Silver Items from a golden age in Vietnam

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					                         Silver items from a golden age in Vietnam
                                    Silver items made for Vietnam’s last dynasty remind us of a bygone
                                    era. These priceless antiques provide a glimpse into life in Vietnam’s
                                    last court and inspire modern artists and craft people

                                        Of the thousands of artifacts stored and displayed in museums in
                                        the formal royal capital of Hue, only around 100 items are made of
                                        silver while there aren’t many silver items remaining, those that
                                        remain are one of a kind, and therefore, priceless. These old
treasures testify to the skill and artistry of Vietnam’s long ago silversmiths.

Since ancient times, silver has been admired for various qualities, including malleability, moderate
weight, resistance to discoloration, and bright color. From early times, silver, along with gold, was
reserved for people of royal and noble lineage for private use at court. Apart from being fashioned into
silver ducats, the metal was also used to craft religious items and tools for daily life.

It is said that the father of silversmithing in Vietnam was Luu Xuan Tin from Chay Khe Village ( Bing
Giang, Hai Duong) who was once the minister of internal affairs under the reign of Emperor Le Thanh

In 1461, He was licensed by the court to operate a silver ducat and coinage foundry for the State in
Thang Long capital 9 (now Hanoi). Luu Xuan Tin introduced silversmithing trade to Hanoi’s Hang Bac
Street which to this day is lined with silver shops. From this first workshop, the trade flourished thanks
to a series of talented silversmiths. In the early 19th century, the Nguyen dynasty summoned the best
artists to Hue and set up the Precious Metals Department to craft indigenous items from silver and gold
by the order of the royal court. This was the era when silver crafting reached its zenith in Vietnam, as
demonstrated by the exquisite items still found in Hue’ museums.

In term of types, silver items from the Nguyen Dynasty are quire diverse. Religious items include urns,
vases, water pots, fruit bowls, altars, daggers and sacrificial swords. Daily wares include face-washing
bowl bottles tea trays, betel kits, chopsticks, pipes pen holders and ink holders. Silver was also used to
make ornaments and other luxury items, such as silver tipped porcelain tea sets, silver-tipped smoking
pipes and buttons. Decorative patterns were also carved into silver and applied to royal costumes.

Royal silver motifs vary greatly and include images such as the four Divines, four seasons, four symbols,
eights treasures, two dragons attending the sun., two dragon competing for a pearl, precious flowers
and refined Han characters for Fortune, Longevity, Joy,…etc. Some royal silverware also features
geometrical patterns.

The most valuable silver items are the Nguyen dynasty’s silver seals. Early in the reign of Gia Long, three
silver seals names Van Ly Mat Sat (stationary seal), Tri Lich Minh Thoi Chi Bao (for sealing calendars as
annual gifts) and Phong Tang Chi Bao (for sealing ordinances) were crafted. One tip is decorated with a
Kylan (an Asian unicorn) and the two others with dragons tilting their heads. The seal of Crown Prince
Thu Tin (crafted in 1820) is also made of silver and features a dragon with a curved body like a galloping
horse. In 1830, Emperor Minh Mang ordered the creation of the Truong Khanh seal for his Crown Price
with the same dragon tip and a similar shape. Other silver seals made for emperors include the seal of
Emperor Cung Hue ( 1893), fashioned at the behest of Emperor Thanh Thai for his ill-fated father Duc
Duc. Silver seals for empress dowagers include the seal of Dien Tho Palace and the seal of Truong Sanh
Palace (1916) wih Ky Lan Tips.

The most impressive seal is the nation’s mother seal that Lord Nguyen Phuc Anh had made for his
mother before he took the throne in 1902. This gold plated silver seal has an elaborately carved golden
turtle tip. Silver seals from the Nguyen dynasty were all exquisitely made and even rival gold seals in
terms of their beauty and artistic value.

A collection of 85 seals of which a dozen are made of silver, is housed at the national historical museum.
It is our good fortune to preserve some priceless treasures from the past, despite our turbulent history.

The exquisite silver items fashioned during Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty remind us of our nation’s
fascinating history and are a testament to the artistry and skill of Vietnam’s artisans during this golden
age of craftsmanship.

This article is written by Ha Nguyen from Vietnam Heritage Travel Company for original article and more
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