Dress accessory, toggle, shape of a double gourd, brass, maker unknown, China, c. 1700-1940
Chinese belt toggles called 'zhuizi' are small carved ornaments used as counterweights on the cords of pipe bags and other small bags which were usually hung on men's belts.
Chinese clothes were not well provided with pockets, so bags which could be suspended from a belt were useful articles of attire. In order to fulfil its primary purpose of securing things to a belt, a toggle must have what the Chinese called a 'string eye', which could pass a string or cord.
Toggle wearing disappeared from China in the 1940s, when western style clothing replaced traditional clothing.
This dress toggle was made in China between 1700-1940. The pinched-in waist of the double gourd (Hu Lu) makes it an ideal shape to tie the toggle fastening cord. It has connotations of fertility due to their numerous seeds and associations with medicine, healing, good fortune, etc. In Chinese folklore, the gourd is a Taoist container for magic potions, it represents heaven and earth (in unity) and it is a symbol of Li-Tie Guai, one of the eight immortals who used the gourd to hold magical substances used for trapping demons.
The weight of this brass gourd suggest that is it may have also been used to pound up medicine.
Morrison, Hedda and Alastair, Chinese Toggles: A little Known Folk Art., Arts of Asia, March/April 1986
Cammann, Schuyler, Chinese Belt Toggles, Oriental Art. New Series Vol.8 No. 2 Summer 1962
Cammann, Schuyler, Substance and Symbol in Chinese Toggles, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962, London, pp.114-115
This toggle is part of a group that was collected in Peking by Hedda and Alastair Morrison between 1940 and 1942. Most of them were purchased from markets outside Chongwenmen Gate, and in Liulichang, a street known for its antique shops.