensis, tea plant, Chinese Export pith painting
Camellia Sensis, tea plant, Chinese Export pith painting, Moorabool Antiques

A third group served as a ‘Visual Encyclopaedia’ – with subjects such as flower specimens, birds & fish specimens, ship types, and even ’Antiques’. This album we are showing here belongs to this group, a Musical Instrument ‘visual guide’.

Occasionally there are small-scale pith paintings of Chinese musicians playing the various instruments –
but it seems these depictions of instruments on this album are quite rare.
No comparable example could be found.

Chinese Pith Painting - Musical Procession
Chinese Pith Painting – a Musical Procession, c. 1830-50 Moorabool Antiques

They represent a large number of Chinese musical instruments, as were used in the early 19th century when they were painted. As a folio, they were a document of the types of Chinese traditional instruments, which brings to mind it’s purpose: to the Westerners who were often the clients for the China-Trade paintings, they were curios; to the Chinese, they would be a fine reference folio for the musically minded – a tutor to a prince, perhaps?

Chinese Qing Dynasty Musical Instruments Painting
Ready to play….. a finely detailed Chinese Qing Dynasty Musical Instrument Painting depicting a ‘Qin’ harp, circa 1800- 1830

A total of 20 instruments are depicted, some single, several double, and two triple.

These works are for sale individually, or talk to us if you are interested in the complete group, or part thereof. Individual prices – $750 each, all 11 total price $7,000

Other Chinese Paintings

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The Death of Nelson

Death of Nelson Staffordshire Figure

Trafalgar, 1805:
It was a tragedy of heroic proportions: the battle with the French was won, but the admiral responsible, Nelson, was dead. While the event happened in 1805, it still had the imagination of the public 40 years later, when the Staffordshire figure illustrated here was made to dramatically illustrate the event.

In the words of William Beatty, Surgeon on the Victory who published his account in 1807:

About fifteen minutes past one o’clock, which was in the heat of the engagement, he (Nelson) was walking the middle of the quarter-deck with Captain HARDY, and in the act of turning near the hatchway with his face towards the stern of the Victory, when the fatal ball was fired from the Enemy’s mizen-top; which, from the situation of the two ships (lying on board of each other), was brought just abaft, and rather below, the Victory’s main-yard, and of course not more than fifteen yards distant from that part of the deck where His LORDSHIP stood. The ball struck the epaulette on his left shoulder, and penetrated his chest. He fell with his face on the deck. Captain HARDY, who was on his right (the side furthest from the Enemy) and advanced some steps before His LORDSHIP, on turning round, saw the Serjeant Major (SECKER) of Marines with two Seamen raising him from the deck; where he had fallen on the same spot on which, a little before, his Secretary had breathed his last, with whose blood His LORDSHIP’s clothes were much soiled. Captain HARDY expressed a hope that he was not severely wounded; to which the gallant Chief replied: “They have done for me at last, HARDY.”—”I hope not,” answered Captain HARDY. “Yes,” replied His LORDSHIP; “my backbone is shot through.”……..

CAPTAIN HARDY ordered the Seamen to carry the Admiral to the cockpit; …. The Reverend Doctor SCOTT, who had been absent in another part of the cockpit administering lemonade to the wounded, now came instantly to His LORDSHIP ….. (Nelson said) “take care of my dear Lady HAMILTON, HARDY; take care of poor Lady HAMILTON. Kiss me, HARDY.” The Captain now knelt down, and kissed his cheek; when HIS LORDSHIP said, “Now I am satisfied. Thank GOD, I have done my duty.” Captain HARDY stood for a minute or two in silent contemplation: he then knelt down again, and kissed HIS LORDSHIP’S forehead. HIS LORDSHIP said: “Who is that?” The Captain answered: “It is HARDY;” to which HIS LORDSHIP replied, “GOD bless you, HARDY!” After this affecting scene Captain HARDY withdrew, and returned to the quarter-deck, having spent about eight minutes in this his last interview with his dying friend.

….The Surgeon again left him, and returned to the wounded who required his assistance; but was not absent five minutes before the Steward announced to him that “he believed HIS LORDSHIP had expired.” The Surgeon returned, and found that the report was but too well founded: HIS LORDSHIP had breathed his last, at thirty minutes past four o’clock; at which period Doctor SCOTT was in the act of rubbing HIS LORDSHIP’S breast, and Mr. BURKE supporting the bed under his shoulders.

Thus died this matchless Hero….”


Nelson memorabilia was a big market throughout the earlier 19th century. This is no surprise when we consider the potential market: England had spent a long time struggling with France, and the soldiers & sailors who went through the experience in the early 19th century – in their teens or twenties – were in their ‘old-age’ years by the 1840’s when this figure was made – the perfect time to buy a figure with sentimental appeal for the mantel! And perhaps, as a present from the next generation, given to the Grandfather who would entertain with his stories of ‘… back when I was in the Navy….’ .

