Category: Antiques

A Touch of Ming

Ming Vase

A Touch of Ming

During a recent visit to Victoria and Albert museum, Peter and I were surprised by this rather interactive art appreciation exercise.

Visitors are allowed to touch a huge Ming vase, see above photo.

It said in a note beside it, written in English as well as in Braille, that visitors are allowed to touch it. It was not inside a glass case.

At first Peter and I can’t believe it.  Despite the clear note, we looked around if anyone was looking; we had to make sure that the coast was clear.   We felt that it was rather naughty to touch an antique work of art.  We would have been good candidate for experiment or candid camera, to see our reaction.

The above Ming porcelain vase was an original 1550 antique.

Ming antiques are very much wanted by the rich and famous.  I have often heard that a really rare Ming can set you up for life!

But can you imagine, if we broke the vase, we had to sell up our house to pay for the damage!

I reckon the vase was once broken into several pieces, thus not as valuable or sought after by the moneyed people, ergo hoi polloi are allowed a quick fondle with the Ming!  🙂


Snuff Box Head @ V&A

Mask, by PH Morton

Snuff Box Head @ V&A

This is another treasure from the V&A exhibits.

You would not have guessed it that it is a snuff box, a container for ground tobacco.

The lovely intricate design makes it a collectible.  This particular item was made in Chelsea by an unknown artist between 1760-1765.



Masks, photo by PH Morton


#1 Noh Mask

#2 Zo-Onna Mask

#3 Hannya Mask, represents a female demon

#4 Hanakobu Akujo

#5 Uba

These masks can be currently and readily admired at the V&A Museum, East Asian gallery.

Masks are used for protection, disguise, performance and entertainment.

The above masks were Japanese and were sculpted from wood.  They were based from the 14th century classical Japanese theatre called Noh which was much loved and patronised by the Shogun, supreme military leader.

Snuff Bottle – Qing Dynasty

Snuff Bottle, V&A Museum, photo by JMorton

Snuff Bottle – Qing Dynasty

The above object caught my attention immediately, not only because it was exquisitely beautiful but I remember I have a similar one at home, which Peter got me as a gift a couple of years ago.

I thought it was a perfume bottle.  It was only during a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum two days ago that I learnt it was a snuff bottle, which was used during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

Smoking a tobacco was prohibited during the Qing Dynasty, therefore nicotine loving Chinese and Mongolian people had resorted to sniffing powdered tobacco contained in snuff bottles.  Inhaling finely ground tobacco was allowed as consumption was deemed medicinal at that time.

The snuff bottles were constructed as tactile as possible as they are carried by hand replacing the snuff boxes favoured by Europeans.  There were really beautiful, work of art, snuff bottles as they were a symbol of your position, how high up you were in society.  Sharing a snuff during the 16th century China was a form of greetings.

Wonderful to learn new things.  I now know that my ‘perfume bottle’ is actually a snuff bottle.  Where is the tobacco?!!! 🙂

Lady of Lupari

Lady of Lupari @ V&A, Photo by PH Morton

Lady of Lupari @ V&A, Photo by PH Morton

The above bust was of a lady from the Lupari family, a prominent family in Bologna during the 1460s.

The bust is made from terracotta and the sculptor was Alfonso Lombardi.

What is a bust?

A bust is a sculpted or cast representation of a human upper body, from the chest to the neck up to the head.  The bust is often sat on a plinth to keep it secure.  A bust can be made from marbles, wood, metal, or terracotta.

An aust is an equivalent to a sculpted head of mythical beings and animals.

Under Lock & Key (to Safety)


Old keys, Photo by JMorton


Key, Photo by JMorton

Under Lock & Key (to Safety)

We have a really lovely sideboard, in which I’ve stored all my chinas: plates, my lazy Susan, cups and saucers, my special dinner wares.  I thought because they are for special occasion, I should store them under lock and key.  Well, that was the idea.  The problem now is that they are so safe, I can’t get to them, no one can get to them.  The key won’t unlock the cupboard anymore.

I don’t really want to force open the sideboard because it is an antique, really beautiful; I don’t want to damage it.  It has been with Peter’s family, before I was even born and that was a very long time ago. eeckk 🙂

Anyway with this problem in mind, I got to thinking (as one does) how keys and locks have evolved.

I know that in ancient time, people would bury or leave their valuables in special places such as caves, under a tree, by the riverbank, or obvious landmarks, etc. (Actually, our canine does this. He would bury his dog bones for later use. 🙂 )

The Egyptians and the Chinese used complicated wooden bolts as early as 2000BC.

And then of course  Europe started using wooden chests to hide their valuables.  The wooden chest graduated into a strong box, and then to the use of safe.

It was Linus Yale, Junior,  an American, who developed a lock based on the early Egyptian principle of pin tumblers, the kind of lock that we still use today.


