Box for Writing Equipment (suzuribako)

Artist: Matasune
Historical period(s)
Edo period, 17th century
Lacquer, gold, silver, wood; silvered metal water dropper and stone
H x W x D: 5 x 21.6 x 23.7 cm (1 15/16 x 8 1/2 x 9 5/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Writing box (suzuribako)

autumn, Edo period (1615 - 1868), grass, Japan, lettering, moon, poems, writing

From at least 1933-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 Moslé, “The Mosle Collection: Descriptive Catalogue to be used in Connection with the Illustrations of ‘Japanese works of art’ selected from the Mosle Collection – Portfolio II” [book] (Leipzig: Poeschel & Trepte, 1933), vol. II, cat. 1683, p. 34. 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


The design of flowering autumn grasses is featured on the surfaces of this box. On the lid under a crescent moon, are hagi (bush clover), susuki (pampas grass), fujibakama (ague weed), ominaeshi (valerian), and yomena (aster). The underside of the lid and the interior tray are both decorated with nadeshiko (pinks).

On the rock surfaces depicted on the cover, three silver hiragana symbols (cursive phonetic script) can be detected and combined to make the word nezame (awakening from sleep). The script, cleverly embedded into the linearity of the picture, is the central feature of the uta-e (poem-picture).

The anonymous poem alluded to by the three-syllable clue nezame is included in the early tenth-century anthology, Kokinshu (collection of poems ancient and modern).

It reads:

It is not the autumn dew
That has dropped on my pillowing sleeve
As I awaken.

The box contains an inkstone for grinding solid ink and a water dropper, and would have contained writing brushes.

Published References
  • Encyclopedia Japonica. multi-volumed, Tokyo. vol. 8: p. 193.
  • Alexander G. Mosle. The Mosle Collection: Descriptive Catalogue... Leipzig. cat. 1683, vol. 2: p. 34.
  • Freer Gallery of Art. The Freer Gallery of Art. Washington. p. 16.
  • Ann Yonemura. Japanese Lacquer. Washington, 1979. cat. 18, p. 38.
  • Toda Kenji. Japanese Scroll Painting. Chicago. p. 45.
  • Calendar of Exhibitions. vol. 17, no. 11 Hong Kong, November 1986. p. 65.
  • Frank Feltens. Ogata Korin: Art in Early Modern Japan. New Haven, CT, October 12, 2021. p. 83, fig. 44.
  • Fu Shen, Glenn D. Lowry, Ann Yonemura, Thomas Lawton. From Concept to Context: Approaches to Asian and Islamic Calligraphy. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 31, pp. 92-93.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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