Death of Nelson Staffordshire Figure
Death of Nelson Staffordshire Figure c. 1845

This group is rare: there are several different depictions, by different factories, with the three figures in the group. In Harding, vol. 1 p92, there are 5 variations illustrated; 4 are ‘E’ rarity, suggested at £3-400. This version, however, is ‘C’ rarity: £1,000 – £2,000.
The figures are well modelled, the painting well executed, and the most distinct point-of-difference is the pair of lanyards with rings attached, moulded & painted black front center.

Harding’s example of the rare version of ‘Death of Nelson’
The other 4 Staffordshire ‘Death of Nelson’ groups, as recorded by Harding.
left- Harding’s example, note cup in hand. right- our example, much finer details.

The visible fingers of both officers have been restored in our example – although Nelson has somehow survived intact! Examining the illustrated example reveals a mistake the restorer made: the figure on the left should have a glass of water he is offering to Nelson, not included with the restoration.

This comparison with the example in Harding’s book also emphasizes the superior quality of our example – the detailing seems much crisper, which may simply mean it came out of a newly made mould, as opposed to the harding example, where the mould was well-used and details less distinct.

It’s a fine & desirable rarity, despite its flaws!

Death of Nelson Staffordshire Figure

Who are his companions?

With the tale of his death as told above, we can identify the figures comforting Nelson. To his left is the gent who should have a glass in his hand; this would fit the part played by the Reverend Doctor Scott, who was ‘administering lemonade to the wounded’ and gave Nelson liquid when he requested it.
To his right is an officer, holding his hand; this would be Hardy; famously, towards the end, Nelson said ‘Kiss me, Hardy’.

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Antiquities – Recent Additions

Hoi An Shipwreck Ceramics 1480
Antiquities – thousands of years, and surprisingly inexpensive!

We go back to the beginning in this stock release of Antiquities.
We’ve stocked Antiquities at Moorabool for many decades, beginning in the 1990’s when a young Paul Rosenberg studied the subject at University. When he lived in London and studied at Christies, he discovered the amazing world of the Antiquities Trade in London. Through good fortune, he befriended an elderly dealer who took him under her wing and taught him the ropes. This was a time when the Middle-East was opening up, and masses of items were flooding into Europe: one of the first lessons was to avoid such sources!
Firstly, they were illegal; the items had been ripped out of the ground and sold without provenance. The funds were flowing back to undesirable causes….
At the same time, there were workshops making ancient artifacts: many were very convincing, with even the large dealers being caught out by cunning fakery.
The best way to ensure authenticity, he was taught, was to find pieces from old collections. The thing about fakes is that they were pretty bad in historical times: there was not much understanding about technique and style, and things such as materials used and techniques of construction were not ‘faked’ – the fakers used materials at hand, and modern tools & techniques. They often look pretty bad when put alongside a genuine piece.
This all changed in the latter 20th century: publications explaining how to tell a genuine item – and then the internet – meant there was a resource for fakers to learn how to fool the experts. This is particularly apparent in the world of Chinese Antiquities.
Moorabool follows these lessons today – sourcing pieces from old collections when possible – and Melbourners of the past were great collectors of Antiquities.

Today’s Fresh Stock release is a fine selection of interesting ancient artifacts.
All Guaranteed Genuine – we provide a certificate with each, and they prove to be very popular gifts.

Their fascination is universal, and the age alone astounds young & old: to hold one of these pieces is to hold a small part of our humanity. It’s where we all came from, and really puts the present into context.

Roman Bronze Mirror

Mirrors on the Ancient World

The discovery of Bronze working gave rise to the introduction of the first mirrors: the shine of newly spelted bronze allowed the onlooker to see their image reflected, and so it was only natural that flat bronze surfaces were polished for that purpose. Egyptian mirrors emerged 6,000 years ago, and Chinese bronze workers independently developed very similar products shortly after. The Greeks followed, and then the Romans. During their empire, they were made all over Europe, and the example we have dates to this period, 2nd-1st century BC. As the Roman Empire faded into the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, mirror technology was forgotten in Europe – but never in China, and the Middle East. Their re-emergence in Europe coincides with the expansion of the ‘Viking’ trading networks across the continent, and their interactions with the Middle East. Mirrors appear again in the early Medieval period in Northern Europe, 9th-10th centuries AD. A topic for another blog!
The mirror in today’s Fresh is from the Roman period, dating to the first few centuries BC.

Chinese Antiquities

As you will notice, we have a good stock of early Chinese pieces.
These were purchased by Paul, mostly in Hong Kong, in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. At that time, there was a vast amount being uncovered in China, due in no small part to the rapid investment by the government in infrastructure: the network of roads, railways, and entire new cities throughout the regions that had 5,000 years of history just beneath the soil led to the inevitable destruction of a vast number of archaeological sites.

