Box for writing instruments (suzuribako)

Suzuribako Inkstone box with a black lacquer ground to which gold dust has been sparsely applied and decorated in hirame and multicolored togidashi.

Inside contains two trays, one with a silver mizuire and socket and suzuri.

Historical period(s)
Edo period or Meiji era, 19th century
Lacquer, gold, silver, and pigments, wood, silver water dropper
H x W x D: 4.9 x 22.9 x 25.1 cm (1 15/16 x 9 x 9 7/8 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Container, Lacquer

Inkstone box (suzuribako)

Edo period (1615 - 1868), Japan, maple tree, Meiji era (1868 - 1912), writing

From at least 1914-to 1943 
Alexander George Mosle (1862-1945), possibly purchased in Japan [1]  

A. Henry Mosle (1866-1957), held a lien on Alexander George Mosle’s collection through a Deed of Trust – Chattels [2] 

From 1944 
The Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Alexander Mosle through A. Henry Mosle [3] 


[1] See Alexander George Mosle, “Japanese Works of Art: Armour, Weapons, Sword-Fittings, Lacquer, Pictures, Textiles, Colour-Prints, selected from the Moslé Collection” [book] (Leipzig: E. A . Seemann, 1914), vol. 1, cat. 1697, p. 22; vol. 2, pl. CVIII. See also Alexander George Mosle, “The Mosle Collection: Descriptive Catalogue to be used in Connection with the Illustrations of ‘Japanese works of art’ selected from the Moslé Collection – Portfolio II” [book] (Leipzig: Poeschel & Trepte, 1933), vol. II, cat. 1697, p. 39. Alexander Mosle was a businessman who lived in Japan from 1884-1907, during which time he began collecting Japanese works of art.

[2] See June 17, 1943 Deed of Trust – Chattels, between Alexander G. Mosle and Jesse Knight and Eugene W. Goodwillie, trustees on behalf of A. Henry Mosle. Alexander was indebted to his cousin Henry, and his entire collection of Japanese Art was secured as chattel for the debt under the terms of the Deed. See original Deed of Trust – Chattels in object file. 

[3] The Freer Gallery of Art paid A. Henry Mosle and Alexander G. Mosle separate payments on May 29, 1944, approved on May 27, 1944. See also April 28, 1944 letter from A.G. Wenley to Alexander Mosle wherein Wenley indicates which items the Freer wishes to purchase from Mosle’s inventory list. See also May 26, 1944 letter from A. Henry Mosle to Alan C. Maxwell, charging Maxwell to act as agent for Henry, in the matter of the release of the Deed of Trust – Chattels at the sale of the selected objects from Alexander’s collection to the Freer. See object file for copy of invoice, letters, and original Release of Deed of Trust - Chattels. 

Research updated January 12, 2023

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

A. Henry Mosle
Alexander G. Mosle


Suzuribako Inkstone box with a black lacquer ground to which gold dust has been sparsely applied and decorated in hirame and multicolored togidashi.

Inside contains two trays, one with a silver mizuire and socket and suzuri.


The main decoration of this inkstone case is a group of tanzaku, or decorated paper strips for writing poetry, which are tied to a broken branch of maple. The subject is appropriate for a case to contain an inkstone, solid ink, a silver water-dropper and brushes for writing.  It recalls the Japanese custom of presenting poems together with a flower or branch of a plant appropriate to the season. The autumn theme is continued inside the box, with autumn plants including aster, bush clover, and patrinia ominaeshi; the water dropper has a maple leaf motif.

The entire design is executed in sprinkled gold particles and powders of gold and colored lacquers. After completion of the decoration, which requires many superimposed layers, the hard surface is polished with charcoal and other mild abrasives to form a perfectly smooth surface. Japanese lacquers decorated with sprinkled powders of gold,silver, charcoal, or colored lacquers achieve finer and more complex decorative effects than are possible through painting the colored lacquers directly on the surface.

Published References
  • Alexander G. Mosle, Henri L. Joly. Japanese Works of Art: Armour, Weapons, Sword-fittings, Lacquer, Pictures, Textiles, Color-prints selected from the Mosle Collection. 2 vols. Leipzig. cat. 1697, vol. 2: pl. XVIII.
  • Alexander G. Mosle. The Mosle Collection: Descriptive Catalogue... Leipzig. cat. 1697, vol. 2: p. 39.
  • Ann Yonemura. Japanese Lacquer. Washington, 1979. cat. 23, p. 48.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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