I think, like me, Benjamin Franklin had a problem with  one of his keys and it had become rather redundant as it would not opened the furniture it was supposed to unlock.  Ergo he used that key to conduct his now famous experiment of attaching a key to a kite, which he flew during a thunderstorm.  The key was electrified, thus he invented the lightning conductor.

Keys are also used as a coming of age gift.  When my son turned 13, under much pomp and ceremony, he got his first set of house keys, which he promptly lost.   🙁

Apparently ancient Rome used to have this tradition of giving the keys for the household to new brides.


Balance (Weighing) Scale

Kilogram, photo by Arnold Gamboa

Old weighing scale, photo by Arnold Gamboa

Balance (Weighing) Scale

I just about remember this contraption. This was the scale used before digital came along. It was rather fiddly to use, ergo, some genius scientist had to invent something simpler and easier machine to use. But having said that this old scale at least challenges your motor neurone much more, which can only be a good thing.

The Beauty of Books

On 6th March 2014 was World Book Day 2014. Schools here in the UK were celebrating this event by asking pupils to dress up in their favourite book characters.

Jean and I love reading and buying books or borrowing books from our local library, Childs Hill Library, N.W. London. I have used this small and charming library since my childhood, for about 50 years now. I have seen many changes. The library building used to belong to our local church All Saints, then it was sold to Barnet Borough Council in the 1950s, who converted it into library. After reading comics I remember reading my first book at age of 11. It was a sci-fi book called ‘Terror By Satellite’ I then enjoyed borrowing & reading John Wyndham sci-fi novels from the library in my early teen years.

For many years the library had solid dark wooden shelves divided in to subject sections.  There was a kindly elderly & eccentric librarian called Frank, who loved books and would indeed talk to them as he replaced books on the shelves. He was probably the last qualified & experienced librarian we had.  His nice library assistant Olga took over running the library after Frank retired. Olga and her assistant Min were friendly and we knew them well.

About 10 years ago,  the library was extensively refurbished and redecorated.  It became more open plan, lighter and airier inside.

With the economic woes that came to the UK etc.,  Childs Hill Library has been lucky to escape closure which happened to many libraries.  It is popular and local campaigns kept it open and the library  became a base for the borough mobile library service.

With the cut back in staff, permanent library assistants are now rare, with assistants rotating between borough libraries.  Libraries now also have volunteer unpaid staff to keep a library open. So we see different staff when we visit. Also libraries are becoming self-service,  there are machines which we use  to scan out books with our tickets and scan in again when we return a book.

Previously  the library staff would log a book out and stamp the return date in the book.  Before computer systems the book was booked out by staff  entering it into a manual register system, they them date stamped a  small card and placed it into an envelope glued onto the first cover page of the book.

When I was younger I wanted to be a librarian, who knows I may end up helping after retirement 🙂

I actually did some library duties at my place of work.  At the small library, we mainly had crime related books. I used the Dewey Decimal system to catalogue new books to the library.

Childs Hill Library
Childs Hill Libary

Now most libraries have internet linked computers, printers and coffee machines for visitors. redundant books& DVDs are sold at a cheap price.
I enjoy visiting libraries browsing books looking at the decor and building. I have recently joined a small library near work, so I can go at some lunchtime
Libraries are crucial for local social well-being, education recreation.

In general with the advent and increase in books that can be digitally downloaded and bulk stored from companies such as Amazon books for reading on electronic devices such as Kindle, iPad, smart phones and other tablet PCs, the future of the printed book, book shops and libraries is uncertain. The electronic book (variously: e-book, eBook, e-Book, ebook, digital book, or even e-edition for newspapers and magazines is revolution how we obtain and read books etc.

I am old school as they say,  preferring  the look, feel and yes the odour (if antique) of a printed book. Printed books last and do not require electric power to make the words appear. 😉

Some of our many books

A small selection of our  books and the ubiquitous tablet PC and smart phone that replace the printed book!

I like to browse old/antiquarian book shops (fast disappearing too) charity shops from books . I have few old books, one dated in 1750s!

Reading for me opens and creates new worlds and indeed universes if reading sci-fi (science fiction). Words feed my imagination more so than watching TV or movies.
Reading exercises our imagination and thinking. Too much TV etc., merely makes our minds lazy and a substitute for our own  imaginations. (excellent documentaries excepted).
I find radio documentaries, drama stimulate imagination too.
Being able to read is also very important in life and books encourage and aid children and adults learning to read.

Jean and I read a diverse subjects. We both like reference books, science, history, nature, biography religion, philosophy etc. As for fiction, I like to read US and some British crime /detective crime detective novels & sci-fi. I really like reading medieval crime mysteries too as the authors offer enjoyable plots as well as give real history back drops, which are informative and interesting.
It is estimated that 40% of books we buy are only part read or not read at all!
We could say looking at our bookshelves that those books we have read are the past and those we have not read are the future to be explored 😉

Do you have favourite books? Please let us know.