Han Dynasty Mill, 206BC-221AD
Han Dynasty pottery model of a Mill, 206BC-221AD

Case point: the Three Gorges Dam, the largest project of its kind ever undertaken, began construction in 1994. It flooded a very important part of the country, the river valleys where Chinese civilization had taken root from the Neolithic period 6,000 years ago through to the present. Over 2,000 modern-day towns and villages were destroyed, with the water level rising 91 meters to create a lake 600km long…. the quoted number of archaeological sites destroyed by this is 1,300, but this is unverifiable, and depends on the definition of ‘site’: an area as well populated for so many thousands of years would have been saturated with cultural remains. Some buildings were relocated, but the vast majority was left to the floodwaters – or recovered & sold. This process repeated itself all over China as their market capitalism experiment took root: the vast number of factories alone that were constructed, and the towns to house their workers, required a huge amount of land, which was often full of cultural artifacts. The scale of it meant that while archaeologists were involved with some – and hopefully the most important – recoveries, it was the developers and contractors who were responsible for collecting items from a project. These items were then sold, and made their way to the West.

Tang Dynasty Figures, 8th century AD
Tang Dynasty pottery Figures, 8th century AD

This all changed by the end of the decade. China introduced strict laws, and Chinese Culture – which had been despised by the previous mindset of the ‘cultural revolution’ (responsible for the destruction of vast amounts of Chinese Art & Artifacts) – suddenly became a focus. The export of such items was halted, and Hong Kong suddenly became bare of Chinese Antiquities…
That is, until the fakers got to work. With the original Chinese source ceasing, the gap in the market became lucrative for brand-new antiquities. Ironically, many of these are probably made in China, and perfectly legitimately exported as copies. Unfortunately, they are often sold as original in the West; to see examples of this you have to look no further than the popular online sales platforms, awash in recent copies and impossible to tell from a photo in most cases.
We have a stash of good original pieces, put aside over 20 years ago and only recently brought out to be catalogued.
The best of these pieces is the duck below: he had a chipped beak, so had not been offered for sale – now his beak is fixed, he’s a handsome, large rarity, straight out of a Chinese farmyard 2,000 years ago.

Han Dynasty Tomb Model - Goose
Han Dynasty Model Duck (or Goose?), 206BC-221AD

Hoi An Shipwreck Ceramics

Back in the early 2000’s, a sensational shipwreck recovery hit the market. Under the sea for 500 years, these desirable little pieces of Annomese – meaning Vietnamese – ceramics are actually not even ‘second hand’ – they didn’t make it to their destination when originally made!
They were produced at Chu Dau, near Hanoi, where an excavated kiln site of the period matches the shipwreck finds exactly.  They were, of course, entirely hand-painted, and it is the calligraphic style of this brushwork that attracts the eye of the collector. They come from the ‘Golden Age’ of the Annamese ceramics tradition, a short period at the end of the 15th century when opportunity favoured the Vietnamese potters. China, with its immense trade network, had collapsed into civil war, and overseas trade was shut down for a period by decree of the Emperor.
Vietnam, with many Chinese traders & potters, already in place, was in the perfect position to take on this lucrative production & trade, with South-East Asia and the rich kingdoms of present-day Indonesia being the markets where there was high demand for ceramics. It is no coincidence therefore that they borrow heavily on Chinese design – and yet there is a distinct individuality to the products.

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Vive la France!

Bastille 1789

Welcome to another release of Fresh Stock. We have quite a backlog of fresh items to attend to – and don’t forget to take advantage of our current ‘FREE SHIPPING’ offer.

Bastille Day Special –
Vive la France!

Today, we’re looking at our French stock as France celebrates Bastille Day & all things French. We have
un grand choix d’antiquités Françaises. Savourer!

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A Sensational Tudor Discovery

Christopher Columbus, Santa Maria c.1530

Remarkable objects turn up in Australia.

This early English needlework is an exceptional example.

At the Malvern Antique Fair in 1976, John & Lorraine Rosenberg of Moorabool Antiques purchased a framed needlework from another dealer. Placing it on their own stand for sale, it promptly sold to a local collector, who treasured it for the next 43 years.

She puzzled over its meaning and came to a remarkable conclusion: it depicts the events of the late 15th century, showing the fall of the Moors in Spain, and co-regents Isabella & Ferdinand II unifying the two kingdoms into the one Kingdom of ‘Spain’. It shows the three ships of Christopher Columbus….. and so much more, in a narrative of images, almost like a cartoon. Those familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry will understand the concept of telling a tale in thread. In 2019, it came back to Moorabool with the first elements deciphered above.

Since then, more and more of its remarkable tales have been untangled, and an exciting discovery can be revealed.
This is a 500 year old ‘comic book’ with immense significance for British, Spanish, and American history.

More to come shortly – in-depth analysis & expert opinion to follow.

Each detail in this textile is intentional, carefully sewn in incredible detail over a great length of time. It was a tale that the author had to tell… but what is the tale, and why?

