Powdered Incense Clocks
Incense seal clocks are essentially specialized censers, that work through burning lines of powdered incense seals (香印, xiāng yìn in Chinese; ko-dokei in Japanese). They were used for similar occasions and events as the stick incense clock. While religious purposes were of primary importance, these clocks were also popular at social gatherings, and were used by Chinese scholars and intellectuals. The seal was a wooden or stone disk with one or more grooves etched in it into which incense was placed.
These clocks were common in China, but were produced in fewer numbers in Japan. To signal the passage of a set amount of time, small pieces of fragrant woods, resins, or differently scented incense could be placed on the incense powder trails. Different powdered incense clocks used different formulations of incense, depending on how the clock was laid out. The length of the trail of incense, directly related to the size of the seal, was the primary factor in determining how long the clock would last; all burned for long periods of time, ranging between 12 hours and a month.
While early incense seals were made of wood or stone, the Chinese gradually introduced disks made of metal, most likely beginning during the Song dynasty. They were often made of paktong in the form of multileveled small boxes with patterned perforated tops. Gold and silver powder incense clocks are considered quite rare. This allowed craftsmen to more easily create both large and small seals, as well as design and decorate them more aesthetically. Another advantage was the ability to vary the paths of the grooves, to allow for the changing length of the days in the year. As smaller seals became more readily available, the clocks grew in popularity among the Chinese, and were often given as gifts. Incense seal clocks are often sought by modern-day clock collectors; however, few remain that have not already been purchased or been placed on display at museums or temples. Although they are no longer used formally for time keeping, such incense clocks are still used by scholars and monks in the East for evoking moods and for aesthetics.
Using incense seal clocks requires a period of preparation. A fine layer of damp white wood ash is first laid down in a small container, flattened, and lightly compacted. Seals that were in the form of patterned metal stencils were simply laid down on the ash while the incense powder was poured over it. After a light compaction of the incense powder by a tamper, lifting up the metal seal forms a long trail of incense powder that has been masked onto the ash. Other seals have a protruded pattern that creates a negative indentation in the wood ash. The incense powder is carefully spooned into the indentation in the ash and then recompacted again with the seal.
Famous quotes containing the words clocks and/or incense:
“When I woke, the town spoke.
Birds and clocks and cross bells
Dinned aside the coiling crowd,
The reptile profligates in a flame,
Spoilers and pokers of sleep....”
—Dylan Thomas (19141953)
“You might sooner get lightning out of incense smoke than true action or passion out of your modern English religion.”
—John Ruskin (18191900)