This is a piece of history...elaborate repoussť silver on one side: silver and nephrite jade on the other. Its beauty is compelling even if one is not familiar with the rich symbolism depicted in the figures and symbols on this massive (15.5cm x 14cm) piece.
By the start of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) there was a large synthesis of Daoist, Confucian, Buddhist and folk practices reflected in the symbols used on Chinese ornaments.
The three major figures carved in the silver are originally Daoist...Fu-Xing, Lu-Xing and Shou-Xing...the Three Stellar Gods, commonly referred to as Fu Lu Shou.
Fu-Xing, god of blessings-both wealth and progeny, carries a child, he is a retired scholar and wears and official's hat. Lu-Xing, god of rank, wears a large officials' hat with wings and carries a Ruyi scepter. Shou-Xing, god of longevity, carries a peach (immortality) and a stick ...he is bald with a long beard.
The richly decorated background includes a pair of coins (Buddhist symbol), bats (folk) and the bottle gourd (Daoist).
The reverse side of the lock holds nephrite jade with a floral repoussť silver surround. The jade is carved with 'good fortune symbols' and characters reflecting the story on the silver side.
The three large (3 cm) balls that hang from the lock are called tiger bells...carved with an abstract face of the ferocious beast...they are widely used to frighten off evil spirits.
When I showed it to an old friend, a knowledgeable silver dealer, she gasped and said "you can just feel how old it is!"
Old in China means something really different than "old' in North America. In her fabulous book, Four Centuries of Silver, Margaret Duda has written an entire chapter on the evolution of the symbolic lock alone.
Commenting on a culture more than 4000 years old, from the most heavily populated country in the world, including over 60 ethnic groups with four major religions is a challenge especially in a few paragraphs.
I encourage readers to explore and discover more.