Unravelling the story has been a fascinating journey; we invite you to join us as we explore these details in a series of interactive presentations.

Press Kits are also available.

Send us your details below to keep up-to-date.

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2022 Melbourne Antique Fair, Malvern Town Hall

Moorabool Antiques @ Malvern Town Hall

The 2022 AAADA Melbourne Antique Fair is ‘going back to where it began’ – the Malvern Town Hall.

It was here in 1959 that a young John Rosenberg attended, sharing a stand with Geelong antique dealer R G Hamilton, a good friend & influence on the young dealer. He was just 19 – still the youngest age for acceptance into what is now the AAADA.
Today, his son Paul continues the family business – with a stand in almost the same place in the majestically restored main hall.

Moorabool has attended every Association fair since – and 2019 would have been the 60th consecutive – but it was postponed, and 2020 – and 2021 – were victims of restrictions – so this year, 2022, marks Moorabool’s 60th fair.

We’ve had a fantastic few days, a lot of catching up with our Melbourne friends… thank- you for all who said ‘hi’.

We also received a special surprise – there is a new ‘prize’, a silver cup awarded to the ‘most popular’ stand in the fair – ted by the visitors.

We were very surprised to come second – thank-you to all who voted!

Brought to the Fair, Melbourne 2022

These items are a selection of our stock seen at the fair. Use the ‘see all’ button to view the total fair stock.

60/60 AAADA Fairs, Melbourne
From the first ever fair in 1959, Moorabool has not missed a single one! That’s 60/60 in 2022.
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FreshDiscovery – 1751 Pastel by Perronneau, finest portraitist of his day.

Regarded by the leading expert Neil Jeffares as one of the two ‘best pastel portraitists’ of the 18th century, Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (1716-1783) is rarely seen outside collections. We were very excited to find a previously unrecorded portrait in Melbourne recently.

Close-up of Jeanne-Marie Mallès, aged 18.

It had an inscription on the back which gave us enough clues to find the original sitter, and we were delighted to discover the signature in the top right corner:

Pernooeau’s signature & the date 1751, signed in lead.

There was a modern label to the back covering, with a few details – probably copied from the previous covering. From this we can identify her: Jeanne-Marie Mallès, later Mme Tobie Clarke (1733–1821).

 Jeanne-Marie Mallès was from a seafaring family, her father being a Captain in the East Indies Company. However, he died in 1744; Jean-Marie was fatherless when this portrait was done in 1751, and it was 7 years later she was married to Toby Clarke (1733–1821), merchant of Nantes. They had several children, and a daughter, Marie, married François-Claude de Karuel de Merey, capitaine d’infanterie, who died in 1804 – the year Napoleon crowned himself Emperor – probably no coincidence, with the war with England and Spain raging.

Correspondence with Mr Jeffares has resulted in the authentication of the signature, making it a ‘signature piece’, and it is now added to the online ‘catalogue resonné’ of Perronneau, listing of every example authenticated, part of the amazing record freely accessible on Mr Jeffares site, .
You’ll find it as part of the following document:

An interesting note in Jeffares’ comments is that he sometimes dropped – or added – an ‘n’ to his name. Our example is the shortened version, Perroneau.
There are also several other examples of his sitters ‘as Dianna’ , obviously an interesting option to choose when having your portrait done. How fascinating, this beautiful young lady who had lost her father aged 11, had this portrait done showing her as the strong Goddess of the Hunt in 1751, and only married 7 years later. You can see her character in the twinkle of her eye..

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Arabic Wonders

Middle Eastern Art

The wonders of the Middle-East have always appealed to the Western world. It has always been ‘exotic’ and associated with luxury due to the nature of the regular contact through trade. Persian rugs were the go-to for any Victorian household, and other textiles were in great demand – and expensive. 

We have recently found some metalwork & ceramics that followed this route, all the way to Australia. Mostly from one Western District (Victoria) estate, they have been in Australia for generations – quite possibly since new. Australians have always been great travellers, and collectors. The nature of the passage to Australia through the Suez Canal meant constant contact with the Middle-East, and with the number of troops who pivited through there in both Wars, it is no wonder we find Australia a great place for discovering quality Arabic wares. 

Views in Egypt, by Salt, 1809

These large-scale hand-coloured aquatints were an attempt by Henry Salt to express the scale of wonder to be seen in Egypt. Ruled by the Ottoman Empire until the French and then the English invaded, Egypt was not often visited in the 18th and early 19th century. However, once the British had the upper hand on the French, they made certain their influence was felt in the region. Henry Salt was trained as an artist, a student of Farrington and also Hoppner, R.A. – but came to love Egypt during his travels from 1802-1806, as secretary and draughtsman with George Annesley, Viscount Valentia. They embarked on a major tour of ‘The East’, visiting India, Ceylon, Abysinnia and Egypt. Salt’s drawing skills were utilised, being used as the basis for illustrations in his employer’s publication, ‘Voyages and Travels’.
They were part of a large folio, “Twenty-four views taken in St Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia & Egypt”, published 1809. These were the only two to depict Egypt.
Salt went on to become British Consul-General in Egypt in 1815, where excavated extensively, procuring a large number of antiquities for The British Museum and for his own collection. He sent a large collection of antiquities to The British Museum in 1818. Many other pieces were sold to private collectors, the most notable of these being the sarcophagus of Sety I purchased by Sir John Soane and still to be seen in his house museum in London today.

