From the Ends of the Earth

Qing Dynasty Chinese Brass Plate with Swordsmen and Birds (LEO Design)

During these chilly Winter days, we are featuring a selection of trays now in-stock at LEO Design. We look-forward to the time (the sooner, the better) when we can use these trays to serve family, friends and other loved ones.

In the old days, China was considered "at the far end of the Earth." Venetian explorer-merchant, Marco Polo, was the first European to make a well-documented trip to China in the late 1200's (though scholars believe that the Chinese had periodic contact with Europe for centuries before this). It was not an easy trip; it took him three years to travel from Venice to China and he stayed there for 17 years.

In later centuries, the West enjoyed increasingly easier travel to China, though politics did affect the ease of trade from time to time (as it continues to do today). Intrepid European traders made vast fortunes bringing-back luxurious and exotic products from China—textiles, ceramics, tea and other foodstuffs that exceeded the technical mastery of contemporary Europeans.  Throughout the West, well-heeled collectors displayed their wealth by building large collections of costly Chinese decorative arts.  Most Europeans could not afford "real" Chinese objets.  And almost no one could afford (or had the endurance) to travel there.  So the wealthy would satisfy their taste for China by purchasing expensive, beautiful and exotic artworks brought-back to Europe.  Traders and trading ports became wealthy and powerful.

In time (starting in the Seventeenth Century), Europeans began to emulate Chinese design in their domestic products.  One example is "Delftware"—the Dutch blue and white ceramics that copied the aesthetic style of earlier Chinese blue and white pottery. Later, in the Victorian Industrial Age, Chinese (and Japanese) aesthetics were adapted to the Western products and sold to a hungry, growing middle class market.  These Western adaptations of Asian design were never accurate; instead they became a new movement—an Asian aesthetic as seen through Western eyes.

About this time, China began to compete for these far-away European customers.  They developed objects "for export" which were strictly intended to appeal to Westerners, shipped directly to Europe and not sold in the home country.  The plate above is likely just such an object.  It was made around 1900, in the Qing Dynasty.  It is heavy and nice but not as valuable as the earlier plate it is meant to replicate.

Another interesting fact: I purchased this plate in a little antique shop in Swellendam, South Africa.  I had been invited to visit a former employee in Cape Town and we took a four day road trip to explore some of the interior Western Cape towns and villages.  In the quaint town of Swellendam, I got to visit the Dutch Reformed Church (built in 1909), had an unusual Dutch lunch, and explored the shops, including the antiques merchant mentioned above. And I brought home this brass plate from what seemed "the end of the Earth" (made at the other "end of the Earth").

Please click on the photo above to learn more about this plate.

More selections from our expansive tray collection in the days to come.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (

We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques ( or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248