Dress accessory, toggle, wood, bamboo, leaves, China, c. 1700-1940 Toggles functioned as weights to counterbalance dress accessories such as tobacco pouches. Circular, hollowed wooden design representing two stalks of bamboo with bamboo leaves swirling everywhere. In between the stalks of bamboo are two plump leaves and two liver or bean-like objects. The smooth central hole provides the attachment.
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 bamboo is a symbol of long life and of courage in adversity, owing to its durability and to the fact that it remains green and continues to flourish throughout winter. The swirling vine-like bamboo leaves appear to grow from everywhere and continue on from each other, symbolising unending continuity. Plants, trees and flowers were subjects of good fortune, bringing about happiness, long life, wealth or fertility. (references) Cammann, Schuyler, Substance and Symbol in Chinese Toggles, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962, London, pp.105-107. Williams, C.A.S., Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives, Dover Publications, 1976, New York, pp.33-34.
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.
Gift of Mr Alastair Morrison, 1992