Inventory no.: 798

Rare Vietnamese Chinese Silver Altar Cup & Cover


Rare Vietnamese-Chinese Engraved Silver Openwork Altar Cup & Cover


circa 1870

height: 30cm, diameter: 15.5cm, weight: 672g

This extremely fine and elegant item of silver is of localised Chinese workmanship in Vietnam and appears to have been made to decorate an altar. Typically the silversmiths in southern Vietnam were of ethnic Chinese origin, as were many of the merchant class, the prospective clients for an item such as this.

The open-work employed throughout the item is very fine, and this in turn, is finely engraved with peonies and phoenixes, the same motifs in the same styling as used by the localised Chinese (the ‘Straits Chinese’ or

baba/nonyas) of the Straits settlements of Malacca, Singapore and Penang. The use of phoenixes and peonies among the Straits Chinese was associated with items commissioned for elaborate wedding celebrations.

The cup, in large goblet form, stands on a flared foot. The hollow, open-work stem comprises flared acanthus leaves and flowers. The bowl of the cup is beautifully decorated with scrolling peonies amid foliage. The rim of the cup is flattened and is pierced with a leaf and berry design. The lid or cover rises with three graduations to a raised, architectural-like finial that is surmounted by a flower and solid-cast bud. The cover is pierced with three phoenixes in flight amid peony blooms and foliage.

The base and cover are separately stamped with the letters ‘ET’. This is the mark used in Paris between the dates October 24, 1864 and May 30, 1893 for foreign-made silver items deemed to be of artistic or curio character but with a level of silver purity that was not guaranteed. This suggests the item was brought to France prior to 1893. The date of manufacture could be considerably earlier – it is possible, even likely, that the item already had age when it was acquired in Vietnam. The item does not appear to have been made for export and possibly was collected in Vietnam by a French colonialist and brought back to France. The item could only have been sold at public auction in Paris once it had been received its ‘ET’ mark and so possibly received its stamps prior to being presented for public auction during the 1864-93 period. France administered southern Vietnam – what was then Cochinchina – between 1862 and 1948.

Overall, this is a stunning and highly unusual piece, visually impressive in terms of craftsmanship, form and attention to detail.

Inventory no.: 798


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