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Lot 150. A yellow and russet jade 'tiger' tally, Ming dynasty, 15th-16th century; 4.6 by 3.5 by 1.8 cm. Lot sold: 138,600 HKD (Estimate: 30,000 - 50,000 HKD). © Sotheby's 2022

worked in the shape of a crouching mythical beast, the tail and mane finely incised, the reverse incised with archaistic scrolls surrounding a raised flange inscribed with the characters jian an ('health and tranquility'), the stone of a rich yellow colour with attractive russet inclusions.

ProvenanceChristie's London, 12th May 2009, lot 6.

NoteThe present tally, or hufu in Chinese, derives from a special two-piece object that was used as a representation of authority or identification in ancient China. The history of the tally can be traced back to as early as the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC), when they were often made of bronze and in the form of tigers – and thus were given the name hufu (tiger tally). They had an important function in the early military system; the right piece was always retained in the central government and strictly controlled by the emperor, and the left piece was carried by the local military officers or commanders. When military action was to be taken, the emperor would send out his right piece to the corresponding local officer, and only when the two pieces of a tiger tally were matched, could troops then be dispatched. As symbols of antiquity, these tallies were developed into individual archaistic objects as they lost their original functionality, of which the present is an example. In its design, with its elegant profile silhouette and downturned head, this piece follows in the style of archaic animal-shaped pendants from the Warring States period (475-221 BC); see a pair in the Cleveland Museum of Art, illustrated in J. Keith Wilson, ‘A Pair of Chinese Jade Plaques’, The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. 80, no. 4 (April 1993), pp. 127-30, and illustrated on the cover and in fig. 1; and another yellow tiger tally inscribed with Pingding ('to pacify'), sold twice in these rooms, 29th April 1992, lot 663, and again 10th July 2020, lot 141.

Sotheby's. HOTUNG  The Personal Collection of the late Sir Joseph Hotung: Part 1, Hong Kong, 9 October 2022