In the past year there has been a noticeable increase in interest in Chinese silver miniature items from both the late Qing dynasty and the Republic era. Quite coincidentally this has been a period where my own research has focussed on collating and recording these items on the fast-growing image database that is part and parcel of that research; so far well over 60,000 items of Chinese silver have been collated and filed.

What doesn’t appear to have been part of this growing interest of collectors is an understanding of the actual artisan workshops that were responsible for producing this niche area of decorative Chinese silver. With over 50 workshops now recorded along example of their work, it is not only clear that the vast majority of these are as intricate in terms of the art of silver-making, but certain workshops shine out as particularly exemplary in items they manufactured.

Traditionally, Chinese silver collectors have tended to be far more aware of the retail silversmiths than the manufacturing workshops, in fact is would be fair to say the overwhelming majority of collectors are oblivious to the identity of the artisan responsible for actually creating Chinese silver wares. The identification and classification of in excess of fifty such workshops producing miniature items is in itself a testament to the fact that Chinese silver miniatures are perhaps not such a “niche” category than previously thought.

The reticulated high-back long bench [Fig.1] carries the mark of the Shanghai workshop of LUO QING 羅葝; this particular example was made for the Shanghai retailer HUNG CHONG. Miniature silver furniture items were not exactly rare, but this is the first time I’ve ever come across a bench. As for the Luo Qing workshop, so far it seems to have specialised in articulated novelty cruet items [Fig.2] that were made for the Shanghai retailers Tuck Chang and Hung Chong.

Whereas 19th and 20th century Chinese silver so often opens a window into Chinese culture through the use of traditional allegorical decorative motifs, miniature silver items provide an interesting insight into daily life in China at the time; rarely one finds an item of Chinese silver that is simply just whimsical.

Of the same period o as the long bench, one finds a reticulated bamboo motif arm chair [Fig.3] made by the Hong Kong workshop of KUAN JI 記寬, a woven rattan high-back chair [Fig.4] by RUN JI 潤記 of Canton for the retailer WANG HING and a miniature armchair with bat and peach motif back by LIN 林 [Fig.5] of Canton.

As with most items of Chinese silver, a discerning eye is equally required when looking at these miniatures. It is an unfortunate fact that e-commerce sites hosting the selling of antique silver are becoming increasingly populated by “Chinese silver” items that are almost literally hot off the press of the factory production line and these items are even finding their way into mainstream auction house sales; particularly so since COVID restrictions began. The bottom line is that all bona fide Chinese silver miniatures are well-made and often quite detailed and the unrelated pastiche “newborns” are invariably not, even though some of the latter carry some form of “silver mark” which is almost certainly equally as bogus as the very item that carries it. That said, careful and well-chosen collecting of this category of decorative Chinese silver can be highly satisfying; it is certainly a category that is rising, in terms of values.

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  1. J. Harche says:

    I have a miniature similar to the second item in Fig. 2, rickshaw and basket but without the spoon. Thank you for an informative read as I have found little information on miniatures until your article.


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