Lobster Issues

Spanish(?) Gilt Articulated Lobster

Spanish(?) Gilt Articulated Lobster

Recently on eBay I’ve noticed an unsigned articulated figurine of a lobster on eBay that has been listed as a Meiji era Jizai Okimono. At first glance it does look like a mid range Jizai Okimono of a spiny lobster. However I did remember a few months back that a similar looking lobster had been put up eBay that had been listed as being Spanish in origin.I did a recheck on a cached version of eBay and fair enough it was exactly the same, just in gilt silver. And it had marks, a hallmark and a maker’s(?) mark or signature. The hallmark was a pentagram, the kind used in Spain since 1934 to certify 0.915 and above silver.

Spanish Silver Hallmark and Unknown Signature(?)

Spanish Silver Hallmark and Unknown Signature(?)

The other mark was a small W.V atop a larger VA…….(rest illegible)  and after that was the pentagram.To top it up the item was located in Spain and there is a rather recent( starting from the 20th Century) tradition within Spanish silversmiths of creating articulated figurines namely lobsters or crayfish. The fact that the Spanish had their own articulated figurines add to more confusion .  However the lobster that is being depicted is a spiny lobster (which does not have the two claws a true lobster has) , a common form for Japanese Jizai Okimono. Spanish articulated lobsters/crayfish resemble a true lobster or a crayfish with it’s two claws.

Top View of Lobster

Top View of Lobster

On a side by side comparison ,this articulated lobster has a greater resemblance to a Japanese Jizai Okimono than any of the Spanish articulated lobsters and the thing to note are the parallel grooves which are incised on the large antenna, a style of introduced by Tomiki school of Jizai makers. Other than that every other detail of the lobster is a cruder detail of that seen in a Tomiki lobster. The legs are not articulated in the way of Tomiki lobster and it’s composed of just 2 moving parts as opposed to 3 moving parts in most Japanese articulated lobsters,  even on the lower range lobsters.

Bottom View of Lobster

Bottom View of Lobster

The fact that this lobster could be Spanish or European in origin is also a possibility.Any skilled silversmith in theory, would be able to create a Jizai Okimono (skill in metalworking is only part of the deal, there is more to just being able to work metal in the art of Jizai Okimono). Since the lobster dates to the early-20th century, it is also a time when many Jizai Okimono were being exported to the west, namely Europe. A silversmith could have gotten his hands on one and tried to replicate one.It also could be Japanese as many Jizai Okimono were made for export. There’s also the question as to when did the Spanish tradition for articulated figurines begin and how.

With so many questions left unanswered ,my verdict is to tread on caution when labeling such lobsters as Japanese. The lack of signature, and the ambiguity concerning metal artefacts makes it hard to tell if it is a Jizai Okimono made in Japan for export or a European silversmith trying to replicate an authentic Japanese Jizai Okimono.Also this is not a unique piece. There have been several similar lobsters floating in the market like the one I saw on eBay, which could make it almost as common as a Hiromi lobster. For anyone with any solid evidence that points to the origin of this lobster , your opinion is more than welcome.

Update (08 December 2013): One more thing to ponder about. If it was Japanese made , would it not be certified in Japan as well which in that case we should see a stamp for jun gin (銀)- wasei kanji  for silver  instead of the pentagram which is Spanish.

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