The collection of the royal seals of the Nguyen dynasty belonged to the royal wares includes many types of materials such as gold, silver and jade... Those objects implicate important landmarks of the history of the Nguyen dynasty in particular and Vietnam in general.
Ngoc ty was a kind of seal made of different kinds of jade like emerald, white jade or blue jade. Most of them were made during Minh Mang reign to Tu Duc reign. Due to jade was a rare material, there were less jade seals than metal ones. The studies over the records of the Nguyen reigns didn't find any picture of jade seal. So, the studies had to depend only on the books called Cơ mật viện túc trình (Records of the King's Consultation Institute of the Nguyen dynasty) and Khâm định Đại Nam hội điển sự lệ (History of the cabinet of the Nguyen dynasty).
The jades which carved the words "Phong cương vạn cổ" and "Vạn Thọ vô cương" (Endless life) are said to be the oldest jade seals of the Nguyen dynasty. Those two seals were said to be produced since Nguyen Lords time.
Phong cương vạn cổ seal was made of emerald, square handle, trapezoid shape in 4 slides which carving 2 lines of palindrome "S" character and the other 4 sides in rectangular. The face of the seal carved the words "Phong cương vạn cổ" (eternal territory).
Vạn Thọ vô cương is a green jade seal with the handle in shape of a lying kylin, 4 sides in rectangular, square face carving 4 words "Vạn Thọ vô cương". It was said that this seal was submitted to Minh Mang King by a man who found it when digging the earth. Then, it was used to chop on the documents used in the birthday ceremony of the king.
In the 16th Minh Mang year (1835), the king ordered a seal made of jade. This seal had a handle in shape of two dragons leaning back to each other. It was 8cm27 high, 10cm5 wide nd 4cm22 thick. It carved the words "Minh Mạng thập lục niên Ất Mùi tuyên " (Made in At Mui (year of goat), the 16th Minh Mang year, 1835) and also the other words "Hoàng đế chi tỷ" (The jade seal of the king). This seal was used for documents in amnesty or giving priority for the masses.
In 1837, the king ordered a seal made of a donated white jade. This seal had a dragon- shaped handle, 7cm7 height, 9cm8 width and 1cm4 thickness. It carved the words meaning "Carving in the 18th Minh Mang year, 1837) and used for decrees or instructions.
In 1839, the country was renamed as Dai Nam, the king ordered to make a green jade seal. This seal was 10cm5 high, 12cm4 wide and 5cm3 thick. It carved the words meaning "The jade seal of the king of Dai Nam). It was used to chop on the decrees for foreign cases.
In 1841, Thieu Tri King ordered a golden seal. This seal was used for the king's decrees but it has no more now.
In the 4th Thieu Tri year, from two pieces of donated jade, the king ordered two seals. The first was emerald, with dragon-shaped handle. It was used for the king's letters and decrees.
The second one was also emerald but bigger than the first. It was 9cm1 high, 10cm 25 wide and 4cm 21 thick. It carved the words meaning "Carving on the good day in March, 1844" and "Jade seal of the king of Dai Nam). Used for decrees on foreign cases.
The below seal was made in 1846 within one year's time. It had a handle in shape of a rolling dragon, 14cm5 high, 13x12cm7 wide and 4cm25 thick. It carved the words meaning "Day 15, month 3 year Thieu Tri 7, 1847). On the head of the dragon on the top of the seal, it carved "To serve in Nam Giao ceremony". This seal is said to be the biggest and most valuable among the ones of the Nguyen royal family. It was used for the diplomatic decrees and protected as a treasure.
During 1846-1847, Thieu Tri King ordered an ivory seal. This seal had a dragon-shaped handle, round face, diameter 10cm8. It carved the words meaning "as a record for the enjoyment of the king and the royal family".
In Tu Duc reign (1848-1883), two jade seals were made. The first one was 4cm44 high, 4cm35 long, 2cm3 wide and 1cm78 thick.
The second one was 5cm high, square sides 2cm8. Those seals were used for poems and literature and decree issued by the king.
There were no more jade seals in the seven reigns after Tu Duc. Until Khai Dinh reign (1916-1915) another two jade seals were made.
The first one carved the words "Jade seal of Khai Dinh", in 3cm1 height, 4cm13 width and 1cm75 thickness.
The second one had the same design as the first, in 6cm73 height, 6cm6 width and 2cm7 thick.
Also in Khai Dinh reign, there was a seal made of ivory. This seal had two layers in oval shape, a palindrome "T" character in the gap between the two layers.
Ph.D Nguyen Dinh Chien (Former Deputy Director of the VNMH)
EN: Tran Trang