Egyptian Silver Coffeepot

The engine-turning is particularly interesting and is evidence of European technology in the Egyptian workshops during the 19th century. The concentric lathe needed for engraving these lines was a European invention of the latter 18th century.

The shape is common in Europe from the 18th century, particularly in Eastern Europe, and the flower knop is copied directly from a European piece of the 19th century. The intended market would have been the Eastern Europeans, although luxury European wares were also valued by the Ottoman Court, so it could have been for use in a great Ottoman household somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean.

A remarkable Egyptian silver coffee pot, after an Eastern European original, Ottoman period of Sultan Abdulaziz (1861-76)

Sultan Abdulaziz 1830-76

Ottoman silver of this quality is rarely seen. It would have been a very expensive luxury good, available for the Ottoman wealthy, or imported as an exotic import into Europe. Sultan Abdulaziz was the 32nd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and the first to travel through Europe. He was entertained by monarchs in the major European countries, with Queen Victoria entertaining him on her royal yacht in 1867 and making him a Knight of the Garter. He loved Europe’s technological progress, and was present at the ‘Exposition Universal’ in Paris in 1867. The Technology and Science from around the globe which he witnessed there led him to seek to bring the Ottoman Empire into the modern world. He was responsible for many rapid advances such as a postal service, the first railroads, and a navy that became the 3rd largest in the world after England & France. The European nature of this pot reflect this interest in the European world just next door.

Egyptian Silver Hallmark
Egyptian Silver Hallmark signature of Sultan Abdulaziz 1861-76

The marks are found on each component, ie. body, lid & flower knop. The ‘tourgha’ is the Islamic calligraphic signature of the Sultan, with each Sultan having his own. The form of this one places it in Egypt. Next to this is the sah mark, in this case stating ’90’ as the 90% assay of silver content. The mark of the maker is found engraved on the base, within two zig-zag lines. These lines were the result of the assayer taking a sample to test the silver content, and act as further proof of the .900 grade of the silver.

Ottoman Turkish Coffee Set, .800 Silver, Circa 1900

Sparkling Silver coffee set, including a long handled ‘cezve‘ coffeepot, covered in inscriptions. Turkish .800 silver, c.1900

A superb quality Turkish silver coffee set including the traditional ‘cezve‘ open-topped dingle-handled coffeepot with incredible Kufic script engraved around each piece.

Early Islamic Bronze basin

Seljuk slamic bronze basin, 13th century

Seljuk Bronze Basin, 13th century

Seljuk Islamic bronze basin, 13th century
Seljuk Islamic bronze basin, 13th century
with a Moghul brass ewer, 18th century

This large basin was a symbol of status. Paired with a water-ewer, it was part of the ritual of hospitality to offer water to wash hands & feet – no doubt dusty from travel. What is remarkable is the size; it would have been brightly buffed originally, or plated in a shiny tin- and an impressive introduction to a visitor to a household.
On the walls are panels of Kufic script, which when translated often wish the best blessings to the guests and household. Interestingly, there are a series of brass rings inlaid around the central flowerhead motif, an early instance of the complex inlaying of metals that developed in the following centuries.

Damascus Wares

These ‘mixed-metal’ items are collectively known as ‘Damascus Ware’ due to the Souq (markets) of Damascus being full of pieces for sale. However, it is a common form of craft from around the Ottoman Empire and beyond, going back to the Seljuk Empire of the 10th century.

The Seljuk were nomadic Turkic tribesmen, who overran the region in the 10th century, taking the great city of Baghdad in 1055, and under whose rule the ‘Golden Age’ of Islamic Art was achieved.

In the 19th century, interest in the earlier Seljuk period led to a renewal of the technique and elaborate designs. In Damascus and Cairo, the Souqs encountered by westerners were full of exquisite ‘Seljuk Revival’ pieces like the vase pictured to the right.

Seljuk Bronze 13th century

Early Islamic Inlay, Seljuk 13th century

This rare Islamic bronze dish is decorated with inscriptions, with 6 panels of script to the rim and 4 to the interior. Another 6 can be found along the outside wall, all in very stylized ‘kufic’ type script, which can still be translated by scholars today; usually it is a blessing for the food and the consumer, often sourced from the Koran.
It is of a distinct angular form, and has been made by a combination of casting the body, then hammering & incising decoration. The body is very thick, and the result is surprisingly heavy.

