The Origins of Chinese Export Silver – In the Beginning..

The Origins of Chinese Export Silver –In The Beginning…

Silver craftsmanship has been around in China for thousands of years but it wasn’t until the late 18th century that the name Chinese Export Silver began to be used

It grew out of the Canton system of trade

The foreign merchants were corralled in the foreign settlement of Canton whilst they traded the silks and teas and spices for which the West had an insatiable urge.

The merchants from all the foreign trading nations came on the monsoon winds in the Spring, worked with their local Hong merchants to source all these luxuries and then left when the Monsoon winds could take them away –

A captive audience for many months – not just for the luxury products but also for the essentials of life – tailors and cobblers and silversmiths were attracted to the foreign settlement to meet this demand

Here is the map of the foreign settlements – the silversmiths worked on the street just above where the American Factory is marked

So Chinese Export silver was born





The British merchants had a long tradition of using silver – the luxury requirement for the upper classes.  But it was expensive.  As well as being a precious metal, the British craftsmanship was expensive and even worse taxes had to be paid to the crown when the silver was assayed (hallmarks added to prove it was truly silver)  – see my blog for more details :

These  first pieces of Chinese Export silver were made to look just like English silver.  Merchants would bring some sample pieces and ask for them  to be copied.  And that was exactly what the silversmiths would do – down to those funny little marks on the back

Here are some examples of these early Chinese Export silver marks – known as “pseudo marks”


This one looks like a foo dog




This one the leopard is grinning from ear to ear



As you can imagine many pieces have been mis-catalogued over the years because of the similarity in these marks to the real thing – so once again these marks are all important!

Much of the early Chinese Export silver was flatware.  The merchant would bring a sample fork or spoon and get it copied for very little money.  Sadly a lot of this has been melted down over the years.  The Chinese craftsmen were paid by weight so the Chinese Export silver pieces were considerably heavier than their western counterparts

But as well as flatware the silversmiths also made some holloware – tea sets and bowls and presentation cups.

Over the years I have been lucky to find some amazing pieces



This Chinese Export silver tea pot is by Yatshing c 1820 .  Weighing 36 troy ounces – weighing so much more than a similar pot made in Britain at that time







These Chinese Export silver salts are by Sunshing.  Dating from around 1830 – they even have a coat of arms engraved – the original owner really wanted to impress the neighbours as well as getting a bargain!   And again much heavier than usual





These early pieces of Chinese Export silver are really hard to find – right now I am thrilled to have one excellent example:

This Chinese Export silver bowl is by Khecheong and dates from around 1830.  It has the pseudo hallmarks and like all these early pieces is extremely heavy for its size – 780 grams

Check out on my website for more details:




With the Opium Wars in the 1840’s trade with China opened up and was no longer confined to Canton.,

Hong Kong and Shanghai became the main centres for Chinese Export silver.  The forms and designs changed and developed and Export silver became a very different art form – more on that later..

But these early Chinese Export silver pieces are very special, were never made in quantities and only a few pieces have survived so grab them when you can –


Are you looking for pieces to add to your Chinese Export Silver collection ?

I have been sourcing Chinese Export silver now for more than 30 years.  I have a gallery in Singapore where I have a huge range of sterling silver on display with many pieces of Chinese Export silver – collectibles that can be used.

I also have a superb range of Chinese Export silver pieces as well as other antique and contemporary silver items in Hong Kong which are available for viewing at all times.   The pseudo hall marked bowl is in Hong Kong but can come to Singapore if anyone would like to see it in “person”!

Do get in touch if you would like to browse in either location.

If you are looking for a special piece to add to your collection then just let us know

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Make an appointment with me on or by Whats App +65 91546662