Exceptional opposing pair of rare Chinese silver wine coolers. The pair formed with tapered bodies and wide trumpet mouths sat upon a thin circular base. The central band boldly decorated with four separate scenes of important Chinese historical proverbs.
The first opposing scene features Mèng jiā luò mào 孟嘉落帽 translated to Meng Jia drops his hat. It is a story of statesman Meng Jia who served general Huan Wen (312–373). One day at a gathering on Longshan (the Dragon Mountain), a gust of wind blew the cap from Meng’s head, but he did not seem to notice. A colleague at the event wrote a few lines mocking and criticizing Meng’s unceremonious appearance, but without the slightest hesitation Meng composed an elegantly phrased reply that earned the group’s admiration.
The second scene features an old Chinese idiom of Bó Lè Xiāng Mǎ 伯乐相马. Known as Bole (伯乐 – Bó lè), the name of a celestial being that was said to be in charge of heavenly steeds, Bole is said to have been an exceptionally good at finding hidden talent. The scene shows Bole standing in front of a lean horse as he judges its ability.
The third scene features Hángēng mài yào 韩庚卖药, it tells the story of a hermit who used to go into the mountains foraging for herbs to sell as medicine at the local market. As a hermit he believed that he was unknown to everyone and never sought out interaction other than selling his produce. One day he was recognised by a local, he was shocked as he believed that nobody knew him. As a consequence he hid in the mountains as a hermit the rest of his life.
The final scene possibly tells the proverb of Tóng yè fēng dì 桐叶封. The proverb describes a story from the Zhou dynasty with a King gifting the leaves of a tung tree to his younger brother, he gives it him as a token suggesting he will grow up to be the bearer of great fief. Each scene is completely with scallop shaped borders onto the plain gloss silver. The base is stamped stamped to the centre Bao Heng Xiang, Beijing Silverware Shop, High Silver. 北京 寶恒祥 銀器 足紋.
Notes | Spittoons have been used in China for many years dating back to at least the Tang Dynasty. A porcelain spittoon was found in a tomb dating to the reign of Emperor Xianzong (805-820). During the Qing dynasty a golden spittoon would be amongst the numerous objects displayed in the front of ceremonies with the Emperor.
When China became a Communist state in 1949, the spittoon became much more prevalent. Spittoons were placed in nearly ever public place and also in homes as well. It was believed this was due to more modern hygiene practices and to stop people openly spitting on the floor. The earlier spittoons were made of porcelain often in the imperial blue and white styles, more modern versions can be found in other materials such as the examples above.
Reference | For more work by Bao Heng Xiang see Christies, Lot 575, 15th May 2015 A Silver Basket.