“May Your Halls be Filled With Gold and Jade” is a common Chinese New Year greeting, and one that can literally become true if you happen to have a Chinese lithographed tin house bank like the one below. This object combines many of my favorite collecting interests: houses, toy banks, lithographed tin objects, and Chinese antiques.
This bank represents a traditional Chinese house, the type that can still be found in the countryside and occasionally in the city. The construction is of large bricks, with stone windows. On top is a tile roof with an elaborate crest and decorative gable ends. These fancy elements on real buildings are often picked out with colorful glazed tile work, as indicated on this model. A favorite detail is that it sits asymmetrically on its cobblestone base, thus giving it the tiniest of yards.
Chinese New Year is under celebration in this tin house, indicated by the red papers, inscribed with auspicious sayings, pasted around the doors. These red papers are still to be found absolutely everywhere, on old buildings as well as new ones. Touchingly, even when these old houses are crumbling and uninhabitable, the owning families will return each year to the family seat and paste up fresh red papers.
From Handbook of Old Taiwan Houses, by Kang, Ruo-xi
The real house above in Taoyuan County (near Taipei's International Airport) closely resembles the tin example, down to the stone courtyard and lucky red banners.
On the doors of this bank are the single characters for Spring and Luck, as Spring Festival is the alternate and more traditional name for Chinese New Year. Here they are displayed right side up, but it also is traditional to display them upside down.
Above the doors is the banner hoping that the house will be “filled with gold and jade,” with the coin slot located conveniently just above. This greeting is still in frequent use; there are also variants wishing you “gold and silver” and even just plain gold.
|The 'plain gold' version “A thriving business and Halls filled with gold”, on a transom in my own apartment, present when I moved in.|
The two vertical side banners convey a specifically New Year’s sentiment. On the right it says, “One night joins two paths” and on the left “The dawn separates two years.” The word used for path, wai, suggests the kind of twisting paths found around mountains and rivers, thus symbolizing the preceding and coming years. Instead of the actual word for dawn, the adage interestingly employs the term “fifth watch,” using an ancient Chinese system for dividing time. The night, roughly 7:00 PM to 5:00 AM, was divided into five watches, with the fifth watch covering the period from 3-5:00 AM, which was considered the true dividing line between the days.
The sides show several window grills of the type usually made from heavy green tiles.
The back of the bank features a stone window set with vertical bamboo posts. The actual posts in these frequently seen windows are either stone carved like bamboo, or sometimes colorfully glazed terracotta.
When I was small, my father collected toy banks, both tin and cast iron, and family excursions hunting for these were my introduction to collecting, so I was doubly pleased to find this traditional Chinese example. Let me know if you ever had a favorite toy bank, or special container for saving coins.
Chinese sayings often wish the recipient wealth and prosperity. Their presence on a coin bank helps to guarantee this by teaching the virtue of saving money. However good fortune arrives, here's hoping that your halls this year will be well filled with gold, silver and jade, in addition to peace and health.
[I hate to distract readers with Chinese characters and accented transliterations, but since rough translations cannot specify the original sayings, I place them here for reference:
金玉滿堂 jīn yù mǎn táng (May your halls be filled with gold and jade.)
福, 春 fú, chūn (luck, spring)
一夜連雙崴 yī yè lián shuāng wǎi (One night joins two paths.)
五更分二年 wǔ gèng fēn èr nián (The dawn separates two years.)
生意興隆 金滿堂 shēng yì xīng lóng, jīn mǎn tang (A thriving business and Halls filled with gold.)]=================================================================
I am going to need one of those banners to place on the outside of Madame Mere's new apartment! What a great post, Jim. I love traditions and we in Cuba had many, especially for the new year, but no banners. My grandmother used to have a beautiful glass bowl where she would drop only the quarters from her change purse. When the family came to her bedroom, they would dig in their pockets and single out the quarters and drop them in. That globe use to fascinate me when I was a child. I hadn't thought about it until your post. So glad to see you back!ReplyDelete
Hello Lindaraxa, I recall with pleasure your posts about Cuban New Year and other traditions. Taiwan is a great place to learn about old Chinese culture--just walking down the street one can encounter many old-time activities, such as seeing tofu being made on a side street using the traditional wooden molds in large stacks. I am wondering about your quarter bowl--what happened to the coins when it was full? We used to save the Bicentennial "Drummer Boy" quarters when we found them, but I know what happened to those--my sister latched onto them. --JimDelete
Hello Jim - Your little tin house is charming, you must have been delighted when you found it. It is interesting that it happens to almost replicate an actual house in Taoyuan County. Does including jade in the greeting symbolise 'good luck'?ReplyDelete
May your halls too be filled with gold, silver and jade along with peace, health and happiness.
