base marks

75. Chinese coins and reign/base marks on ceramics

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?

Photo from Amelia (2)

Label text at the Bristol Museum. (Image source: Amelia Dowler)

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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.


 Yaozhou meiping vase incised with coin-pattern, Song dynasty. Photo Paragon International Auctioneers (image source: Alain