The Man with the Dragon Stamp

February 05th 2019 by Lucy Noble

Happy Chinese New Year, or as one would say in Mandarin, 新年快乐! 2019 is the year of the Pig, the twelfth and last animal of the zodiac.
Poster Image

As the ancient myths tell us, each year is named after one of twelve animals who were invited by the Jade Emperor to his party – the order of the years being denoted by the order in which the animals arrived. The legends have various theories as to why the pig arrived last: one legend says that he overslept, whilst another claims that the wolf destroyed his house and he had to rebuild it before setting off for the party. Whatever the reason, the pig’s late arrival has been immortalised in the zodiac forever.


In China, one’s personality is thought to be influenced by the animal of your zodiac year. The pig, whilst being seen as somewhat unintelligent and lazy, is also thought to be well-behaved and benevolent, as well as being a symbol of wealth: his chubby cheeks and big ears are said to be signs of good fortune. Let’s hope plenty of that lies ahead in the next year!






In recognition of the Chinese New Year celebrations, we’d like to show you a tiny but intriguing artefact from the Archive: a stamp which once belonged to a Chinese stonemason called Luo. Luo’s job was to make millstones for animal-powered rice mills (like the one in the left-hand picture), a once-common sight across China. This is a stamp of his name, assumedly used for stamping paper correspondences. It has been used with red ink - red being a very lucky colour in China. The tiny dragon decorating the top of the stamp shows what a skilled craftsman Luo was to make such a tiny object with so much detail. 



The stamp comes from the collection of Niall Roberts, a keen mill enthusiast and member of TIMS. A well-travelled explorer, Roberts took a trip to the Far East in 1987 which inspired his interest in Chinese mill stones and milling technology.



Another aspect of milling technology that caught Roberts’ eye was the Dragon Spine (a.k.a. Dragon Wheel), pictured right. It is a waterladder pump: a human-powered mechanism for irrigation. It operated as a continuous belt of paddles that would drive water up a trough. It could raise a high volume of water, however it can only operate at relatively similar heights. It is powered by people stepping on the main crank of the system which rotated the belt of paddles. It is a particularly useful system for irrigating rice paddies where conditions need to be kept marshy.



This, and many more items from Niall Roberts’ collection can be viewed on our online catalogue here. If you have any more information about anything mentioned in this blog, do let us know. Wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year!