My already published Catalogue of Chinese Export Silver Makers’ Marks is an on-going piece of work that endeavours not only to identify additional makers and their marks but also the “real people” behind the “auspicious names” many Chinese makers adopted.

 The following piece is part of my most recent research. It not only reveals the identity of the real Cutshing, but also the convoluted business partnerships between American and British sea merchants and the Hong merchants in Canton as well as the equally convoluted marriage arrangements between various Massachusetts Bay families that were intended to consolidate and optimise the massive potential revenues.

 The silver Cutshing produced is widely recognised as some of the finest from the Early China Trade Period [1785-1840]. Red Flash

Probably most of the true masterpieces of Chinese Export Silver are to be found in the first 80 years of production when relatively few silver manufactories were operating, compared to the ensuing 75 years when both numbers of silversmiths and production mushroomed.

 Early Chinese Export Silver was comprised mostly of faithful copies of comparable quality of British, American and European silver of the Georgian period, with silver content being up a third as much again as the originals. Chinese silver manufactories were not dissimilar to their contemporaries in England in as much as they often ran on the principle of benches at which master silversmiths in their own right worked. We have long assumed Chinese Export Silver makers’ marks indicate an actual person of that name being the principal maker, whereas the reality is the name on the mark is most probably fictitious, often an adopted auspicious name, yet commonly with an entire family dynasty of silver artisans forming more of a production-line cooperative. Having said that, Georgian silversmiths were also often family concerns; also having notable silversmiths in their own right working with them or apprenticing a younger generation, many of whom rose to fame  – the great Paul Storr apprenticing at Andrew Fogelberg of Soho in London being a good example. In Canton and later in Shanghai, due to the adoption of the practice of having a “chopmark” of the actual artisan silversmith in addition to the maker’s mark, we have an additional insight into the main maker’s mark, however some of those chopmark names appear under several main maker marks indicating that some might have been itinerant or freelance. - Cutshing Teaset

The key to the enigma of the early Chinese Export Silver marks may, in part, be found in those “faithful copies” and who facilitated this phenomenon. Sea captains and China Trade merchants who recognised the high quality of workmanship of Chinese silversmiths; they also recognised that comparable silver items to those had in the West could be commissioned in Canton at fraction of the price without comprising the quality. This is how Chinese Export Silver came into being. - Cutshing marks

Most of the merchants or sea captains came from either Britain or North America; many of the British being Scots and a good number of the Americans being from Boston and Salem in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts captains and merchants had a habit of intermarrying, consolidating their businesses by so doing and many of them established permanent Canton bases within the Thirteen Hongs territory.

John Perkins Cushing was not only the result of one such family alliance but was dispatched to Canton in 1804 at the age of 16 to become a clerk/agent at the family company Perkins & Co which formally established itself in Canton in 1806 with an initial capital in today’s value of $750,000 in gold and silver . Cushing was a true entrepreneur, always looking for ways to expand beyond the furs that was the bedrock of Boston’s China Trade. During an early 19th century famine in China, Perkins & Co imported rice to China and in the 1812 war, Perkins & Co loaned money to Canton-based merchants at the rate of 18% interest. But the fur trade began to falter and an new commodity was required to re-create a sizable hard cashflow; apart from tea, opium was the answer, quickly establishing unheard of wealth for the Boston and British merchants. - Howqua

John Perkins Cushing established himself by 1820 as the most influential “foreigner” in Canton having created a close working relationship with the most powerful of all the Hong merchants, Wu Binjian [known in the West as “Howqua”] Ewo Hong [Yi Wo]. Howqua became one of the wealthiest men in the world, having a worth in excess of 26 million Mexican Dollars and being the largest creditor of The East India Company. Cushing lived in the America House in the Thirteen Hong territory, opposite Wu Binjian’s Hong; a most convenient arrangement given that Wu Binjian was the most powerful of all the hong merchants and Cushing was intent on being the most successful “foreigner”. - 13 Hongs

Hong merchants, American and British merchants all colluded to optimise “opportunities” in Canton which resulted in incredibly convoluted business arrangements even by today’s standards.

