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This splendid tsampa box comprises a bowl and cover, and is made of turned burlwood, probably maple burlwood. It has silver mounts including pierced and chased panels decorated with Taoist symbols, and the mounts are inset with coral and turquoise cabochons.
The box is of tall, but flattened spherical form.
The soft orange-red hue of the coral suggests it comes from the waters around China, rather than having the more brighter red hue that is more typically found on Tibetan pieces for which the coral is more likely to have Mediterranean origins.
The rims of the cover and bowl are mounted with silver bands.
The lower part of the base of the bowl is similarly decorated with silver but which is also decorated with coral and turquoise cabochons.
The interior is lacquered and bright. The interiors of the base and cover appear to have collection numbers, possibly from a monastery, and Chinese-like script. This and the use of Taoist symbols suggest that the box was made by Chinese artisans for the Mongolian market.
Tsampa boxes are closely related to the tea bowls used in Mongolia and Tibet in terms of their form and the materials used in their construction. They were used to hold and serve tsampa, a ubiquitous Himalayan staple food made from ground parched barley grain mixed with salted yak buttered tea.
The box is in excellent condition. It has a superb patina. The two halves fit together very well.
Sheeks, R., ‘Tibetan and Mongolian tsampa boxes’, Arts of Asia, March-April 1996.