Meta-Museum – TROPHY SILVER: Chinese Export Silver Wins Hands Down!!!


The word trophy, coined in English in 1550, is derived from the Latin word trophaeum – monument to victory. The word is used more liberally today but if there was ever an “age of the trophy”, 19th century silversmiths probably produced the most prolific and astounding array – none were better suited to creating iconic markers of auspicious occasions than Chinese Export Silver smiths.

The combination of the Victorian bent for wedding cake “over the top” decoration and Chinese motifs produced some of the finest silver pieces, much of which has gone unsung and long forgotten. This quite unique East meets West combination created a plethora of high quality statement-pieces that are today a legacy and testament to the Chinese Export Silver makers of the 19th century. “Less is more” is not something 19th century Chinese silversmiths could reconcile with; the decorative excesses to which they lavished silver items works though – and rather deliciously too!

Here [left] we have a  wonderful example of  a Victorian statement in silver that is attributed to Luen Wo of Shanghai and was made in 1883; the presentation piece was made for “Torpedo Engineer J.D. Bishop”. Bishop was part of the crew of the Hunley, a U.S. Confederate submarine that was assured its place in history by being the first to sink an enemy warship, the Union war sloop USS HOUSATONIC.

This is an extraordinary piece of silver in as much as it is a veritable profusion of Chinese and Western nautical motifs – no single part of it remains unembellished. The galleon finial to the lid is quite possibly the Housatonic. The piece sold in August 2011 at Eldred’s, Cape Cod for $28,750.

Hoaching [Ho Ching] was another Canton silversmith who was well-suited to creating a statement piece that fused Western classical form with what can only be described as a celebration of Chinese decoration. This piece [right] has an inscription dated 1869 which is most probably the year it was created; Chinese silversmiths generally created bespoke items to order unless they were one of the silversmiths or maker’s mark that fronted a retail emporium. Hoaching is not recorded as having a retail showroom.

The art of the Chinese silversmiths produced specialities that became keynote anomalies of Chinese Export Silver; lidded cups, tankards, rose bowls and goblets.

Here [left] we have another example of Hoaching’s work made circa 1880 in the shape of a presentation goblet. Decoration once again covers the entire piece in a profusion of various beautifully crafted Chinese motifs.

While [right] we have a presentation reticulated bowl by Hung Chong circa 1884 commemorating a Shanghai tennis tournament. Hung Chong is one of the several Chinese Export Silver makers’ marks to have an emporium behind the maker’s mark.

Chinese traditional motifs are highly appropriate adornment for trophies and other commemorative items, since all have a multitude of representational and auspicious meaning. The Chinese dragon was a symbol of Imperial power and strength. When combined with traditional Western classical motifs, there is often a recipe for a very powerful combination of symbolism, not to mention a veritable cornucopia of aesthetic delights.

Pictured [left] we have a superb example of Wang Hing silver at its best. It is particularly interesting since it is an obvious bespoke item for a specific occasion – the location being Malaysia and the client, the Indian community in Kuala Lumpur.

The inscription reads: “Selangor Races 1893 Mava Cup. Presented by the Indian Mercantile Community. Won by Romano”. Selangor Turf Club still exists today in Kuala Lumpur.

While overtly Chinese, the decorative motifs do also allude to more localised Indo-centric imagery, yet captured on a Western classical form. The close-up detailing [right] clearly demonstrates this. It is almost reminiscent of Bhug silver – highly colonial in feeling but at the same time remaining obviously Chinese and, in my opinion, totally delicious!

This particular piece, weighing just under 2.4kg, was sold at Skinners, Boston for $26,000 against an estimate of $3000 – $5000.

The term “cornucopia” indicates an abundance, an overflowing supply. This piece is the ultimate in abundance of decorative motifs and silvermithing skills


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