What is dragonware?

Updated: 10/31/2022
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15y ago

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Dragonware is almost entirely Japanese and was made by many different companies. It is pottery or porcelain that usually has a raised moriage dragon on it, usually surrounded by wisps of smoke. The technique used to apply the moriage decoration to them is called slipwork. Dragonware originally was made by Nippon in the late 1800's, and is still being made today. However, there are very large differences in the quality of the pieces, so with practice, the era's are pretty easy to distinguish. The original Nippon pieces have extremely ornate and very detailed large dragons, that wrap around most of the piece. They usually have lots of enamel work around the edges of the item. They also originally had glass beads for the dragon's eyes, rather than the typical slipwork ones. The new Dragonware is also easily recognized, as the dragons are extremely undetailed and appear slapped on and hardly wrap around at all compared to any of the older Dragonware pieces. The souvenir pieces fit into the new category. There are many little differences and changes to the dragons as the years went by, which helps make dating them a little easier. Pieces that have enamel work around the edges, are typically older than pieces that do not. They slowly stopped the enamel detail as the years went by.

There are also other design techniques that are used on Dragonware instead of the more common moriage. They include: Satsuma pieces with the moriage dragons - they look just like the moriage Dragonware, but have a Satsuma design as well with enameled handles, Coralene - tiny glass beads are applied to an enamel design and then heated, making the finished design look like coral, Enamel - a hard glossy paint, and finally a flat dragon design of either gold or colored paint that is also considered Dragonware and appears the same as other Dragonware pieces, except that the dragon design is flat instead of raised. Many different colors were used on Dragonware items. The most common being the Smokey Grey/White or Black/White. Other colors include: Deep Blue, Pastel Blue, Red, Orange, Pastel Green, White/Gold, Brown and Chocolate. There are also some colors that are always the newer low-quality undetailed Dragonware, and were not made in the older pieces. These include: Pink, Bright Green, Purple and Yellow. There are also some new pieces made in a few of the older colors. Also, any piece with a souvenir scene is always new.

Typically Dragonware was made as table items, smoking sets or for decoration. This includes many pieces such as vases, tea sets, saki sets, ashtrays, plates, cups and saucers, condiment sets, wall pockets, incense burners and lamps to name a few. Some of the teacups will have a lithophane inside the bottom of them. This is a raised design, usually of a woman's face or full body, known as a Geisha. It can be seen clearly when held up to the light. The Geisha adds value to a teacup, with the nude Geisha being harder to find and the most valuable.

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Q: What is dragonware?
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