It has some sections of copper inlaid as decoration, with the flower centers having rounded inserts and the structure of the central star with central copper strip. It also has silver, which has corroded; this was used for a series of crescent moons in the roundels, with a budding plant cupped by the crescent. It is tempting to see this as an early incidence of the Islamic Crescent symbol. However, while the Seljuk were Muslim, it wasn’t until the 15th century and the Ottoman Empire that a ‘crescent’ became the symbol for Islam.The other roundels have full flowers, and in combination with the new moon crescent, they are probably symbolic of ‘the cycle of life’. The quality of the bronze alloy is excellent, and this piece has survived in extremely fine condition.

Seljuk Khorasan, 13th century AD

Examples can be traced to Egypt, the Balkans, Turkey, Iran/Iraq, and of course Syria. With the rise of Islam, it became the perfect way to have both something incredibly precious & decorative, while showing correct piety; the calligraphic script is usually a quote from the Koran, often wishing health & prosperity. This script is an art form in itself, and when examining a piece, one can only admire the skill. Each metal – sometimes a bronze base with copper, silver and gold inlaid – is carefully hammered into a ‘trench’ prepared with a chisel, being careful to make the base of this incision broader than the surface cut. This results in the metal being hammered in being firmly fixed without any further work. It is then carefully smoothed & polished, sometimes engraved, leaving it proud of the surface. The entwined foliage knotwork designs are simply mesmerizing.

Most quality pieces we see are from the 19th-early 20th century, and they all look back to the earlier ‘Mamluk’ period – hence the term ‘Mamluk Revival’.

Damascus Ware Coffeepot
Turkish ‘Damascus Ware’ Coffeepot & 6 glasses with extensive inscriptions, c. 1900

Qalamzani metalwork of Iran

Charger by Master Mahdi Alamdari (1957-- ? ), 1970's
Charger by Master Mahdi Alamdari (1957– ? ), 1970’s

The technique of ‘Qalamzani’ was skillfully developed in Qajar Persia (Iran), and continued into the subsequent Pahlavis period. It involves using a series of sharp chisels to gouge through a surface layer of metal, often revealing a prepared second metal beneath.
We have a stunning example of Qalamzani work, a very large charger. This piece has is a masterpiece, and signed by Master Mahdi Alamdari. Born in 1957, he was in his early 20’s when this piece was created. We can date it through one simple fact: it has human images. There is a story being illustrated, probably from one of the multitude of legends Persia is so rich in. As outlined below, such an image would have been prohibited by the Sharia law of the post-1979 Islamic Republic, allowing us to date this piece to the late 1970’s.

If anyone knows their Persian stories, I’d love to know the tale this scene tells – drop us a message!

It is unfortunate that Iran has become severed from the Western World since then, and interesting to examine the path that led it there. Read more by clicking the ‘Road to Isolation’ below.

A brief history of Iran’s 20th century road to isolation.

During WWII, Britain used the ‘Persian Corridor’ to access their ally Russia, and to deny Germany access to the oil fields of the region. The Russian did not leave despite the Tehran Conference, where along with the USA, they agreed to leave Iran’s borders where they had been before the war.
This led to one of the first confrontations between the USA and USSR which we remember as the ‘Cold War’: the USA then covertly performed their first ‘regime change’ by spearheading a coup to overthrow the only democratic government Iran has ever known, and installing an absolute monarch of their own choice.
This Shah, Pahlavi, came to depend on the support of the USA to stay in power – which he managed to do for the next 26 years. The USA was of course thinking strategically; Iran had access to vast oil reserves, and was adjacent to the USSR, so a strategic ally in the ‘Cold War’ they were fighting. The 1960’s-70’s were a prosperous time for Iran, with plenty of USA & UK interaction, and a time when Iranian Arts & culture were readily available to the West. This was the date our large charger would have come out of Iran.
This all changed in 1979; a festering unrest at the Western nation’s abuses over the past century – in particular, dissatisfaction at the Shah’s dependence on the USA – led to the ‘White Revolution’.
The result was a Theocracy, the Islamic Republic of Iran – following the leadership of the Supreme Leader, Khomein. As a part of the strict Sharia (Islamic Law) ideology, images of humans & animals – ie. any living thing – were ‘strongly discouraged’. This stemmed from interpretations of the displeasure of Muhammad on seeing idols in his time. The traditional arts of the Persian world came to a screeching halt, with the vast majority of artists leaving Iran for Western exile in the following decade.
The last 40 years have been isolating for Iran, as it has had the constant embargo on almost everything, and the heavy attention of the USA leaning on it. As a result, it is still a place of mystery, and the art & artifacts we come across have that same ancient sparkle of a far-away mysterious & exotic land, filled with wonderful treasures…

Persian Qajar (Iranian) Ceramics

These colourful ceramics are from Iran, products of the pottery industry that flourished in the Qajar dynasty.

Otherwise known as the ‘Persian’ Empire, the Qajar dynasty controlled parts the area of present-day countries Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, as well as the southern parts of Georgia.

