Writing brushes, ink sticks, ink slabs, and papers are the Four Treasures of the Study （文房四寶） in Chinese culture. But if you could walk into a late Qing scholar’s study, you would find something unique— the brass ink boxes.
Legend Has It That Ink Box Was Originally Invented by a Scholar’s Wife
It is said that during the Qianlong period, a scholar was hurrying on his way to the imperial examination. He found the ink stick and the ink slab too heavy to carry, so his considerate wife offered him a solution: she filled her empty cosmetic case with the ink so her husband could be carefree.
We cannot be sure if the legend is true, but it is certain that brass ink boxes enchanted people from the mid to late Qing dynasty with their portable sizes and intricate carvings.
Brass Ink Box, Qing Dynasty
Period: late c. 1800s to early c. 1900s
Dimension: 3H x 9W x 9D cm
This ink box is about palm size, with Chinese calligraphy carved on the lid in different fonts. The calligraphy was created by the famous artist of late Ching, Yao Hua, as you can see his signature engraved at the left lower corner.
The Small Boxes that Collected Thousands of Dreams in the Past are Dream Collections in the Modern Age
Chinese brass ink boxes, though not as popular as porcelains and antique paintings, are catching more and more attention with the brilliant performances of Sotheby’s and Christie’s.