Chinese Gambling Tokens

Iridescent Beauty With a Sordid Past

Chinese craftsmen are renowned for their intricate work in jade, ivory, and wood, with examples of their art dating back centuries.

During the 1700s and 1800s Chinese artifacts found their way to Europe as supercargo, bought by ships’ captains as part of their personal allowance.

Some of the lesser-known artifacts were gambling tokens created out of mother-of-pearl from oysters.  These were often made to order to match Chinese dinner sets for wealthy families.

While gambling was a popular pastime in China, gambling for money was illegal in Great Britain, and thus for the British when they ruled Hong Kong.  Gambling tokens became popular among the British elite.

The creation of these works of art was part of a darker story that few know about to this day.

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