Copper hand warmer

Copper hand warmer

China, Ming – Qing dynasty 17th – 18th century

Length: 6 1/4 inches, 16 cm
Height: 4 3/8 inches, 11 cm

A copper hand warmer, the rounded, lobed body tapering upwards from a short foot with recessed base, and with a domed, pierced cover. A split overhead hinged handle is attached to the body on two rectangular mounts. The domed sides are decorated in repoussé with six foliate cartouches, containing various scholar’s objects known as the ‘hundred antiquities’. Between the cartouches are reserves filled with butterflies and chrysanthemums among tendrils. The pierced cover depicts a vase with flowers within a circular cartouche on a ground of wan characters, whilst the sides of the cover are decorated with six lotuses. Around the neck is a band of key-fret pattern.


The type of portable hand warmer, heated with coals and wrapped in the long cuffs of robes, illustrates the Chinese custom of warding off the cold on an individual basis rather than by heating entire rooms or a house. For the scholar in need of digital flexibility for painting and writing, with the hands remaining ungloved, the hand warmer was an essential piece of winter paraphernalia.[1] This hand warmer, although it bears neither mark nor signature, can be attributed on the basis of style to the coppersmith Pan Xiang-feng, active in the Qianlong period, 1736 – 1795.  The hand warmers he produced have the same shape, profile and proportions, including the rare and distinctive vertical foot. Two comparable copper hand warmers are in the collection of Steven Hung & Lindy Chern; one decorated with an ‘eternal prosperity’ motif is of similar shape, decoration and size;[2] the other, decorated with floral motifs, bears the mark of  Pan Xiang-feng.[3] A further comparable example of similar shape and with flower decoration, dated to the 18th century and also attributed to Pan Xiang-feng, is in the Clague Collection.[4] A further comparable copper hand warmer, adorned with various auspicious symbols on the sides, is in the collection of the British Museum.[5]

  1. Moss, H and Tsang, G., Arts from the Scholar’s Studio, Oriental Ceramic Society, Hong Kong, 1986, p. 252
  2. Huang, K-N. Chinese Incense Burners, the Collection of Steven Hung & Lindy Chern, The National Museum of History, Taipei, 2000, no. 4, p. 29
  3. Huang, K-N. op. cit. no. 6, p. 31
  4. Mowry, R. D. China’s Renaissance in Bronze, the Robert H. Clague Collection of Later Chinese Bronzes, Phoenix Art Museum, 1993, no. 41, pp. 192-3
  5. The British Museum online collection archive, registration number: 1991, 0803.2