The Zen of the Bowl


Ming Bowl

The Zen of the Bowl


This Ming bowl is an antique.  Be on the look out for one; you might have something of this kind in your loft, attic or long forgotten chest of drawers.

If you have got one, you are in the money 🙂

You never know!

A bit of Zen Buddhism here …

What do you thing is the most valuable part of this priceless antique bowl? (Or any bowl for that matter)

Is it its beautifully detailed design?

Is it because of its renowned porcelain material?

Is it because of its monetary value, being an antique?

Apparently, wait for this,  it is its emptiness!  Its very emptiness, which has the ability to hold apples, pear, potatoes or bananas (or anything and everything) that makes the bowl functional.  Without its ability to be of use, it loses its identity as a bowl.

That is deep!  hehehe A deep bowl, indeed! 😉

Cleopatra’s Necklace Found in Siberia

The brilliant beads of ‘Cleopatra’s necklace’: Ancient Egyptian jewellery plucked from burial mound of Siberian ‘virgin princess’
  • Glass necklace discovered inside 2,400-year-old burial mound
  • Jewellery thought to have belonged to a 25-year-old virgin priestess
  • Experts want to pinpoint precise origin of priceless beads

By Lucy Crossley

PUBLISHED: 16:34, 3 February 2013 | UPDATED: 16:18, 4 February 2013

Nicknamed ‘Cleopatra’s Necklace’ by the Russians who found it, the jewellery was discovered on the skeleton of a 25-year-old woman, believed to have been a virgin priestess.

Although it was discovered during a dig nine years ago, this is the first time a picture of the priceless 17-bead necklace has been shown since it was found in the Altai Mountains by archaeologist Yelena Borodovskya.

Rare find: The necklace was discovered around the neck of a skeleton in a 24,000-year-old burial moundRare find: The necklace was discovered around the neck of a skeleton in a 24,000-year-old burial mound


Valued: The intricate beads are believed to have belonged to a 25-year-old virgin priestessValued: The intricate beads are believed to have belonged to a 25-year-old virgin priestess


Intricate: The beads were created using the 'Millefiori technique' where glass canes or rods are combined to produce multicoloured patternsIntricate: The beads were created using the ‘Millefiori technique’ where glass canes or rods are combined to produce multicoloured patterns

Siberian academics have released the images in the hope of finding experts from across the world who may be able to pinpoint the necklace’s exact origin.

 ‘It has a striking variety of colours, beautiful shades of deep and light yellow and blue, said Professor Andrey Borodovsky, 53, of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Novosibirsk.

‘I have worked with Altai antiquities for more than 30 years, and this necklace is probably the most beautiful find I’ve ever seen.’

Discovery: The precious necklace was found by archeologist Yelena Borodovskaya in the Altai mountains of SiberiaDiscovery: The precious necklace was found by archeologist Yelena Borodovskaya in the Altai mountains


Investigating: Professor Andrey Borodovsky is keen to discover how the necklace came to SiberiaInvestigating: Professor Andrey Borodovsky is keen to discover how the necklace came to Siberia

Professor Borodovsky said that the intricate beads were made using the ‘Millefiori technique’, which involves production of glass canes or rods with multicoloured patterns that can only be seen from the cut ends.

It is believed that the jewellery pre-dates Egyptian queen Cleopatra, who died in 30BC, but Professor Borodovsky wants to find experts to help him date the piece, according to the Siberian Times.

The owner of the necklace was believed to have been 25-years-old when she was buried with the beads around her neck.

Unusual: Professor Borodovsky, pictured left, said the skeleton was also found with a bronze mirrorUnusual: Professor Borodovsky, pictured left, said the skeleton was also found with a bronze mirror

She was believed to have been a ‘blue-blooded’ woman, who was likely to have come from a highly regarded tribe or clan.

‘It is quite likely she was a priestess,’ said Professor Borodovsky.

‘What points to this status is a bronze mirror which was packed into her “burial bag”.

‘The mirror had a chain of bronze pendants attached to it, also there was a set of sacrificial bones with a little butcher knife.

‘It shows that the mirror was treated as a living creature, which points to its magical function.

‘If she performed some priestly functions, she could have been a virgin, not having a family and belonging to a completely different social sphere.’

Academics also suspect the mystery necklace owner was a kinswoman of the famous tattooed ‘Princess Ukok’, whose body artwork was preserved in ice following her death.

An artifact such as the necklace has never been found in Russia before, although Professor Borodovsky said that he was not surprised that the jewellery reached remote Siberia from Egypt more than two millennia ago during the Scythian period.

‘Siberia has always been a kind of ‘stream of civilization’ – a transit territory, rich with resources and attractive for migration,’ he said.

He added that the necklace, and its owner had probably come to Siberia via present-day Kazakhstan, along an old silk road.

‘It is most likely by this route that those beads got to Altai,’ he said.

‘Obviously, this area was a very busy place.’


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