Chinese 1800s Cloisonne Vase – Long Life Without Boundaries

In the 1959-1961 timeframe, my grandparents George Waller and Jane Warren Waller lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During that time, they bought this Chinese cloisonné vase. The vase dates to somewhere in the 1800s. The vase itself is metal with partial cloisonné. In bands around the neck, shoulders, and draping down, colored material primarily in turquoise blue is added in as a base background color. Highlights in yellow, red, dark blue, and white are filled into those places in an abstract design.

It is currently in the possession of Blake Waller.

Do any of the children have any memories of this vase?

The vase is about 13 inches high and 9 inches across. Its mouth is about 4 1/2 inches wide.

Dad sent information about the vase to Sotheby’s but they said it wasn’t worth much. Looking at eBay, it seems like vases in this time period that are cloisonné go for about $100. More extravagant cloisonné goes for more, but this one just has the specific panels of cloisonné.

Here is a gallery showing the vase itself. I think the images around the main band are the Chinese zodiac. I see a snake in there, and a dragon, and a horse and sheep …

Here’s some details of the cloisonne work.

There is a four-part inscription on the bottom of the vase. The letters are done with “seal calligraphy” letter which are more curly than modern Chinese characters. These characters give a traditional Chinese message found on many, many vases – Long Life Without Boundaries. So they are not a maker’s mark or artist’s signature. They are a standard vase message.

It took some doing to figure out what the inscription on the bottom read. First, here are photos of the actual inscription from various lighting angles. All show the letters themselves “right side up”.  The letters say, in an English version:

“Long Life Without Boundaries”

This is read in this order:

Top Right – 10,000 – Wan
Bottom Right – Long Life / Longevity – Shou
Top Left – Not – Wu
Bottom Left – Boundaries – Jiang

So, in general, it’s read up to down, right to left.

This first one is the number 10,000, with the character “Wan”. It’s the top right thing with the antlers :). Here’s what it looks like in more modern format: 10,000 / Wan in Chinese

The second one (bottom right) is the “Shou” for longevity. You can see it here. It has a number of different forms. Shou / longevity

The top left looks to me like two people hanging from a stick :). This is “Wu” meaning “not”. You can see this symbol at the top of this cute print of “Not Acting” – Not Acting Print

Bottom left one is Jiang, which is boundaries.

Thanks to my friend Jeanne’s sister-in-law Eve, who is Chinese, who helped us figure these out! These are some of the images she posted for me to illustrate the letters.

Again the top right one is 10,000 / wan.

Then longevity.

Third, not.

Bottom left one is Jiang, which is boundaries.

Here’s an article that talks about how this phrase is common on vases –

Long Life Without Boundaries on Vases

I had managed to find the last one “Boundaries” (Jiang) with some help from another friend, Lars, but Eve definitely helped with the first three! Here’s the image I made for that part of the research.

Ask away with any questions!

I did find a vase on ebay very similar to ours, although slightly smaller, with partial cloisonné in the same style and colors. That seller wanted 500 pounds for theirs. This was from the Curious Antiques Shop for one 31cm tall x 24cm wide. They said it dated to around 1880.

The ebay link is no longer valid.

Becky Waller Hall says:
Check with George, for some reason I have a memory of that vase when we lived in Valhalla, NY. George had an upstairs bedroom that was in front of the house, maybe extending over the garage. Be interesting for all the siblings to try to draw the floor plans of where we lived. Back to the vase. Seems I saw it or George and I were talking about it. There was an undertone that it must be very valuable.

When Mom was so ill and in the hospital, Dad did this brilliant thing. He told just the siblings (George, Blake, Bruce and me) that he was about to go out for a while and we were to go through all the things in the house and decide who will get what. We were to make a list and give it to him. He did say, before he left, that he was going to be around for a long time, so these items weren’t coming our way anytime soon. It was one of the sweetest time with my brothers. We decided to go room to room and drew straws (or numbers or something) to determine the order of selecting. Everyone shared stories about why they selected their item, we laughed and appreciated our wonderful family!

I remember a long discussion about Dad’s paintings from his painting class. There wasn’t a mad rush to be the next custodians of his art pieces, yet we wanted to be attentive to select them, and actually distribute them within the family. We obviously didn’t want to hurt his feelings

On George’s first selection he wanted the Vase. When we asked why, he said that when he was a little kid, he thought the cloisonné was actually jewels and it was obviously worth a whole lot of money.

All photos of our Chinese cloisonné vase were taken by Lisa Shea and are copyright to Lisa Shea.

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