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enter image description here

I’m looking to find out what this means. Please help was handed down to me from my family

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    If anyone attempts to answer, please try to explain why the characters are what they are by linking the components to regular script, instead of just giving an answer - if not for the OP's benefit, for the community's. Upvoting to start a reference database of seal script identification information as per the comments here and here. – droooze May 18 '18 at 2:54
  • picture identification site: bkrs.info/taolun/forum-51.html – user6065 May 18 '18 at 4:08
  • I only recongize the right vertical two 天寶 – Zhang May 18 '18 at 4:15
  • Very likely to be 天寶紋鋧, @Greg can you give some context for the seal? A last name perhaps? Right now all I'm guessing is a treasured heirloom pattern-maker, but I don't think that makes much sense. – droooze May 18 '18 at 4:45
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    @droooze seems like 天宝纹银 – Jason Swift May 18 '18 at 5:08
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As pointed out, the characters are 天寶紋銀, and are engraved in the small seal (小篆) style.

There are several character components which don't really resemble their regular script counterparts.

「天」 is comprised of

  • 「一」(what this represents is disputed, but it is not one in this context);
  • 「大」(depiction of a person with outstretched arms).

「一」is fairly recognisable. A seal script version of「大」is

enter image description here

which blows up the proportion of the arms and legs.

「寶」 is comprised of

  • 「宀」(depiction of a house/building);
  • 「玉」, simplified to the component form「𤣩」(depiction of jade pieces);
  • 「缶」(sound component; OC rime: );
  • 「貝」(depiction of cowrie shells).

「玉」,「缶」,and「貝」are all fairly recognisable in seal script. Since「宀」depicted a full-fledged building, ancient scripts will commonly have the sides stretching down to fully depict a building's walls. A seal script version is

enter image description here

「紋」 is comprised of

  • 「糸」(depiction of silk threads);
  • 「文」(depiction of a person with an emphasised torso containing markings), doubles as the sound component).

「糸」

The seal script version of「糸」is derived from the original picture, representing several loops of silk threads ending in some frayed thread ends. An oracle bone version looks like

enter image description here

turning the above upside down directly leads to seal script versions which look like

enter image description here

Note, the number of thread loops may be variable, and you will sometimes get variants that have three loops instead.


「文」

The seal script version of「文」is simplified from the original picture, representing a standing person's body with markings (like tattoos) on it. An oracle bone version looks like

enter image description here

「文」in fact was the original form of「紋」, having「糸」added to it after「文」became exclusively used for the association with the meaning writing. The shape was simplified by the removal of the markings on the torso, and from the above, the similarity to the shape of「大」is not coincidental; both were derived from the shape of a person, while the middle empty space in「文」is just due to the emphasised torso. This leads to the seal scripts which look like

enter image description here

「銀」 is comprised of

  • 「金」(depiction of a container for melting metals);
  • 「艮」(sound component).

「金」

The seal script version of「金」is derived from the original picture, which depicted metal plates「冫」formed from a smelting process, represented by a crucible:

![enter image description here

「冫」was later borrowed as a simplified version of「仌」(ice), but the original meaning can still be seen in「冶」(to smelt) and「凝」(condensation/solidification). The markings representing the metal plates were later moved around and more marks got added to or subtracted from these over the course of history, but eventually two marks settled to their current position in「金」.

enter image description here Samples of「金」from bamboo slip writings from the State of Chu. The red box reveals some examples which look like the modern form.

The top of the crucible doubles as a sound component, which is「今」. For reference, bronze script versions of「今」look like

enter image description here

with a seal script form that looks like

enter image description here

The above leads to seal script shapes looking like

enter image description here


「艮」

The seal script version of「艮」is derived from the original compound, which is comprised of「目」(eyes). The bottom part originally represented a person and looked like「人」or「儿」.

enter image description here

For reference, oracle bone versions of「目」and「人」:

enter image description here

This leads on to a seal script shape (note: see further below)

enter image description here

Variants of「艮」started changing shape during the Warring States period, leading to the modern form corrupting「目」into「日」and the bottom shape into what it is now.

enter image description here

Note that「艮」originally meant to look backwards; the highly similar character「見」was originally composed from「卩」, later changing into「止」or「人/儿」.

![enter image description here

To avoid confusion,「艮」sometimes used a shape that looked like「匕」:

enter image description here

This leads to the different seal script forms

enter image description here

「艮」vs.「見」


References:

  • 1
    Seems like we have a serious voting problem. I don't know how this would only have one up-vote, esp. compared to two up-votes for the other answer. Not sure how we can encourage healthy voting though, really, to be honest. – user3306356 May 19 '18 at 15:01
  • @user3306356 well, one of those two votes is mine, because the answerer went and found out the company that is associated with the stamp, which helps the question. To be honest, I feel like many people just think I'm spouting mystical rubbish :P – droooze May 19 '18 at 15:08
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enter image description here

It's 天宝纹银, not the Tang dynasty 天宝, but 上海裘天宝黄金珠宝有限公司, the former is 天宝银楼(1822~1846年).

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