Back in December I stopped by the Nogi Jinja sale and got “accidentally” pulled in by some 19th century Japanese botanical prints. They called my name (hollered actually) even though I was not out shopping for prints or anything particular at all. Much like ukiyo-e, they were mass printed on paper and probably bound in some sort of book or pamphlet originally. These are entitled “One Hundred Views of Flowers”, a typical naming device, and I am sure there were actually a hundred at some point. While the flowers depicted are all commonly grown in the West and easily recognizable, their presentation within the boundaries of the images is very Eastern and I loved that. Foolishly, I bought three. Foolish because I bought them? No, foolish because I only bought three. Upon further reflection at home I realized of course, I needed four, two to hang on each side of the window. The difficulty was that there would not be a January sale held at Nogi shrine and I did not know where else to look for that particular dealer. I had never seen these prints elsewhere either.
What charmed me about them was that they felt like a cross between traditional botanical prints which I find more formal…
…and the framed herbiers (pressed flower and plant pictures) we have been seeing a lot of in recent years, such as in this Ginger Barber designed Texas guesthouse.
Or these, in Jeffrey Bilhuber’s Nantucket Cottage.
So imagine my surprise when I came across them early on as I browsed the huge Antique Jamboree out at Tokyo Big Sight in early January. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to get cash before going and was hoarding the little I had. I also could not quite remember exactly which three I had bought – which flowers and how they were arranged. It seemed important to have two consistent pairs, with the colors and orientations picked carefully. After a chat with the dealer about when and where I could find her in the coming month, I walked away to scope out the other 499 dealers. (Cue the dramatic tension inducing music)
Wait (even the most inexperienced among my readers) you cry out! Could I possibly be breaking the golden rule of antiquing, NEVER WAIT? As all antiques are unique you roll the dice walking away from anything you might want, even for a short time. And this is Japan, which while officially in recession for the last 20 years or so, is the land of “sold out”. There is no inventory or stock of anything and hesitating before purchasing is sure to bring disappointment. Nonetheless, I was cocky and confident and walked on.
Two hours later, after a long a fruitless afternoon of over-priced and relatively uninteresting items, I was walking out to leave when I spied a Japanese couple looking at MY prints (note the capitals). I sauntered over, sure they would not be buying. Not wanting to be rude, I held back and waited, only to slowly come to the realization that they were buying and perhaps buying deeply! I knew I would never find this set of prints again. All of a sudden the New Yorker in me stepped up to the plate – I was going to get my print no matter what. We began a dance as they realized I was interested – they were not giving an inch - no gaijin (foreigner) free pass. When they put one down, I picked it up. We both started scrambling. I could see they had the one I wanted in their hands as I realized I held one they desired. I tried to get the dealer to intervene, after all, she knew I had others and needed one more, but she was not going to help as they were buying many. I took a chance and set one down, the husband followed suit. Quickly I picked that one up as the wife seemed annoyed that he had relinquished it. He said something to her that calmed her and they settled and paid up, the dealer giving them a discount for a bulk purchase. As I went to pay, I realized I had been trumped. My print was torn and that was why they left it. Frustratingly, the dealer did not want to give me any discount, neither on the strength of my prior purchase nor the damage of the current one. Shoganai (nothing can be done), is never my favorite term, but in this case, it was true. The matting would just have to cover the tear.
Luckily, the print I had managed to purchase worked perfectly with the others I had already bought. I called the framer, as key to bringing out the beauty in these would rest on their presentation. Normally, I am not a colored mat kind of girl, but between everyone else’s obsession with colored mats these days and the fact that they looked blah with just a beigy tea-stained one, I decided to give color a try.
And what a color it is! Inky dark blue-green, with a very thin aged gilded frame. The key to the whole thing was having the inside edge of the mat darkened. I really love how these came out!
While this story has a happy ending, it might not have. Take it from me and remember, if you love something antique or vintage and the price is right, don’t wait, just BUY IT!
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