The majority of Chinese Export Silver (CES) was produced in a fairly well defined period between 1785 and 1910. This silver wasn’t originally made for export but was commissioned or purchased by tea, spice and tea traders, diplomats stationed in China, or travellers to Asia in the 19th century. The CES trade initially developed in Canton (Guangzhou, Guangdong), spreading to Shanghai and Hong Kong in the mid 1800’s.
CES was only produced in small quantities, mainly commissions, and at a very reasonable cost. Europeans spent many weeks travelling by boat to reach China and so took it upon themselves to sojourn for weeks and even months at a time to make the journey worthwhile. This allowed commissions to be designed and made to very personal requirements, and this is reflected in the individual nature of pieces produced. Initially, the Chinese silversmiths and craftsmen copied pieces of Western silver, down to the finest detail, including the use of pseudo hallmarks. Later, with increased demand and an expansion in trade, Western influence was superseded by indigenous Chinese designs incorporating what have since become ubiquitous motifs: dragons, bamboo, lotus and plum blossoms.
Following the onset of the First World War in 1914, and Japan’s subsequent increase in influence over China, CES production and trade was discontinued.