Japanese and Chinese antiques and art from B & C
Fine Qing Chinese Paktong Incense Clock, Marked

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All Items: Archives:Regional Art:Asian:Chinese: Pre 1900: item # 1146401

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B & C   Antiques
P. O. Box 291
Derby, CT 06418

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Fine Qing Chinese Paktong Incense Clock, Marked

This exceptional seven-piece Chinese incense clock in an unusual elongated fan form is crafted entirely from paktong, an alloy of zinc, copper and nickel which had the lustrous sheen and color tone of silver. Qing Dynasty, 19th century. The heavy body is comprised of three segments which fit snugly into a separate paktong base with a pierced cloud design. Only particularly finely executed examples of incense clocks were equipped with such elaborate detachable bases. The openwork cover is crafted in marvelous detail with four auspicious archaic seal script characters which likely represent “wealth” and “longevity.” The perforated top is raised, surrounded by a cutout key fret design, with a stylized openwork cloud pattern surrounding the script characters. The upper compartment holds the incense seal template and tamper. The bottoms of all three segments are stamped with a three-character signature or hallmark, denoting a piece of superior quality and metal craftsmanship. All the sides are plain.

Of the more esoteric devices developed by the Chinese to measure time, perhaps the most arcane are these aromatic incense clocks, which “told time” by the scents they emitted at designated periods. First, wood ash was tamped firmly in the tray. Then the seal was placed over the ash. A depression was made in the ash base along the entire length of the seal’s track, into which special powdered incense was carefully poured. When the seal was lifted, the incense remained in the track. The incense was then lighted and burned continuously for 24 hours. (For similar examples, see “The Trail of Time,” a book by Silvio A. Bedini.) The intricate and refined beauty of these utilitarian objects made incense clocks an important accoutrement in the scholar’s study.

Paktong itself has a fascinating history. Centuries before nickel was isolated in the west, the Chinese had produced an alloy of zinc, copper and nickel which had the lustrous sheen and color tone of silver, was appreciably harder than silver, and did not tarnish in use. Many examples of this alloy have a particularly pleasing color which is silver bright but possesses what has been termed a “soul of gold.” (For additional information about paktong, see our article in “Arts of Asia,” Nov/Dec. 1992.) This is one of the finest incense clocks we have ever seen, and it has been in our personal collection for a number of years.

CONDITION is excellent. The word “China” was later scratched onto the bottom, indicating export from China after 1892.

DIMENSIONS: 7” (17.8 cm) maximum length, 3 ˝” (9 cm) maximum width, 4” (10.2 cm) height.

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