because they were used in Jane Austen's England - and throughout Western Europe - in the 1700 and 1800s.
From start to finish a single intricate chip could take thousands of strokes and days to complete. The English aristocracy competed with each other to see who could import the finest counters. The counters used by Queen Charlotte in the 1780’s still reside in the royal collection of Queen Elizabeth. The engraving is so precise it is believed that only diamond tipped tools could have realized such detail, a method of production unknown in the West.
Well-heeled families would place orders for sets of these mother of pearl counters with sea captains and trading companies. The orders would sail to China, but is was not until the sailing the following year that the orders were ready for shipment.
Etched into each counter, symbolic parable poems showing people engaged in activities of the time provide great insights into early Chinese culture and history. Most of the counters were individually hand-crafted during the reign of the brilliant philosopher ruler Ch’ ien Lung between 1736 and 1796. The symbolic pictures tell the stories of Ruler Ch’ ien Lung’s 34,000 philosophical poems, which embrace the ideals of revered and influential Chinese philosophers, especially those of Confucius, Loa-tzu and Mencius.