Look underneath Ming and Qing dynasty ceramics, and you’ll often find a reign mark or another kind of mark on the base (Chinese: 底款 dikuan – base-mark). Sometimes these are presented in a way that references Chinese coin designs – some base-marks look like coins: some have a square mark in the middle of a round base (like the hole in a coin?), and/or two concentric circles (like the outer rim of a coin?). Some even have an inscription arranged top-bottom-right-left as on coins, although this is sometimes a good luck inscription, as found on coin-shaped charms. Chinese coins had reign periods as part of the inscription several centuries earlier than the Ming dynasty, but when do Chinese coin-shaped base-marks first start to appear on ceramics? Which came first – the reign-period base-mark or the Chinese coin-inspired base-mark? What is the earliest evidence of a Chinese coin-inspired base-mark?
Blue and white ‘coin’ dish, 17th century (Sotheby’s, New York, 19-20 March 2013)
Chinese coins were used decoratively and symbolically at least as early as the Han dynasty. And coin-designs featured on the body of Chinese ceramics long before the Ming dynasty, as in the Song dynasty vase below.
Edward Francis Southan Newman (1873-1937) (鈕滿) was born in Hong Kong, and spent most of his life in China. Coole’s Bibliography (1967) lists Newman’s article “Ancient Chinese Coins” in the China Journal of Science and Arts, vol.1, no.4 (July 1923). Ian Gill, Frank Newman’s grandson, has published a couple of articles on his family history (May 2016 and Oct 2017), and in September 2017, WEI Chunyang (Victor Wei) published a piece on the Newman Family of Yantai, which drew attention to Newman’s coin collecting, in particular his acquisition of a very rare Guo bao jin kui zhi wan 国宝金匮直万 piece, now said to be in the National Museum of China collection. Many thanks for Ian Gill for his help in the preparation of this piece. (more…)
LAI Yu-chih：”Casting the Territory: A Study of Two Cabinets of Coins from the Qianlong Period in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg”, Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Vol. 101 (2018), pp.1-62. (more…)
In the Yan’an Revolutionary Memorial Hall (延安革命纪念馆) there is a small wooden table which Mao Zedong used as a writing desk on a kang bed-stove. In early February 1936, Mao and Peng Dehuai stayed in the home of a peasant called Bai Yucai 白育才 in Yuanjiagou village 袁家沟村, Qingjian county 清涧县, in Shaanxi province. Mao used the kang as his office, and the kang-table 炕桌 as his desk. His poem 《沁园春·雪》”Snow – to the tune of Qin Yuan Chun”, is said to have been written at this desk. (more…)
There are two Chinese guides – merchant manuals or shroff’s guides – in the Department of Coins and Medals, at The British Museum (nos 4 and 8 below). Several similar guides are known, and I’m grateful to Richard von Glahn and Byron Hamann for sharing their expertise and knowledge on this subject. I’ll give a very brief introduction below, and then share ten of these guides. If you know of others, or of research on these guides, please leave a comment. (more…)
Thai porcelain tokens (pee) are found in many collections, often just one or two pieces, and sometimes more. These are known by various terms, including the following (for more, see the bibliography below): (more…)
There was a very interesting conference in Tübingen this week: Marco Polo Studies: Past, Present, Future (I’ve copied and pasted the programme below). It was an intense, and friendly, workshop, bringing together expertise from different fields. I’m not an expert in this period, and felt very honoured to be invited, and to have the chance to learn from specialists from Austria, China, France, Germany, Italy and the USA. I gave a powerpoint presentation packed with images, aiming to illustrate representative pieces and introduce some recent work. I mentioned, for example: (more…)