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These brass stamps were found by a relative in China ~1917. I'm wondering what the inscriptions mean. The smaller one in the likeness of an elephant is worn and discolored.

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  • chinese.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic Please show your attempt at translation in your question and state which area you are having difficulty with. Without homework this question is very quickly going to be closed. If you want to get an answer and keep it open show what you've done to try and translate it first yourself. – user3306356 Mar 3 '18 at 2:01
  • try a site that offers help in identifying Chinese script, e.g. bkrs, forum, Помогите распознать картинку (help identify picture) – user6065 Mar 3 '18 at 2:43
  • @user3306356 but this question is not about translation. – tsh Mar 6 '18 at 5:43
  • @tsh Perhaps we need to update our menus then, but usually these type of questions get flagged: Flagging>Closing>Off-Topic Questions asking for translations are off-topic unless prior research effort is clearly indicated; we're here to help you learn, not provide a bulk translation service. Any type of "what's this," "what does this mean," "how do I say this in Chinese?" all get treated as translation requests. Character identification could strictly be treated as "font translation" or "script translation," but I do know what you're getting at. – user3306356 Mar 6 '18 at 7:12
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    It's hard to tell until you stamp it on a paper – Steve Yang Mar 15 '18 at 20:23
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These characters are engraved in seal script. The first stamp says 知(智)者樂, a line from the Analects meaning those who have wisdom are happy. The second one has degraded too much to be identified, with character components missing from the bottom character in the stamp, although the top character or character component is (bamboo).


「知」is comprised of

  • 「矢」a phonetic component;
  • 「口」(mouth), a semantic component.

「矢」originally depicted an arrow like that used in archery. The seal script version comes from a transformation of the loop-shape at the fletching into a horizontal line.

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The last sample is directly linked to the seal script form:

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「口」originally depicted a mouth:

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This shape is directly inherited by seal script:

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Oracle bone, bamboo slip, bronze, and seal script forms of「口」will all look something like the above, with the corners of the mouth clearly drawn. The current form「口」is a clerical script innovation, so do not get this confused with other things written like「口」now, but were clearly distinguished in seal script and earlier:

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The basic shape of「者」in seal script remains the same at the bottom as regular script, with most samples using「曰」. The top is subject to wildly varying shapes, and in this stamp the relation is most easily demonstrated by a Qin script sample:

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(Top) Stamp image, horizontally flipped to imitate its real appearance on a writing medium; (Bottom) Qin script sample.

「樂」depicts a musical instrument made from silk threads and a wooden structure. It is comprised of

  • 「幺」(a small amount of silk), a semantic component;
  • 「木」(wood), a semantic component;
  • 「白」a non-obvious phonetic component.

「木」and「白」in seal script are relatively similar to their appearance in regular script.

「幺」is the top of「糸」, which depicts several loops of silk threads ending in some frayed thread ends, and the identification is explained in another SE answer.

Note that in this stamp,「白」is moved to the top of the character, presumably to fit the character into the thin rectangular frame. This is a relatively drastic change.

「竹」originally depicted branches and leaves off a bamboo plant:

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Later on, the branches were separated, leading on to the seal script form

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  • Note, to me, the right hand side (left in the stamp picture) of the bottom is either 攴/攵, 殳, or the right hand side of 叚, if anyone can figure out what it is. – droooze Jun 3 '18 at 19:10
  • my best guess is "竹報" on the second seal :) humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=報 so, this one implied "竹報平安". maybe, this seal was for "家書" (correspondences between family members. – 水巷孑蠻 Jun 3 '18 at 19:50
  • @水巷孑蠻 I considered that possibility, except that the bottom left of 報 doesn't match the stamp in any seal image I can find; the shape corresponds more to the bottom of 木. But you never know, some characters have already been morphed quite a bit in this stamp.. – droooze Jun 3 '18 at 19:54
  • flip the picture horizontally, you can recognise the 又 - 手 on the right, then, the the bottom left look like 㚔 – 水巷孑蠻 Jun 3 '18 at 20:00
  • ·@水巷孑蠻 Interesting, but the bottom of 㚔 still doesn't explain the shape on the stamp, because it usually stays straight or curls upwards. There's one other major issue, if the character is 報 then the stamp is completely out of proportion, because the spacing between 幸 and 𠬝 would be way too large. Compare this with the spacing between 矢 and 口 in 知 or the space between the two separate parts in 竹. I think it's more likely to contain something that's structured like 叚 on the right and something else on the left. – droooze Jun 3 '18 at 20:11

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