Little Leaf + Mother Of Pearl
Little silver leaf with an oval Mother of Pearl gaming counter circa 1850
Engraved both sides with a lovely lustre
MoP - 50 x 17mm
Chinese mother-of-pearl gaming counters probably first came to Europe in around 1700 as the inspired innovation of a sea captain or else a “supercargo” – one of the men primarily responsible for trading – of the East India Company boats when they began trading with China. European countries were opening new markets in many corners of the globe but the first traders to come to China must have found it immensely exciting. New products were available to bring to Europe: silk, tea, porcelain. The demand for these far outstripped supply. The Chinese, into the bargain, were keen to trade for items which were commonplace in Europe. Fortunes were there to be made.
When tea was first sold in Europe it was the most exotic and fashionable luxury. Competition between the crews to bring back to Europe the first crop of the new season each year, was intense and unbelievable prices were paid.
Sea voyages were incredibly hazardous, though; uncharted seas, unpredictable currents and winds, pirates waiting to pillage; but this could not deter the traders from heading to Canton when the Emperor Kangxi legitimised trade with Europeans.
The Chinese have long enjoyed the reputation of being some of the world’s most compulsive gamblers. So this enterprising trader must have seen the Chinese gambling with simple yet fine mother-of-pearl counters decorated with traditional Chinese designs, and brought some back to Europe.