This is an antique Chinese pounce pot - a small container with holed in the top which was used to contain powder "Pounce" for blotting ink. Pounce ultimately derives from the Latin for pumice via the old French word "ponce". It is a fine powder, most often made from powdered cuttlefish bone that was used both to dry ink and to sprinkle on a rough writing surface. This them made the smooth enough for writing by scholars doing calligraphy or ink paintings.
It is in the shape of a charming little bird. In looking at photos of Chinese birds we lean to the idea that it is either a finch or a warbler because of the short tail feathers. The details of the bird are rendered with great delicacy and precision - every individual feather in the wings and on the back - the tiny beak - and the inset eyes - all done to mirror the bird's natural appearance.
We believe the pot is made of an alloy of silver and copper - silver, because of the tarnished patina - and some copper, because of the verdigris that can be seen on the top of the body where it inserts into the lift off head. It is in excellent condition. There are ten tiny holes on the top of the bird's head through which the finely powdered pounce would have been shaken onto the paper.
The pounce pot measures 1 1/2" high by 1 1/4" wide by 1 3/4" long. The head is removable for refilling the body of the bird with the pounce powder. There is a series of Chinese characters on the base of the piece - however, they were somewhat blurred during the making of the piece and we cannot have the characters translated. By these Chinese markings, we think it to be most likely to have been made for the home market rather than for export.