c1800 Chinese Manchu Embroidered Silk & Otter Fur Jiguan Hat


A very rare, beautiful and of wonderful quality early 19th century (Qing Dynasty) Chinese Manchu Embroidered silk and Sea Otter fur Noblewoman’s Winter Jiguan hat.
The hat has a domed shape, with a top silk endless knot finial and an upturned brim lined with sea-otter fur (Enhydra lutris). The purple silk dome is beautifully decorated with finely silk and gilt embroidered Chinese symbols, such as bats (fortune), Shou (long life), blossom flowers and a pair of fish representing love, sexual harmony and mutual sexual pleasure. The purple silk also denotes love in Chinese culture.
The back of the hat has 2 purple streamers which are, again, beautifully decorated with matching patchwork embroidered pictures of flowering pot plants, shrubs and a butterfly. The colours are very subtle, with greens, turquoise, yellow, pink, blue and purple. The inside of the hat is lined in a rusty red linen cloth. Overall condition of the hat is extremely good for its age.
Festive hats, such as the present example, were known as Jiguan and completed the semi-formal outfit worn by Manchu noblewomen and noblemen, which comprised of a side-fastening silk robe decorated with five-clawed dragons, footwear, belts, purses and a surcoat. Women's festive hats resemble the shape of the Emperor's winter hats and were embellished with a pair of wide streamers decorated with auspicious symbols, which were inserted through a horizontal slit in the brim and hung down her back to below the waist.
The Manchus, whose soldiers conquered China in the 1640s and whose Qing dynasty ruled it for 270 years, shared with other northern Eurasian peoples a love of fur. In the cold northern provinces of the Qing Empire, ermine, sable, and otter adorned the hats and outer garments of Manchu elites and their wealthier Han subjects. Of all these adornments the thick and lustrous pelts of Pacific Sea otters were probably the most prized. Russia pioneered the Chinese luxury-fur trade, selling high-value pelts at the Qing entrepot on the Amur River. Once Russian traders discovered the value of sea otter pelts, they expanded their range into the Aleutian Islands and colonised Alaska. British sailors noted that one Sea Otter pelt in Alaska was worth twice their yearly salary.
Size: 22.5 x 22 x 14 cm (8 7/8 x 8 5/8 x 5 ½ inches)
Length streamers: 81.5 cm (32 inches)
Weight: 276 g