Personal Effects, Nov. 4

Published 1:38 am Saturday, November 4, 2017


Question: Jerry, do you know what this is? I bought it at a yard sale in Harrodsburg years ago. It’s metal and I love the designs on the sides. What kind of value does it have?

Answer: Well, I had to reach out to a friend of mine that is very well versed in Asian antiques. What you have is a Japanese bronze personal hand warmer. Unfortunately, you’re missing the perforated lid that would have allowed the heat to escape and protect the user from spilled coals. 

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There is kind of an interesting and ancient story with these warmers. This would have been lined with layers of rice straw, ash and one or two hot charcoal embers would be placed on top. This mixture of ash and straw insulated the embers and allowed them to last for several hours. These would have been used in rickshaws or sedan chairs or placed under cloth covered tables to keep feet warm. 

The folding handle was quite handy. You would have carried it from place to place in the cold winters. Often guests to wealthy homes, would have been given a hand warmer to use during their visit. If you were poor, you were just, cold.

Interesting that you mentioned the symbols. The panel with the three swallows symbolizes fertility, a loyal marriage and good luck. 

The number three is also important. Think of the three monkeys — hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil — and the three ways of the Buddha. Three is very symbolic.

Dating? I would say that it is from the Taisho period, that’s about 1912 to 1926. It is a gorgeous piece of bronze. It has a well developed patina. Whatever you do, DON’T polish it! Sure it will shine like a new penny, but you’ll also destroy the value. It’s taken nearly a century for it to be this color.

I looked around online and found several like the one that you’ve shown me. It’s missing lid does effect the value. I would wager that at a good Oriental antiques show or shop that it would be priced at about $150. Thanks for sharing it.