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Chinese Mandarin Hat Buttons

Mandarin is the commonly used term for high ranking Chinese public officials  during the Qing Dynasty…it is estimated that there were over 14,000 in 1899. As I have written about previously, there was a very strict protocol for dress, similar to military uniforms, that proscribed what colors and ornaments were to be worn by each of the 9 ranks of officials.


These are Mandarin Hat Buttons… worn on the crown of a hat (indoors and outdoors; black velvet in the winter, woven rattan in the summer) both hats had an opening that allowed the metal finial for the buttons to be moved from one hat to another … or replaced with a different button (often made of precious stones) for a special occasion.

This is an excellent illustration of how all of the various ornaments like the Court Necklace and Rank Badges were used… notice the hat button on the far right… 0070 hat 1

At the end of the Qing Dynasty, many of the hat buttons found their way to the west in different forms…

00   The reference site “The American Bell Association International, Inc.” has an entry for…Mandarin Hat Button Bells… but it no longer has images… they are referring to this image on the left… there is also some interesting information on colors and materials…as well as the ranks associated with them.

We were putting the final touches on the photos for this post, when I found an article in The New York Times regarding the 2003 European Fine Art Fair …. towards the end it states:

“Linda Wrigglesworth, a London antique dealer specializing in Chinese textiles, is showing a collection of 19th-century Mandarin hat buttons.

”They represent the different ranks of the imperial court,” Ms. Wrigglesworth said. ”I have people who try to collect all the ranks. I’ve even got a client who puts them at her dinner table. She and her husband get the first rank, then she places the others depending on how she feels about each guest. It’s a little cheeky, but it’s their secret.”

Someone must have let the secret out…

3   One of Ms. Wrigglesworth’s sets of seven hat buttons sold at Christie’s in March, 2008 for almost $10,000.00… with their boxes…

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  1. Posted April 21, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi, thanks for the great blog. I’m researching images for a book on Asian Art and would love to know – could you point me in the right direction to find the image of the Mandarin in hat and attire you show above. I’ve been lookingthrough out the internet and you seem to have located the best one.

  2. Susan
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Hi Regina… the image is from a pair (man and woman) of 19th century Mandarin prints in my collection …Bob was able to reproduce it digitally for me … Susan

  3. Stuart Worboys
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Hi: I have owned a Mandarin Hat Button Bell similar to the one near the top of the web page.It is, I believed to be glace porcelain (green) over a silver bell. Could you please help me determine the age of the pin and the value also. Thank you for the info already made available to me.

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