Hello Rosemary, Thank you for your good wishes. I was very lucky to find this bank that I like so well and that also has personal associations. It is one of the few pieces I keep out on display. It's funny, I never thought of it until this moment, but in America I also keep out another tin house, this time an American example. Although jade does carry a great deal of positive symbolism, I think that in this phrase the main connotation is wealth; in English we likely would have said "gold and diamonds". --JimDelete
My favourite materials for the decorative arts are gold, silver, jade and fine porcelain, so you could not have found a more appropriate Chinese New Year greeting. Those materials are so smooth, so rich and elegant, there is little need for added decoration.ReplyDelete
Of course here is wishing everyone peace and health as well :)
Hello Hels, It's amazing what has been done with those fine materials, especially when relatively plain and elegant designs enhance their intrinsic sheen and color. I might also add wood and glass to the list. It's funny, but often the plainest pieces are more desirable and expensive than the most extravagantly carved and gilded examples. --JimDelete
I love that little house! I don't have a favorite bank, but do have several little houses that have special meaning for me. The phrase "One night joins two paths" is wonderfully mysterious.ReplyDelete
Hello Jen, I love anything architectural, especially when it has to do with houses. I wonder what type of "little houses" you have in mind. The combined phrase on those red papers, that the New Year simultaneously divides and unites our paths in life, contains a great deal of metaphor and philosophy. --JimDelete
That's a great money box. I don't have any but have seen some beautiful decorated metal boxes in the Metalwork Galleries at the V&A. They took me by surprise as they are displayed alongside huge heavy ironwork. thanks for sharing your toy bank.ReplyDelete
Hello Katherine, That is one of the charms of lithographed tin, that it has a lightness about it, even when imitating heavier objects. Perhaps America had more toy banks than over there, but Britain asserted itself in the creation of all those great tin biscuit boxes. --JimDelete
Your house bank is charming! I have enjoyed looking at the details that are lithographed, including even a tassel on the side window. As a very young child, I faithfully saved change in a bank that resembled a U.S. mail box, and eventually I started collecting cast iron banks that were all in the form of animals. Today I've saved only the antique ones (for there were many reproductions) and my favorite of all is a fox head. What I have always wanted to find is a nice black toleware tin cash box (with the gold and red banding) but every one I've ever seen has been terribly scratched and/or dented.
Hello Mark, When I was writing this, I thought of the wonderful lithographed tin items you have featured on your blog. You are lucky to have those cast iron banks, as original ones are almost unobtainable today. I wonder whether you mailbox was an iron or a tin one? When you mention the black cash box, do you mean a larger one meant for business, or a miniature used to save coins and treasures? I saw a larger one a few years ago, complete with inner divided top tray and in beautiful condition, but in a moment of insanity passed it by. --JimDelete
I remember all those moments of insanity and things passed by, all the way back to my teenage years. On the other hand, when I was still a teenage, I once saw an enameled box I loved so passionately that I brokered a summer's allowance from my parents to buy it, and I still have that box in my living room.Delete
The mailbox was a (new) cast iron bank.
The cash boxes I'm thinking of are approximately 10" x 5" x 4", always black with gold and red banding.
Hi again, I'm guessing that's the round box with green enamel you wrote about a while ago--a real beauty! Bargains are great, but so often the most meaningful purchases involve planning and sacrifice.Delete
I now definitely know the type of boxes you are referring to. They are very good looking, as was so much long-ago office-type equipment.
Your tin house is truly charming and, is even more delightful given that it replicates real houses in its style and decoration. How well we can imagine your feeding it small coins with a resulting satisfying chink as they land inside. We have a tin dog kennel for collecting coins. The dog sits outside with its tongue out. When it is fed a coin, it disappears inside!
The Chinese characters are so beautiful. Is it art or language, perhaps both?! It is most interesting to know what all the symbols mean and it would be a great idea to have a selected slogan somewhere inside the house.
To celebrate spring, we hope that your halls will be filled with gold and jade and, perhaps, health, wealth and happiness too!
Hello Jane and Lance, Unfortunately, the bank is empty, as the cover for the hole on the bottom is missing, and I have not taken the time to fashion a new one. Your mechanical doghouse bank sounds adorable, though. Those automatic coin banks have such clever mechanisms.Delete
The artistic quality of Chinese writing and the language itself have reinforced each other for thousands of years, and the finest examples of calligraphy are counted among the greatest cultural treasures. Most of the red papers, incidentally, are hand-lettered by calligraphers, so people can request the sayings they deem most appropriate.
Thank you for your kind wishes, and of course that goes double in return, especially since you now have an extra hall that needs filling. --Jim
How charming your little house is! I wish I had known of your interest in banks when I was visiting the Lightner Museum last week. The place is so full of collections that I wonder if there might not be a bank or two of interest to you there.