Howqua entered into a partnership with Perkins & Co in order to “supply goods of British manufacture to the amount of nearly one million sterling a year through the Americans”*;

a convenient arrangement that overcame trading restrictions and laws. Howqua was a founding partner of J.M. Forbes & Co; Thomas and Robert Forbes were nephews of James and Thomas Handasyd Perkins, Thomas being John Perkins Cushing’s uncle and who raised him after John’s mother died of smallpox.

Howqua eventually transferred all of his business to Forbes & Co after his dissatisfaction of dealing with Baring Bros, the London bank.

Convoluted, devious and incestuous are words that might spring to mind when it comes to early 19th century business in Canton!  The main motivator was the opium trade, but it was Howqua’s and Perkins Cushing’s natural instinct to always seek more ways to capitalise on the business networks they were commanding.

Silver had been the bedrock of the Chinese economy for centuries. All payments for goods bought in China and for items purchased by the Hong merchants were made in silver. It was not uncommon for invoices from Perkins & Co to be paid by Howqua directly in Mexico in Mexican silver trade dollars. By 1820, the habit of sea merchants bringing American and British silver to Canton to be faithfully copied was relatively commonplace, which in turn some of the established silver makers to expand their bench production. Howqua and John Perkins Cushing seized the opportunity and established their own silver manufactory creating high quality copies of American and British Georgian silver. Perkins Cushing had by now become probably the most notable of foreign merchants in Canton and had for some years been known by the Chinese as Ku-Shing; this eventually inspired the name of the new silver manufactory CUTSHING. Although it is generally believed the maker’s mark of Cutshing was used in its various guises between 1830-1895, the “faithful copying” of silver began in earnest around 1820, much of it initially unmarked. Cutshing, as a manufactory, benefited from the huge amount of ships under the control of Howqua and John Perkins Cushing’s business empires. Controlling the actual manufactory and the ships that brought in silver for copying and carrying back silver items either to sell or as specially commissioned items simply meant even more profit optimisation. Shipping and financial documents exist for Perkins & Co that attest to shipments of silver items [other than ingots] being part of cargo in both directions.

The establishment of a system of exchange, by which bills on London were substituted for specie, came before 1830 as a result of the increased commercial relationship between the United States and England, and the growth of the opium trade.  A part of the American trade with China was financed from London even before 1800.  Shortly after 1815 American merchants began to buy British manufactured goods, chiefly cottons, in the English market, and to take them to China where they were able to sell them cheaper than the East India Company…The effect of this trade in British manufactured goods was to make London a clearing house for a considerable amount of European and China trade which had formerly been settled either in Canton or Europe by payments of specie. Meanwhile the opium trade from India to China increased to the point where China was consuming more foreign produce than the value of the tea, silks, etc., which the foreigner was taking out of China.  China settled the balance against her in silver.  The Empire had become, by means of opium, a buying more than a selling nation.  More and more the Americans came to Canton not with specie but with bills on London which they disposed of in return for their outward cargoes.  In other words, by taking out Chinese produce,and settling the account in London, they helped  the Chinese to adjust the balance of trade.” ** - Cutshing silver

John Perkins Cushing returned to Boston in 1830, but he did so not only an extremely wealthy man but one who had consolidated investments that would ensure him considerable ongoing revenues from the opium trade. In 1827 he had dissolved Perkins & Co and consolidated it with Russell & Co., but in 1818 he had created a new concern James P Sturgis & Co into which he consolidated all the commissioning business of Perkins & Co. This one act effectively removed John Perkins Cushing from “direct” involvement in the opium trade. Robert Murray Forbes was a partner in Russell & Co., as were other members of the Forbes family who each owned in the region of 70 ships. - Boston Clipper

Dr H A Crosby Forbes was the great grandson of Robert Bennett Forbes in whose house he established the first Captain Forbes House Museum of the China Trade. Red Flash

* Minutes of Report Relative to the Trade with the East Indies and China, from the Select Committee of the House of Lords, 1820

** Americans in Eastern Asia: A Critical  Study of the Policy of the United States with reference to China, Japan and Korea in the 19th Century by Tyler Dennett, [1920]

Special thanks to Leopard Antiques ,Christie’s New York and Sotheby’s New York

Adrien von Ferscht is an Honorary Research Fellow at University of Glasgow



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