Trousse Eating Set
Place of Origin: China
Date: 18th/19th Century
It is said that under the Qianlong emperor the wearing of eating sets became mandatory for all Manchus and Mongol. This was to encourage the traditional style of meat eating by cutting the meat straight off the bone, in contrast to the Chinese method, where the food was pre-cut into sizes that could be eaten with chopsticks. Traditional Chinese garments did not have pockets, so the sets would be attached to the owner’s sash by means of pendants and toggles.
This example as well as having a knife and chopsticks, has a fork, which may be widely associated with western dining, but was purportedly used in China during the Xia dynasty (c.2070 – c.1600 BCE). More recent uncorroborated reports state that a steel knife and fork have been found in the excavation of the tomb of China's first emperor Qin Shihuang (259 BCE - 210 BCE). Forks were not common in Europe until at least the 17th century.
If we presume that these objects were an indication of the financial and social status of its owner, then the presumption would be that the owner of this set was a powerful and wealthy man. The tubular gilt scabbard is covered with finely twisted silvered copper wire and buttons in an openwork arrangement. A top green-stained bone throat piece, and a bottom unstained bone mount with a copper bottom. A gilt copper mount sits below the throat piece heavily chased with foliage, with an attached belt loop chased with two small Chinese symbols, and an applied bat symbol beneath, chased with a four leaf flower.
The knife and fork are both mounted with light green jade handles and have gilt blade collars, one chased with patterns. The knife has a long slender blade of high quality steel, with a visible hardened edge, and the fork is made from gilt silver. The tortoise shell chopsticks have matching gilt finials.
A similar set with a jade hilted knife and tortoise shell chopsticks in the Metropolitan museum, New York, acc.no.36.25.989a–g