Dear Helaine and Joe:
The bronze tiger has been our family since I was a child. I am now in my 80s. It was given to my father by an old friend who traveled the world in the late 1920s. The marks on the stomach suggest it was made in the Orient. It has glass eyes that seem to follow you around. It has never been cleaned as has its original patina. Nose to tail it is about 20 inches long. The wooden base is also original and is about 24 inches long. What can you tell me about my tiger and its value at auction?
Stalking his prey or defending his territory, this bronze tiger is fierce — but he is far from being unique. A casual investigation reveals there are literally dozens of these that have been sold in venues all across the United States in recent months.
The words “Orient” and “Oriental” are on the wrong side of political correctness, so we will hasten to say the tiger has its origins in Japan. We also believe it is Meiji period (1868-1912) and probably dates to sometime in the late 19th century.
The Meiji era marks the end of the Edo period (1603-1868) and the restoration of the Japanese empire. The emperor Meiji ascended to the Japanese Chrysanthemum Throne on Oct. 23, 1868, and his reign and period lasted until his death on July 30, 1912.
He was succeeded by the emperor Taisho (1912-1926) and followed by the emperor Showa, who ruled from 1926 until 1989. As a rule, objects made in Japan are assigned a time period of manufacture based on the reign one of these monarchs.
Besides being a Japanese Meiji period bronze, this sort of object is also referred to as being an “animalier” bronze. The term references small, naturalistic portrayals of animals such as birds, lions, elephants, dogs of various breeds, horses, cows, crustaceans and certain kinds of bugs (such as grasshoppers, cicada, crickets and the like).
There are also animalier paintings, but the small charming bronze figures of animals come to mind most often. Leading animalier artists tend to be French and include P.J. Mene, Antoine-Louis Barye and Isidore Bonheur. As for the specific artist responsible for making this tiger, we were unable to discover his identity, but the animalier bronze craze did come to Japan and was very popular during the late 19th century.
Turning to selling these at auction, examples in the 19 1/2- to 21-inch long size range, with glass eyes, on a base (generally rosewood) with good detailing appear to have sold in recent years in the $650 to $800 range. But please keep in mind that the market for many Japanese items is a bit soft at the moment. Some examples of bronze animalier tigers of this size and quality have sold for as little as $300. We suspect this was due to wrong auction, wrong day.