Reign marks can play a pivotal role in helping to identify the period in which Chinese artefacts were created. Reign marks are usually four or six characters in length and can be found on the base or the side of an item.
Making Sense of Chinese Reign Marks
To read a reign mark, it is important to understand how they are written.
Usually, the mark will consist of six characters and will be stamped, painted or etched into two columns. The mark should be read from top to bottom, and from right to left – not the traditional, western approach of left to right. Experts believe that this tradition began with Chinese artisans writing on long, thin strips of bone or bamboo.
Some reign marks can be made of up two or three horizontal lines of six or four characters. All marks will still be read from the right to the left.
Silver artifacts first appeared during the warring states period (475 – 221 BC.) like the silver gourd-shaped ladle at Beijing palace museum. Many early silver pieces appeared as animals and flowers.
A large number of silverware was made in the Tang dynasty (618 – 906 AD) During this period, agriculture, art and handcrafts were ahead of their time. Silverware saw a boom during the Ming (1368 – 1644 AD) and Qing dynasties (1644 – 1911).
The Chinese silversmiths made exquisite silver objects d’art, but unfortunately very few pieces from the Han dynasty 206 BC.- 220 AD) remain intact. What is left are in museums and only a hand full of silver containers remain from the Song (960 – 1279 AD. ) and Yuan (1279 – 1368 AD) dynasties, but from the silversmith skills inherited from the Tang (618 – 906 AD) dynasty the craftsmen created another style.
Glass was first made in China around 300 BC.
Peking glass however came about during the Kangxi reign, when a glass-works was established in the forbidden city (1696).
The new glass was commonly used to make vases and snuff bottles, to replace jade, lapis lazuli and other precious stones.
Snuff bottles were made in huge numbers for imperial gifts.
Snuff bottles were first produced in the early part of the 18th century to contain powdered tobacco which was imported into China. Snuff bottles were made initially for the emperor and the court, but eventually they were produced for the general public. They measured between an inch and a half and up to three inches in height. Emperor Kangxi established a central glass workshop, with snuff bottles as one of its products.
The origins of gilding go back at least 5000 years. The oldest gilded metalwork known in China are items consisting of bronze, wrapped in gold foil. Other items dated to the Shang dynasty (1700 – 1050 BC) are a number of bronze heads, some of which are partially covered with gold.
Early in the Qing dynasty (1712 – 1722) gilding on Chinese porcelain was introduced, They obtained this by grinding gold leaf into a powder and mixing it with colourless lead enamel.
Around the time of the warring states period (480 – 221 BC) the technique of mercury gilding came into popular use. Terms such as, best gilding, solid gilding or fire gilding were used. Pure gold was mixed with mercury to a liquid then applied to the item to be gilded. Once the item had been covered with the amalgam (mercury – gold mixture) was then heated in a furnace until the mercury vaporised, leaving the gold bonded to the surface of the item. Which was them burnished to a bright finish.
What is a censer? A censer is a vessel made to hold burning incense, they come in many shapes and sizes and are made from a great variety of materials, including porcelain, stone, cloisonné and bamboo.
Incense in China is used for many activities, including religious ceremonies, traditional medicine and ancestor veneration. Incense was used from Neolithic times and gaining prominence from the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasty’s. It reached its peak during the Song dynasty where the nobility went to the extent of building special rooms for the use of incense ceremonies. The Chinese word xiang not only means incense, but also fragrance, scent, aroma, perfume and spice.
- How can you tell if a Chinese vase is antique?
- How do you identify Chinese porcelain marks?
- How do I know if my porcelain is valuable?
- How to identify unmarked Chinese porcelain?
The question above are by far the most common questions I receive week in and week out. Hopefully this guide below will help answer some of your questions regarding Chinese antique porcelain.
The Chinese ceramic industry has drastically changed over the last hundred years. In the modern era, Chinese potters accept influence from a range of different cultures and nations. This makes antique Chinese porcelain a source of fascination.
Identifying Chinese porcelain is a very specialist skill set. Multiple factors must be reviewed with an expert eye. These begin with the shape of the item and conclude with the mark. Any collector of Chinese porcelain will leave the latter for last.
- Shape of the item
- Colour palette
- Decorative style
- Base and foot of the item
- Glazed finish
- Signs of ageing
- Any marks on the item
These tests will confirm the item is a genuine Chinese antique, and during which era it was made.
The Chinese fingernail guard came from the time of the Qing dynasty. For having long fingernails was a sign of power and beauty and wearing fingernail guards protected the nails.
The fingernail guard would be worn as a single piece, or in pairs or more on the hands. They were worn by the elite of the Manchurian court ladies, of the latter part of the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1912)
Late Qing rulers pursued a life of great luxury, and a lady took great care to emphasise her nails, for they were a sign of her ability to rely on her servants and to show she did not perform manual tasks. Usually they were worn on the little finger and the ring finger.
Earlier in China c 3000BC. Long fingernail were also a sign of status and power, but before the finger guard, Chinese high born ladies used a coloured lacquer to not only colour their nails, but to also strengthen them. In the Zhou dynasty c 600 BC, Chinese royalty used gold and silver to enhance their nails. In the Ming dynasty red and black became the colours of choice. Red being used to signify top status.