Dress accessory, toggle, lotus pod, burl, wood, 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.
The lotus, a sacred flower, was traditionally associated with purity, honesty and perfection because it grows out of the mud and yet, is not defiled.
The Chinese words for lotus, 'ho lien', are (respectively) pronounced the same way as the words for 'harmony' and 'successively'.
Carvings of the lotus seed pod were considered frank and obvious wishes for fertility and the arrival of children.
An emphasis on the seeds calls attention to its symbolism of numerous and successive children.
Burls were used for toggles because old Chinese tradition believed that an indwelling spirit in certain trees showed its presence in such natural forms.
Cammann, Schuyler, Substance and Symbol in Chinese Toggles, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962, London, pp.57, 110-111.
Williams, C.A.S., Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives, Dover Publications, 1976, New York, pp.255-258.
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.