Ching Dynasty Collection

Antique Chinese Gaming Counters

Circa 1740 - 1840

Canton China image 1.jpg

Hand-etched during the ‘Ching’ Dynasty; the last Dynasty of Imperial China; the collection of unique, superbly etched mother-of-pearl gaming counters, were crafted by artisans in Canton China.

Sets of counters were commissioned by British royalty, nobility and the wealthy bearing family crests and/or monograms.

The other side of the counters depict unique scenes of every day life in China during the periods of 1736 to 1796 (Emperor Ch’ien Lung) and 1796 to around 1840 (Emperor Chia Ch’ing).

The Emperor Ch’ien Lung was a brilliant philosopher writing some 34,000 poems and it is believed the unique individual scenes depicted on the counters were in part inspired by his writings and others including Confucius and Lou tuz.

As we travel back in time to Canton; to marvel at the exquisite artistry of these works of intricate detail, it is hard to imagine how such pieces were so delicately etched by hand. Each piece in a set of 140 pieces taking many hours to create.

These antique gaming counters exhibited such fine examples of Chinese art that it excelled craftsmanship anywhere in the world during this period.

Sets of counters commissioned would most often comprise 20 round 40 square and 80 oblong. These could take up to 3 years to finally be in the hands of Royalty, Nobles, Dukes, Lords and the social elite of society.

To own one of these unique and exquisite works of antique Chinese art from the Ching Dynasty Collection; you may be similarly transported from the humble shacks of Canton to the private chambers of the Palaces, Castles, Estates and stately homes of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales of the 1800’s; to watch as the games of Ombre, Quadrille and Pope Joan are played.

May owning a piece from the Ching Dynasty Collection, crafted into an exquisite item of unique jewelry bring you enlightenment, happiness and good fortune.


The Artwork

To try to describe the beauty and intricate hand carved detail of these exquisitely etched works of art, or the emotion they evoke, is for me - as once framed in an old Chinese poem - as easy as to try to give an explanation of “the sound made by an unspoken word”. The artwork defies adequate description and there are simply insufficient superlatives known. They are simply beautiful, perfect and priceless.

It is equally as difficult to imagine how with only primitive hand tools available to these artists of such a long time ago, how a single piece could have been carved with such intricate and precise detail.

I have, as I am sure you will, spent many hours looking admiringly at a single piece to try to comprehend how it could have been created. How each single unique design image could have been conceptualised and converted to the exquisite carving. Adequate description of all the design features on each piece is equally impossible to put into words.

An understanding of the symbolic meaning etched into the counters may help us. They show people engaged in everyday activities and offer insight into early Chinese culture and history. Many of the counters portray their early lifestyle – people at work, at play or in thoughtful meditation – while other pieces show animals, birds, fish and insects.

Many counters depict three people, because “filial” 家庭的尊重 {family respect} is the most important aspect of the Chinese culture. This respect for family members is twofold – the ethereal for those not living and the physical kind for those still alive. The symbolic stories depicted on the counters use insects and animals with wings to portray the ethereal world. People, fish and other animals symbolise the physical world. The carp fish for instance, represents the common people, while animals signify qualities and clothing symbolises class structure. Scenes with less than three people indicate a story not related to family respect.