I wish I had a better understand of Chinese characters as opposed to my basic pinyin. Understanding them adds immeasurably, I think, to understanding the infinitely complex Chinese culture.
My only bank is a porcelain piggy bank from childhood in Germany. I've long since lost the plug but it still has a prominent place on "Harold's" dresser.
Sending gold and jade-laden wishes your way!
Hello Barbara, I was just reading about the Lightner Museum, and it sounds like a great place to explore, especially when the weather is being difficult. I love museums like that because it is more likely to run across parallels to items I have collected, as opposed to those museums that traffic in Titians and Renaissance bronzes, nice as those are.Delete
I really do think that you should start adding the Chinese characters to your studies. The simplest ones, such as the numbers, are easy to learn, and even the most complex ones are just combinations of the same basic strokes and parts. They make working with the language more fun and interesting, and I maintain a lot easier, also.
You bank sounds perfect to display for Pig Year (not until 2019). I haven't mentioned it yet, but among the abundant New Year merchandise is always ceramic banks for that year's animal.
I am honored by your good wishes, and wish you an equivalent bounty to make up for all that snow and cold. --Jim
I enjoyed this post. The tin bank is adorable! Right now I am saving change in a plastic nut container. But I am looking for something more exciting. My mother uses a cute long necked duck bank. Children love to donate and watch the money go down!
Hello Anonymous, I knew you would like that bank! Somehow, a nut container seems appropriate for saving coins--it is like a squirrel saving nuts, and you can claim that things bought with the change just cost peanuts. Although nothing moves in the long-neck bank, the interaction principle is the same as in mechanical banks--see the Hattatt's comment above about their humorous doghouse bank. --JimDelete
What a wonderful little tin bank, and so charming too! I think a true collector has inclinations from childhood, as per the example you write about here, and if i look back at my own childhood, yes, I can clearly see I too started collecting as a young child (stamps and matchboxes and then pencils would you believe).ReplyDelete
I had a wonderful money box, as we called them in England, that was purchased on the island of Crete. It was a terracotta vessel with a decorative knob at the top and a simple slot in the vessel's wall. One would fill up the box and then smash it to access the coin bonanza within. It was both an exciting time to tot up how much money one had amassed, but also sad as the vessel would be smashed to pieces and gone forever.
It is so nice to learn about the New Year's customs from China so thank you for this wonderful post.
Hello CD, Oh yes, collecting can start at an early age. I can definitely see you collecting pencils, either older ones or newer advertising ones--even silver chatelaine pencils. For me it was coins and spoons, and also seeking out natural history specimens in the woods.Delete
What shape was your pottery money box? Those ceramic ones often possess a folk-art whimsy.. Do you still have it, or was the awaiting "withdrawal" too much of a temptation? I have also heard that some people possess the knack of shaking the coins out of the original slot.
Right now there is another tradition that comes at the end of Chinese New Year, called Lantern Festival. I went and took a few pictures tonight, and will try to return tomorrow for the rest of the story. --Jim
How funny, here is a picture of the money box I had as a young girl, yes long gone to smashing I'm affraid:
I cannot recall if there was any decoration on it, but I believe it may have been perfectly plain, but beautiful nonetheless.
Hello CD, What a beautiful photo of the Greek money boxes; I recall seeing some ancient Chinese pottery ones as well, that are rather similar.Delete
Too bad yours was reduced to shards--the money retrieved was surely put to some good use!
Well I live and learn. Despite my upbringing in SE Asia and very Chinese parts of it, (Singapore and Hong Kong in particular) I knew nothing about which you write, so I am delighted to be enlightened!ReplyDelete
As an aside and with the recent shenanigans at my bank's Geneva branch, and other unrelated issues, I am inclined to want to put all my money in such a tin bank instead.
Hello Columnist, Another advantage of using tin banks to keep money is that these days, the interest rates are comparable!Delete
I think an advantage of coming here as a late visitor is that none of the culture has become so familiar as to recede into the background--everything is new and fresh, and deserving of exploration. --Jim
Hi Jim - Your tin house bank is charming! I am particularly fond of its festive red paper accents. And I learned so much! I'm curious: are you fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese? I speak Cantonese and some Hokkien. It's sad these old homes are not longer inhabited.ReplyDelete
Hello Loi, It's funny, but when I ask my friends here, they all say that they would not like to live in an old house, unlike America where antique houses, when beautifully restored, are very desirable, such as yours in Maine.Delete
I can "get by" in Chinese (Mandarin only, I'm afraid), but luckily when I took lessons for about a year at Shi Da University, they emphasized the writing, so now I can read such things as food labels, and once in a while tackle a small project like this one. --Jim