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COMPARISON OF HAN JADE CELT PENDANT AND QING MOLDED GLASS CELT; both are decorated with dragons, the glass purchased in the 1970s-1980s from the PRC. The glass of the toggle is almost bubble-free and the lapidary work of moderate to good quality; the form and decorative theme undoubtedly copies an earlier prototype.
Vintage Chinese Glass

Toggles, Archers’ Rings

and More





When a country like the People’s Republic of China is so rich in archaeological, ethnographic and vintage art, it is easy for a medium like glass to be overlooked. Within the last few decades, both foreign and Chinese researchers have remedied this oversight and begun studying its ancient and some of the vintage glass ornaments (Kwan 2013, Lankton and Dussubieux 2006, 2013, Liu 2013, Zhu 2013). Faience, composite silicates and glass came late to China, lagging some fifteen hundred years behind the Middle East; faience about 1000 B.C. and composite silicates and glass in the Warring States period of the Zhou dynasty. By then, bronze and the stone industries were well-established, with the former using sophisticated piece-mold and core casting, while the latter employed similarly advanced lapidary technology. With a tradition of revering and replicating ancient and time-honored forms of art, it is not surprising that Chinese glassworkers adopted some of these techniques for their glass ornaments, as seen in the Zhou and Han era glass. This practice continued into Qing and even Republic glass ornaments to some degree.

Much Qing and Republic of China era (1644 - 1949) glass falls within the category of folk art, like the glass toggles (Cammann 1962, Duda 2011) used by middle and lower class men, but others, like archers’ rings and court necklace components played an important role culturally and ritually for scholar-officials. For example, thumb or archers’ rings changed in function from a necessary implement of the mounted archer to a more symbolic function for the scholar-official or gentleman (Hoffman 2008). During this transition, Hoffman makes a convincing case for how a simple ring became less practical and more ornamental, similar to the situation with Chinese snuff bottles, which employed many of the same decorative techniques and materials. However, such ornate examples of archers’ rings are not among the samples I studied. Interestingly, neither archers’ rings nor court necklaces denote actual insignia of rank, unlike mandarin squares, the decorative sphere at the top of officials’ hats or their belt plaques (Cammann 1979).





Robert K. Liu
Is Coeditor of Ornament magazine and for many years the in-house photographer. He is now in final edit for The Photography of Personal Adornment, which covers forty years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to ornaments, both in and out of our studio. In this issue, he continues his series on vintage Chinese ornaments; glass objects like toggles and archers’ rings are numerous but little is known about how they were made. By direct examination and consulting with experienced glass artists, he is attempting to fill this information gap. He also covers the annual Corning Museum glass seminar, where he was a speaker in 2013, and presents the review of a new gem book from Thailand.




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