Hat knobs (5), rank insignia, metal / glass, maker unknown, China, 1890-1920
Hats are an important accessory in Chinese dress and an official is seldom depicted not wearing his hat. The significance of the hat for military or civil officials is evident as the hat comes first in each set of regulations stipulating correct court dress.
Easily identified hat knobs originally made from semi-precious stones, were introduced in 1727 by the Yongzheng Emperor and were to be worn on official and public occasions. They were often referred to as 'mandarin buttons' in the West. With a single glance the rank and position of a court official could be determined from the prominence of the hat knob affixed to the apex of the crown of the hat. In 1730, new regulations were introduced to allow the use of coloured glass instead of semi-precious stones to minimise expense, although glass itself was highly prized.
Included in this collection of hat knobs:
Coral or opaque red and opaque pink coloured glass - first rank
Crystal or clear glass - fifth rank
Opaque white glass - sixth rank
Plain gilt - seventh rank
Hat finials were worn by officials on ceremonial occasions to signify rank and position at a glance and to avoid confusion on less informal occasions when insignia badges displayed on outer garments known as bufu, were not worn. A coloured sphere was fixed to the apex of the crown of the hat with a long metal screw which passed through a hole in the hat. The colour of the sphere denoted the rank and position of the court official. The nine types of hat knobs represent nine distinctive ranks and the position of the civil or military official.
The hat knobs are from a collection of diverse Chinese objects transferred from the Asian Studies Department, University of Sydney and possibly used as part of a teaching collection.