Dress accessory, toggle, goldfish and lotus, jade, 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 Chinese term for goldfish is a literal description, Jin Yu 'fish of gold', but the word for fish (yu) makes a pun on the word for 'overflowing abundance', so the whole expression, Jin Yu, makes a rebus signifying 'an abundance of gold'. This makes the goldfish an obvious and very popular wealth symbol, either used alone or shown together with other punning objects to make larger rebus combinations. Goldfish and lotus is an especially frequent rebus combination. Its device is described in Chinese as Jin Yu Tong He, which makes a pun on 'harmony together with an abundance of gold', two prime ingredients for a happy marriage. As such, the goldfish with lotus made a most appropriate subject for a toggle intended as a wedding present.
Cammann, Schuyler, Substance and Symbol in Chinese Toggles, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962, London, p.120
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.