DSC_0006I bought two of these two years ago because of the impeccably precise carvings on them, but, also, they were just too lovely to leave in the dirt at the car boot sale. I use one at work in the castle and the other one at home – both for keeping pens, pencils and paintbrushes to hand when I work. There is something as I said, lovely, about them; the feel of softness, the intricacies of the precise writing and images carved. I think it must have taken great time to create them for all of the work is indeed fine handwork.

DSC_0009I wondered where they originated and whether someone out there in Asia could offer a suggested origin and a translation for me. I hope that this kind of work continues somewhere. We have nothing like it here in Britain.


  1. kpinvt on 24 December 2013 at 11:26 am

    I haven’t a clue. Merry Christmas.

  2. Dave on 24 December 2013 at 2:28 pm

    I’m Sorry Paul, these are ancient Chinese characters (possibly in Seal/Bronze script?) and would require someone with the ability to read such – if they were modern I might be able to help. Modern Chinese characters are derived from these, though, so I’m sure someone somewhere will be able to help!

  3. Andy in Germany on 24 December 2013 at 5:33 pm

    My Japanese wife confirms they are ancient Chinese. She can guess a couple of them (Japanese latters being derived from Chinese) but the meanings have changed with time so you need someone who can read ancient Chinese. She did say it may be a poem but she’s not sure.

  4. Tony on 24 December 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Hi, I’m Tony from Taiwan. I had seen this type of ancient chinese font before (possibly the Small Seal Script ), often on antiques or artworks in the musium. The current chinese characters are very different compared to this type of font. It is hard to recognize, but I can make a guess just for reference.
    “The article had been revised again and again,
    grind the red ink and flourish the brush to write.
    Express the old feeling in the new fashion,
    wishing to be nominated”
    The last two letters are the author’s name. Hope this can provide some help. Merry Christmas, Paul!

    • Paul Sellers on 24 December 2013 at 5:39 pm

      Thank you for this, Tony. I love these holders and so respect the person that made them.

  5. Alberto on 24 December 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Looks like a bonsai or tree of sorts any chance getting a better looksee.?

  6. Chuck on 25 December 2013 at 12:41 am

    Hi Paul,

    I consulted, Joseph of Canada, a friend of mine who has been a long-time student of Chinese calligraphy and this is his advice:

    The overall meaning is: ” The article written with a Chinese brush is fresh, beautiful and outstanding”.

    However, he also noted that written in ancient Chinese, both the prose and calligraphy are weak, not the work of a master.


    • Paul Sellers on 25 December 2013 at 12:51 am

      Thank you Chuck and please thank your friend from me. Happy Christmas to you and everyone.

  7. Joe Bouza on 25 December 2013 at 3:03 am


    My son who speaks mandarin says it’s definitely ancient Chinese and is either bronze or seal script. Very difficult to translate. It’s meaning may be lost to time but someone’s heart and hand carved it and that love continues to exist in it.

    Happy Christmas,

    Joe B.

  8. John Purser on 27 December 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I do believe I’ll close out 2013 thinking about the synergy possible from a small group of people suffused in good will when someone has the wisdom to place their faith in them.

    The only people who see this blog are ones who made it through a pretty serious screening process. We’re internet users who are woodworkers who prefer hand tools who are drawn to the “Paul Seller’s Way”. A subset of a subset of a subset of a subset, unified by a theme that is in absolutely no way related to dead languages or Chinese culture. But for reasons beyond my ken when Paul needed to learn more about those cups he brought them to us, explained his interest, and asked for help.

    Up to this point it’s just quirky. I’m a member of a fishing forum where another member posted a note asking if he should go to the doctor since he thought he was having a heart attack. Seriously. These things happen on the internet.

    Then it gets kind of amazing.

    Paul didn’t just get responses. He got answers. Five so far by my count in about 24 hours on a holiday. Since they agree I assume they’re all correct, varying only in degrees of specificity.

    Yes, I’m amazed. And a little bit humbled. And just a wee tad hopeful.

    Thank you Paul and “The Paul’s Blog Irregulars” for the lesson.

  9. Yong Su on 27 December 2013 at 10:36 pm

    The evolution of chinese character reflects the way it used to record the characters. This font is suitable for carving with a knife on bamboo.

  10. Paul Sellers on 28 December 2013 at 12:04 am

    Thank you Yong Su, I have a second container that is so beautifully detailed I don’t think I have ever seen anything so refined . I thought I was a craftsman until I saw this persons work. I will perhaps show it on my blog when I have time to photograph it. The work is so very exquisitely intricate. Sometimes I just sit and stare at the carving. I recall a time when I carved some restoration carvings that were complex and difficult, but this work was nothing compared to these. It is a good thing to be humbled by the work of an unknown craftsman.

  11. Mike Z. on 10 April 2019 at 11:10 pm

    The longer I work wood, especially with hand tools and sharpen my tools freehand the more I appreciate the accumulated skills it takes to bring all that together. These thoughts bear to mind as I keep getting drawn back to carving, almost all types of carving. I cleaned up an old second or likely fourth hand set of salad utensils that were a gift from very dear friends recently. I had never really stopped to look at the carvings on them with the eye of a carving student, the detail and execution was excellent and I am certain like a lot of souvenirs, were likely carved very quickly to be resold cheaply but the craftsman carving them poured their heart and soul, along with every bit of their skill into these two pieces. I am neither certain of their origin or species of wood, both from south east Asia I would imagine judging by the wood and motifs but the skill captured in them makes me appreciate them more than I ever have in the 20 years we have owned and used them. I don’t know if the person who carved these passed on their trade or skills but we have a piece of that captured in time – beautiful! The most incredible work is often found in the most common of places.

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