Silver items made for Vietnam’s last dynasty remind us of a bygone era. These priceless antiques provide a glimpse into life in Vietnam’s last court and inspire modern artists and craft people
Of the thousands of artifacts stored and displayed in museums in the formal royal capital of Hue, only around 100 items are made of silver while there aren’t many silver items remaining, those that remain are one of a kind, and therefore, priceless. These old treasures testify to the skill and artistry of Vietnam’s long ago silversmiths.
Since ancient times, silver has been admired for various qualities, including malleability, moderate weight, resistance to discoloration, and bright color. From early times, silver, along with gold, was reserved for people of royal and noble lineage for private use at court. Apart from being fashioned into silver ducats, the metal was also used to craft religious items and tools for daily life.
It is said that the father of silversmithing in Vietnam was Luu Xuan Tin from Chay Khe Village ( Bing Giang, Hai Duong) who was once the minister of internal affairs under the reign of Emperor Le Thanh Tong.
In 1461, He was licensed by the court to operate a silver ducat and coinage foundry for the State in Thang Long capital 9 (now Hanoi). Luu Xuan Tin introduced silversmithing trade to Hanoi’s Hang Bac Street which to this day is lined with silver shops. From this first workshop, the trade flourished thanks to a series of talented silversmiths. In the early 19th century, the Nguyen dynasty summoned the best artists to Hue and set up the Precious Metals Department to craft indigenous items from silver and gold by the order of the royal court. This was the era when silver crafting reached its zenith in Vietnam, as demonstrated by the exquisite items still found in Hue’ museums.
In term of types, silver items from the Nguyen Dynasty are quire diverse. Religious items include urns, vases, water pots, fruit bowls, altars, daggers and sacrificial swords. Daily wares include face-washing bowl bottles tea trays, betel kits, chopsticks, pipes pen holders and ink holders. Silver was also used to make ornaments and other luxury items, such as silver tipped porcelain tea sets, silver-tipped smoking pipes and buttons. Decorative patterns were also carved into silver and applied to royal costumes.
Royal silver motifs vary greatly and include images such as the four Divines, four seasons, four symbols, eights treasures, two dragons attending the sun., two dragon competing for a pearl, precious flowers and refined Han characters for Fortune, Longevity, Joy,…etc. Some royal silverware also features geometrical patterns.
The most valuable silver items are the Nguyen dynasty’s silver seals. Early in the reign of Gia Long, three silver seals names Van Ly Mat Sat (stationary seal), Tri Lich Minh Thoi Chi Bao (for sealing calendars as annual gifts) and Phong Tang Chi Bao (for sealing ordinances) were crafted. One tip is decorated with a Kylan (an Asian unicorn) and the two others with dragons tilting their heads. The seal of Crown Prince Thu Tin (crafted in 1820) is also made of silver and features a dragon with a curved body like a galloping horse. In 1830, Emperor Minh Mang ordered the creation of the Truong Khanh seal for his Crown Price with the same dragon tip and a similar shape. Other silver seals made for emperors include the seal of Emperor Cung Hue ( 1893), fashioned at the behest of Emperor Thanh Thai for his ill-fated father Duc Duc. Silver seals for empress dowagers include the seal of Dien Tho Palace and the seal of Truong Sanh Palace (1916) wih Ky Lan Tips.
The most impressive seal is the nation’s mother seal that Lord Nguyen Phuc Anh had made for his mother before he took the throne in 1902. This gold plated silver seal has an elaborately carved golden turtle tip. Silver seals from the Nguyen dynasty were all exquisitely made and even rival gold seals in terms of their beauty and artistic value.
A collection of 85 seals of which a dozen are made of silver, is housed at the national historical museum. It is our good fortune to preserve some priceless treasures from the past, despite our turbulent history.
The exquisite silver items fashioned during Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty remind us of our nation’s fascinating history and are a testament to the artistry and skill of Vietnam’s artisans during this golden age of craftsmanship.
This article is written by Ha Nguyen from Vietnam Heritage Travel Company for original article and more recommendation, please visit