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Chinese export mother of pearl gaming counters/ chips - all you need to know about them in one site: history, styles, dates, armorials, non-armorials, sets, lacquer boxe.....

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Counters from 1700 to 1720

The aim of this page is to look at the styles of counters which were in existence before European styles took over. It seems clear that there existed some mother-of-pearl counters with a distinct Chinese influence which were later adapted to the requirements of the European traders. They may not have been used by the Chinese themselves for any length of time: the games they were needed for were certainly not Chinese in origin and the Chinese used very different counters for their own games. But this was a time of experimentation: there were no set sizes nor any clear expectation of the type of design used. But there were patterns which emerge. The first part of this page is devoted to counters which were not tailor-made for specific families in Europe.I find them beautiful. The second part of the page gives a selection of counters which were made-to-order and which bear crests or coats of arms of families. What I hope will become apparent, is that these bespoke counters reflect very clearly the other counters in production at the same time and are decorated on the reverse with exactly the same designs.

Counter 1

This counter dates from around 1700. The carp has always held a particular importance for the Chinese in their symbolism: it depicts longevity and wealth; intelligence. In certain traditional stories, ...

Counter 1 Reverse

The reverse is also steeped in tradition: this depicts prunus blossom, one of the 'Three Friends of Winter' which represent the virtues of a gentleman. Symbol of purity and beauty, prunus is one of ...

Counter 2

Birds also have an important relevance in Chinese symbolism: they may represent good-fortune and longevity.

Counter 2 reverse

This reverse is very widely used at this time: a rather sketchily-drawn flower with four petals occurs on many different counters.

Counter 3

The basket of fruit (or sometimes flowers) is very widely depicted on porcelain at the time (circa 1700). It is one of the standard designs on Chinese 'Imari' porcelain in the reign of the Emperor ...

Counter 3 reverse

This sketchily-drawn flower with nine petals is also a very popular design.

Counter 4

The lotus flower is another symbol which dates back hundreds of years. It represents purity as the flower emerges from the muddiest waters, yet is totally untainted.

Counter 4 reverse

The reverse shows another representation of the lotus.

Counter 5

Very early armorial counter, circa 1710. The reverse shows the four-petalled flower design seen above.

Counter 6

Another early armorial. The reverse is totally plain, which is also fairly common in counters of this time. Later on, the reverse would always be decorated if it was intended for use as a counter.

Counter 7

Some of these early counters were almost carved in relief. This one has the nine-petal reverse style.

Counter 8

Clearly an early attempt to depict the crest of a family. Reverse with the four-petalled flower.

Counter 9

Another early depiction of a family crest with the torse clearly visible. Reverse with the nine-petalled flower.

Counter 10

A depiction of a coat of arms, with a helm, an unusually large torse, and a crest. Reverse with the four-petalled flower.

Counter 11

Clearly an early attempt to depict the coat of arms of a family, with a stylised depiction of a coronet to the top. This counter was probably made for a French family.

Counter 12

This counter was made for the Comberworth family. Reverse with the nine-petalled flower

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