Bonhams' netsuke auction anticipated to achieve $373,500

An entrancing collection of 58 Lilliputian netsuke figurines is to cross the block at Bonhams London on May 16.

The expansive collection, comprising variously designed, tiny Japanese figurines, is offered from the estate of Adrienne Barbanson (1913-1975), author of the 1961 text Fables in Ivory: Japanese Netsuke and their Legends.

Netsuke auction Bonhams
A netsuke rabbit from the Adrienne Barbanson collection

Several of the lots offered were used to illustrate Barbanson's text, which explores a range of Japanese legends, and achieved considerable success when it was released.

The collection is believed to be worth £250,000 ($373,490) - testament to its previous owner's reputation, as well as to the quality and age of the items offered, and the popularity of netsuke more generally.

Netsuke figurines originated in 17th century Japan. Often made of ivory, coral or wood, they were designed to provide a counterweight to pouches known as "sagemono" and boxes known as "inro" - small bags worn by men, since kimonos lacked pockets. Not merely utilitarian, netsuke were famously beautifully carved and decorated. Themes are endless, but mythology and nature appear time and again, fascinating collectors the world over.

In Edmund de Waal's award winning memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes, the author describes netsuke as: "small, tough explosions of exactitude."

The world record auction price paid for a single netsuke figurine was broken at Bonhams in November 2011, when a netsuke depicting two recumbent stallions brought £265,000 ($395,914).

Asian collectibles are currently big news, with Bonhams' forthcoming Asian art sale among the many highlights of New York's Asian art week this year.

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