Dress accessory, toggle, gilla bean with silver mount, gillar bean / silver, maker unknown, China, c. 1700-1940 Gilla bean with silver patterned leaf-like forms and ring at top of bean. Toggles functioned as weights to counterbalance dress accessories such as tobacco pouches.
Toggle made of gilla bean with silver mount. Large nuts and giant seeds were used for making toggles. Gilla beans, which come from the legume family, was one of the favourable seeds to make toggles due to its suitable size, shape and smooth and hiny surface. Gilla beans were also credited with having medicinal powers, and was particularly useful for reliving fevers and pains. 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 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, the antiques street.
Gift of Mr Alastair Morrison, 1992