The Qajars ruled from 1779 to 1924, coming from Astarabad, south-east of the Caspian Sea. Under the Qajars the capital of this Persia Empire was moved to Tehran.

Selection of Qajar ‘fritware’ vases & tiles: the body is not just fired clay, but rather a ‘glassy’ silica granular slurry of sand and a very minor amount of clay, which fuses when heated, the fused surface keeping the piece structurally sound. If broken, a crumbly sand-like interior is exposed. The example at far right is several centuries earlier, being a fine example of Iznik production of the late 15th/early 16th century. It was on this legacy that the Qajar ceramics built their trade, often imitating much earlier designs.

Qajar tile with horseman & Huma, 19th c.

Tiles were a useful wall covering that was both decorative and durable. Depicted here is perhaps the illustration from a legend – the man on his green-spotted horse appears to feed the circling spectacular bird with the extra large tail. This bird we can identify as a ‘Simurgh’.

The Simurgh  – also called Huma – was a mythical bird which flew invisibly above the earth. With no legs, it could not land, and it never cast a shadow – except onto a King. The feathers often seen on a King/Shah/Sultan’s turban represent this divine anointing. It is a mighty and auspicious bird, bringer of great fortune, and features central to the early Persian tales.

It also represents the unattainable –  always being unreachable high, perhaps the origin of the saying ‘aiming for the sky’.

Persian 'Kitab-i hasha'ish' - Materia Medica of Dioscurides,

Persian ‘Kitab-i hasha’ish’ – the Materia Medica of Dioscurides, Botanical Medical manuscript

This Persian manuscript page is a fascinating example of how the Islamic World preserved ancient knowledge during Europe’s so-called ‘Dark Ages’. It is from a ‘Kitab-i hasha’ish‘ – the ‘Materia Medica’ of Dioscurides, a 1st century AD physician of Greek origin, who had compiled the botanical medicinal knowledge of the period into a series of books. Originally in Greek, they were preserved through constant copying complete with illustrations in the Islamic world. They drew on all knowledge of the time, and Dioscurides claimed to have travelled far & wide as a physician with the Roman Army. This example has an illustration of an unknown bulb with groups of red flowers, the text explaining the usage of various components for various ailments, in flowing Persian calligraphy with important words in red. It is set within a frame of gold / black / red / blue  carefully ruled lines, a style that appears on items originating in Isfahan, Iran – although they were made right across the Islamic world for many centuries, from the earliest in Baghdad in the 10th century to Morocco and India right into the 19th century.

This page is attributed to one from the 17th – 18th century.

Fresh Middle-Eastern stock

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18th April Fresh Stock – Greek Revival

April 18

Fresh on – a collection of Greek Revival ceramics from Victorian England.
Our Western society was based on the Classical past, and this is very obvious when we examine the objects and designs favoured by the later Georgians & the Victorians. While the frivolity of the Rococo commanded attention in the mid-18th century, the ‘swing of the pendulum’ changed the fashion by the end of the century to the polar opposite. The complex organic form of rococo scrolls are swept away, and are replaced by direct copies of the ancient ‘ideal’ designs of the Greeks & Romans. Across all aspects of Art & Architecture, classicism dominated the designs produced from the 1790’s well into the early Victorian period of the mid 19th century and beyond.
In this timespan, some fascinating ceramics were produced – with interesting examples in the collection we are offering today.

John Flaxman R.A.
‘Minerva repressing the fury of Achilles’, illustration from an 1805 edition of Homer’s ‘Iliad’,
engraved by William Blake, poet and engraver of note.
Greek Black-Figure Lekythos, illustrating a scene from the Trojan War – Achilles slaying the Amazon Queen Penthesilea, and realizing a moment later she was the love-of-his-life…. a Greek Tragedy.
Attic, 510-500 BC. Moorabool Antiques sold archives >>

John Flaxman (British, 1755–1826) is the most famous of the ‘Neoclassical’ designers of Britain in the latter 18th-early 19th century. This was the period of great change in the visual arts, with the re-discovery of the ‘perfection’ of ancient Greek & Roman design, stimulated by the emerging ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The British had secured the fabulous sculpture from the Acropolis in Athens, and installed it in the purpose-build chamber in the new British Museum. Flaxman created designs inspired by these sources, and they were endlessly published and used for countless architectural, decorative, and industrial designs. The classical literature such as ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ were illustrated with engravings of their story, often directly copied from ancient Greek vases. Ceramics were a natural medium for re-creating the Classical Past, as hundreds of ancient Greek pots covered in painted scenes that were being extracted from tombs intact and admired by the intellectual Europeans.

