Dress accessory, toggle, monkey resting on rock, ivory, 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.
Ivory made a pleasing effect with its creamy colouring, natural markings and patterned cracking due to age. It was believed that ivory and other animal products had many auspicious and medical powers of their own, to an even greater extent than many of the woods.
Monkeys were seen as a satire of human life and hence, have always appealed to the Chinese sense of humour.
The general Chinese name for monkey is 'hou', which makes a pun on the word for nobleman and also, "descendents." The monkey became a symbol of posterity and fertility for the Chinese, who had great pride in the continuity of their lines. It also symbolised a wish that one's descendents will have long life, wealth and official advancement.
Cammann, Schuyler, Substance and Symbol in Chinese Toggles, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962, London, pp.61, 124-126.
Williams, C.A.S., Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives, Dover Publications, 1976, New York, pp.181-183.
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.