Some pictures of our elephants

Below you will see some pictures of netsuke (pronounced net-skeh) that we have collected over the years.  Let us begin by finding out exactly what a netsuke is:

Japanese artists starting in the 17th century cleverly invented the miniature sculptures known as netsuke (Japanese:根付) to serve a very practical function. (The two Japanese characters ne+tsuke mean "root" and "to attach".) Traditional Japanese garments—robes called kosode and kimono—had no pockets. Men who wore them needed a place to keep personal belongings such as pipes, tobacco, money, seals, or medicines.

The elegant solution was to place such objects in containers (called sagemono) hung by cords from the robes' sash (or obi). The containers might take the form of a pouch or a small woven basket, but the most popular were beautifully crafted boxes (inro), which were held shut by ojime, sliding beads on cords. Whatever the form of the container, the fastener that secured its cord at the top of the sash was a carved, button-like toggle called a netsuke.


Such objects, often of great artistic merit, have a long history reflecting important aspects of Japanese folklore and life. Netsuke production was most popular during the Edo period in Japan, around 1615-1868. Today, the art lives on and carvers, a few of whose modern works command high prices (US$10,000 or more), are in the UK, Europe, the USA, Japan and elsewhere. Prices at auctions in the USA for collectible netsuke typically range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Inexpensive molded, faithful reproductions are available in museum shops and elsewhere for $30 or less.



Here is a netsuke (@ 2.5" tall) hand-carved in elephant ivory which depicts the Hindu god Ganesh.  Note that there are two holes in the base of this netsuke (for the cord to pass through) and that it is signed (beneath the holes) by the artist.  The rat at Ganesh's feet represents the subjugated demon of vanity and impertinence.

                                                               About Ganesh

All Tantric and spiritual worship in the Hindu tradition begins with the invocation of Ganesha (or Ganesh), the elephant-headed god.

Ganesha became the Lord (Isha) of all existing beings (Gana) after winning a contest from his brother Kartikay. When given the task to race around the universe, Ganesha did not start the race like Kartikay did, but simply walked around Shiva and Parvati, his father and mother, as the source of all existence.

Many stories describe how Ganesha got the elepant head:

Once upon a time, the Goddess Gauri (consort of Lord Shiva), while bathing, created Ganesha as a pure white being out of the mud of Her body and placed him at the entrance of the house. She told him not to allow anyone to enter while she went inside for a bath. Lord Shiva himself was returning home quite thirsty and was stopped by Ganesha at the gate. Shiva became angry and cut off Ganesha's head as he thought Ganesha was an outsider.

When Gauri came to know of this she was really angry. To console her grief, Shiva ordered his servants to cut off and bring to him the head of any creature that might be sleeping with its head facing north. The servants went on their mission and found only an elephant in that position. The sacrifice was thus made and the elephant's head was brought before Shiva who then joined the elephant's head onto the body of Ganesha.

Lord Shiva made his son worthy of worship at the beginning of all undertakings, marriages, expeditions, studies, etc. He ordained that the annual worship of Ganesha should take place on the 4th day of the bright half of Bhadrap

A variation of this story:  Parvati (an incarnation of the great mother goddess), created a small boy from sandalwood soap and commanded that he guard the palace against all intruders while she took her bath. How her husband, Shiva (the fearsome god of destruction), didn't take kindly to being barred from his own home so he beheaded the boy during the cosmic war that followed, but then, when he realized that the balance of the entire universe was at stake, brought the boy back to life by grafting an elephant's head onto his body and made him the people's intercessor against the powers of destruction.

Another variation:  This tale is found in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana: Shiva asked Parvati to observe the punyaka vrata for a year to appease Vishnu in order to have a son. When a son was born to her, all the gods and goddesses assembled to rejoice on its birth. Lord Shani, the son of Surya (Sun-God), was also present but he refused to look at the infant. Perturbed at this behaviour, Parvati asked him the reason, and Shani replied that his looking at baby would harm the newborn. However, on Parvati's insistence when Shani eyed the baby, the child's head was severed instantly. All the gods started to bemoan, whereupon Vishnu hurried to the bank of river Pushpabhadra and brought back the head of a young elephant, and joined it to the baby's body, thus reviving it.

One more variation:  Parvati was so proud of her son that she asked all the gods to look at him, even the god Sani. Sani's gaze burned to ashes everything he saw, including Ganesha's head. Brahma, the god of creation, instructed Parvati to give her son the first head she found, which turned out to be that of an elephant. 

The netsuke above (@ 1.5"x2") is hand-carved from elephant ivory and depicts two monks with an elephant.  Notice the elaborate carving on the bottom of this piece together with the traditional 'signature block' of the artist.

Here (@2" tall)  is a buddha on an elephant's back hand-carved from fossilized mammoth ivory.

This netsuke (@1.5") hand-carved from fossilized mammoth ivory, depicts two rats on the elephant who has one of the rats held in his trunk.

This fanciful netsuke depicts a momma elephant giving her baby a bath (@ 1.5").
     This is a CrackerJack 'prize' from the 1920s.  One can blow on the base which causes a vane inside to whirl around and make a whistling noise.
Here is a $10 gaming token from John Ascuaga's Nugget casino in Sparks, Nevada.
  These tiny (@ .5") elephants are cast in solid gold.  It is difficult to see the detail, but the one on the left has diamonds for eyes and an emerald set in his trunk.
A Republican campaign coin (left and below) from the 1984 campaign.

This lovely bit (@ 2") of scrimshaw is carved into a piece of fossilized mammoth ivory and depicts a wooly mammoth.
And then there are pins.  Mostly political (Republican) pins.  But also pins made of different materials or depicting elephants advertising various things.  The photos above and below show some of the pins we have collected.