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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Monogrammed mother of pearl gaming counters c1785

These exquisite gaming counters make me want to run off and play roulette until the wee hours of the morning.
Not only are they a delight to the eye, they are full of history.
I feel privileged to own these little beauties and while I don't know who their original ower was, the history of gaming counters is quite fascinating.
Carved Mother-of-Pearl gaming counters seem to date back around 250 years for the european market. They were hand-engraved in China in sets of three or more shapes denoting different denominations and used as gaming chips. The most common shapes are a shuttle (leaf) shape, round, oval and both longer and shorter oblongs (rectangles). I've also seen some used as thread winders which have Dogs of Fo cut into each end. And there are other less common shapes such as delightful cartouches.
Counters were commissioned by the well-to-do including nobility and royalty as well as wealthy tradespeople.
Many were produced during the Ch'ing Dynasty, the last dynasty of Imperial China.
A variety of games were played with the counters including Quadrille, Ombre, Loo, Faro (Pharoah) and Whist.
Usually engraved on one side with family crests if you had one or monograms, the other side might depict some aspect of Chinese life, be patterened all over with a 'diaper' pattern or even a numerical amount. Some were more intricately carved than others, and some with thicker shell.
Popular designs also included chinese pagodas, people, flowers, doves, fish and other animals. Carp fish represent the common people, while animals indicate character traits. The peony, a spring flower, represents blossoming youth.
Those in the photograph were made c1785 (the Charlotte border is dated to that time) and fall into the reign of philosopher/ruler Ch'ien Lung.
See my older post below on popular pastimes.