February 2, 2016

My Newest Obsession

Ah, ‘tis a slippery slope when I find something I love! IMG_8329Thinking back to last May, when I first laid eyes on the gorgeous mother-of-pearl silverware that I spotted, and knowing what’s happened next, I certainly didn’t need a new obsession.

When I found one set of the mother of pearl silver, I also discovered mother of pearl Chinese gaming chips being sold by the same dealer. IMG_8368These tiny, and I mean 1.5 inches by .75 inches, pieces of mother of pearl are all hand-carved. The Chinese are huge gamblers and in the 1700’s on long sea journeys, the crewmen filled their time by carving these pieces and then using them for games. These chips then moved to England, especially as part of the tea and porcelain trade, and became commonplace in English households. I’ve seen examples of these engraved with beautiful monograms, and coats of arms. imageAs tastes in games changed, the need for these beautiful counters faded by the 1850’s. The best ones were made in China, and feature cross-hatching, as you can see in one of the chips above and below. IMG_8366

The chips came in several shapes including fish, roundels, rectangles, some with plain edges and others with scalloped edges, and ovals. THe details are amazing, and on the rectangle above and the ovals below, the dots are raised! They are also carved on both sides, but with different patterns. IMG_8367

I have seen some of these bound in gold and made into pendants, earrings and other jewelry. image

A great source of information on these amazing treasures is Chez Bill, here. You can find these Chinese gaming chips on Etsy here.


  1. Gorgeous! I'd be tempted to make a collar - add diamonds, go nuts:).

  2. Just beautiful! I've never heard of these but appreciate your enthusiasm. What would you do with them?

  3. Always loved MOP things. I have a 12 piece cutlery set in original fitted case, opera glasses, earrings, a manicure set and a comb, brush and mirror set made of mother-of-pearl. Always loved the chips, but am not a gamer, so I resisted (but just barely). They are worth owning for their great beauty.

  4. Hello Meg, I have found a few of these among the odds and ends at American sales, but have almost never seen them in Taiwan--England seems to be the great source of these counters.

  5. How wonderful Meg, I love these delicate pieces!

    The Arts by Karena

  6. How utterly divine!!! Okay, I'm trying to downsize. Please don't tempt me with these.

  7. Never knew! They are exquisite. Thanks for sharing.


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