Written by Lu

One kind of decoration often seen on the sides of Chinese seals is a scratched design called sgraffito in the western world (scrimshaw uses this technique). They are typically landscapes or floral patterns and are often filled in with ink or color to show the design. They can be very well done though, since this is the simplest way to decorate the sides of a seal stone, they are most commonly found on the cheapest stones intended for the tourist trade. These are manufactured in the tens of thousands with the scratched marks so hurriedly done that, in most cases, they are nothing more than abstract marks. Sometimes they are even intended to disguise flaws in the stone by covering them up with distracting lines meant to camouflage cracks or other imperfections that might be otherwise revealed. A beautiful stone needs no additional decoration.

I don’t like this sort of “decoration” on my stones because there’s nowhere for me to sign my name to the side of the finished seal.

The featured image is about the cheapest stone available and is intended mainly for the tourist trade. The knob on top is roughly carved into a cow, the character in the circle below says “cow” and, if you didn’t already figure it out, the squiggles near the bottom are supposed to be a picture of a cow (don’t ask what those lines under it are meant to represent). The other three sides of the stone are covered in random scratches. Obviously meant for someone born in the year of the cow. And that brown color of the stone is a dye–there’s no telling what the real color of the stone is unless you sand the top layer off.

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