I am particularly pleased to be offering the Larry Caplan collection of Japanese netsuke for sale to a new generation of collectors. His passing in 2014 at the age of 88 is the netsuke world’s loss. One of the ever-diminishing faces from the ‘golden years’ of collecting, he did not seek the limelight or recognition for his netsuke by having them published – though many can be found in older publications under earlier ownerships. He forged loyal friendships with his fellow Toronto collectors, Irving Gould and Victor Topper.
It was his first trip to Japan in 1972, in the company of Irving Gould that really ignited his passion for these miniature sculptures. He made quite a few acquisitions there and one has to wonder how the two men agreed between them who-got-what. In all events, they clearly did so without acrimony. Larry and his wife Lola were regulars at the Honolulu conventions, where much of the days’ business was conducted dressed in swimsuits on the beach or round the pool sipping a Mai Tai. Those were the days! It was always a treat to be in his company and to enjoy the privilege of his dry wit. Plenty of laughter was guaranteed, attested to by correspondence he had with various dealers and in particular with my late husband, Luigi.
A surviving copy of a letter dated 1984 and addressed to a young Paul Moss acknowledges receipt of the Nisai Daruma (catalogue no. 7). It illustrates Larry’s ingenuity as well as his sense of mischief. He writes: “I know that Nisai uses balls for pupils in almost all of his netsuke so I have personally restored the pupils of this Daruma’s eyes with 1/32nd inch tungsten carbide balls taken out of ballpoint pen refills. He not only “looks” better, but he is indebted to me for two favours. Some day in the future you will explain with great authority where Yoshimoto Nisai got hold of eye pupils of this material and that this netsuke can also be used to cut glass.”
Larry Caplan, Opthamologist
He was a man of many interests and particularly enjoyed words. A collection of notes and essays offer his perspicacious observations on netsuke and the netsuke world and seem to suggest that at one point he had intended them for a book. His standards were exacting and this is evidenced in his careful choice of netsuke. He had a particular penchant for the work of Hidari Issan and this collection contains some exceptional examples of his work, the cut dried salmon (catalogue no. 41) perhaps the carver’s masterpiece.
His choices were careful and personal to him. It is notable that he has none of the Kyoto ‘big names’ nor the tall ivory figures that were top of the wish lists of most collectors of the day. He had no interest in being told what he should like or following the crowd, but preferred to buy what appealed to him personally and to study the lesser-known artists. It is that finest type of collection, one that reflects its owner and it is a privilege to offer it in this catalogue.