Greek Red-Figure Oinochoe, ‘Fashionable Lady’ profile, South Italian c. 380 BC
Moorabool Antiques sold archives >>

In order to make these rare pieces accessible to everyone (and not just the wealthy & museums) copies were created, which we now label as ‘Grand Tour’ pieces – often brought back from Greece & Rome by the travellers of Georgian England. In England, the existing ceramic producers set out to create their own interpretations of this latest taste, with mixed results. Flaxman set out on his long career as a designer in 1775 working for Josiah Wedgwood, where he created very faithful versions of the ancient designs – and the many ‘classic’ Wedgwood blue jasper designs we associate with the name ‘Wedgwood’ today were by him. These Wedgwood designs were the pinnacle of taste for display on the mantelpiece in polite society drawing rooms, and reflected the perceived intellectual understanding of the classical past by their owners. The scenes had titles, and were illustrations of the Greek & Roman stories taught to any offspring of the wealthy.

However…. in time, the fashion permeated all levels of society, and rather than the intellectual pursuit of the elite, the classical designs came to be appreciated by ‘the masses’. The designs were curious links to the distant past – and the story-telling aspect of the scenes no longer became the focus, as the audience was not the intellectual scholar demanding accurate ‘Homeresqe’ details, but someone looking for a pleasing design for their teaset. This was the age of mass production, and the hundreds of small and large ceramic factories of Stoke-on-Trent and other manufacturing hubs produced endless variety of ‘Greek’ wares.

Greek Revival British Ceramics
‘Greek Revival’ British Ceramics & glass at Moorabool Antiques, including Ridgway, Copeland & Garrett, Maws, and a rare Martin Brothers piece.

Copeland & Garrett designs

This fascinating pattern is titled ‘Herculaneum’ – refering of course to the Roman town covered in ash and hot mud by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. However, the designs are not Roman, but Greek. It illustrates the blurring of the Classical World that the Victorians perpetrated.
Copeland & Garrett was a partnership in Staffordshire which began in 1833, and ended in 1847. (having taken over Spode in 1833, and using the mark ‘Late Spode’ – while post-1847 it is just ‘Copeland & Sons’ – with the Spode name only being revived again for production in 1970)

This pair of Copeland & Garrett covered pots below are large examples of the ‘Greek Revival’ style, bearing some quirky figures of vaguely Roman style, repeating patterns taken from Greek 5th century BC ‘Black Figure’ ceramics, and using a printed outline which was then filled in with enamels. They also imitated the Greek added decoration, where white would be added over the top to define details. The result is certainly eye-catching – although nothing like anything the Greeks would have made. The ‘winged dog’ featured at the top of the page is a Whippet, given wings!

Copeland+Garrett ‘Greek Revival’ earthenwares of the 1840’s
Copeland & Garrett pat. 5292

The marks on this pair of covered jars allow us to date them quite precisely – while the ‘Copeland’ mark appears on three pieces, there is also the mark of the earlier partnership on one lid, ‘Copeland & Garrett’. This partnership – and mark – changed in 1847, meaning the pieces must have been made after this name-change, but not too long as there was one piece still waiting to be decorated in the workshop storehouse – the lid.
Circa 1848 is the most probable date.

The ‘New Blanche’ was the name they gave to their white earthenware body, although it is not often seen marked like this.

Another trend in ceramics was to imitate the ‘Red Figure’ wares of Greece dating to the 4th century BC. These involved a black ground with the figures reserved to show the body colour through. The majority of pieces we see are from the firm of F & R Pratt. This firm had been printing on ceramics since the early Victorian period (c. 1847), and became especially famous for embracing the newly developed method of printing several separate colours onto one piece to provide full-colour ‘painterly’ decoration. Most famous of these wares are the ‘pot-lids’ – basically colourful throw-away containers made for various products such as ‘fish paste’ and ‘bear grease’.

Pratt-Maws Old Greek wares
Pratt-Maws ‘Old Greek’ wares, early 20th century

In the 1880s, they started creating Classical printed designs faithful to the prints of John Flaxman from 50 years earlier, accurately naming it ‘Old Greek’. The body isn’t expensive, being a thick white earthenware, and the printing process meant unskilled workers could apply the finely detailed designs quickly as a transfer – and then background would simply be coloured in with black glaze. The result was a pleasing ‘classic’ design, faithful to the ancient Greek aesthetics – produced cheaply, sold for a bargain price, and very popular for a long time. If you check below you’ll see the prices are still very tempting!


Later on, they allowed the Shropshire firm Maw & Co to print the designs. Best known for tiles, this large firm had the ability to produce vast quantities of the design, which continued for many decades, well into the 20th century. As a result, we see a lot of these pieces that were imported into Australia 1900-1920 as useful, decorative wares. These later pieces are easily identified by the rather splendid large ‘Discus Thrower’ mark printed beneath most pieces.

These interesting but inexpensive earthenwares come in a large number of shapes & sizes, from teapots to ashtrays. The ‘Old Greek’ designs clearly illustrate the idea of ‘mass produced culture’, which seems to have been extremely popular in Australia at the time, being so far away from the European cultural centers with their classical past. Our ancestors enjoyed a bit of Classicism around the house – and so do we still today!


Fresh Greek Revival Stock