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Rare: deep-carved fishes

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Every now and then along comes something REALLY special. In years of collecting counters I had never seen a deep-carved fish counter. Large and small engraved fishes, yes. Fat fishes, yes. Tiny fishes with delicate fins. I thought I had seen them all. Until pictures of this box arrived.

The box is probably rosewood, and is probably made in the UK in around 1850. Nothing special at all until you open it up! The inside is lined with red baize and it contains a set of deep-carved counters. But look at the compartments to the sides: DEEP-CARVED FISHES! The box was constructed to contain ten counters in each compartment so originally there were twenty fishes, forty of both rounds and 'squares'. Unfortunately it has become slightly depleted but what a set. These were madein Canton in around 1840 and it is astonishing that here we have a rather unusual number of counters in a set - quite different from the normal 140. Possibly for a particular game, as many new card games were coming into fashion at that time - and disappearing almost as quickly. The real surprise is the inclusion of fishes instead of oblongs. This set must have been made to special order from Canton: it is unlikely to be a unique set in the true sense, but where are the rest?? And the fishes are just beautiful with their deep-carved decoration with Chinese figures in gardens and on terraces, just like the other shapes. Admittedly they must have been very hard to decorate with the strange asymetric shape of the fish's body to work in. Why on earth did they not catch on? Perhaps this was among the very last of the sets produced and was a vain attempt to resuscitate trade in counters. But what abeautiful set!


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