University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

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Object TitleCrystal Ball
Object Number: C681A
Current Location: China Gallery
Currently On Display
Provenience: China
Period: Qing Dynasty
Date Made: 19th Century
Early Date: 1800
Late Date: 1899
Materials:Quartz Crystal
Height: 25.4cm
Width: 25.4cm
Credit Line:Purchased from Wanamaker's Department Store; subscription of Eldridge R. Johnson, 1927


Rock crystal sphere, "The Empress Dowager". The origins of the Penn Museum's crystal sphere, both the location where the crystal was mined, and the place where the sphere was polished, are unknown. It was purchased in 1927 from the Fine Arts department of the Wanamaker's department store, Philadelphia, and given as a gift to the Penn Museum. It came with the name "Dowager Empress" after the Empress Dowager Cixi who ruled over China's last Dynasty. However, no evidence has ever come to light that connects the sphere with the Empress, or any other account of the sphere's origins. The stand in the shape of a wave was made in Japan, but may have been made to order after the sphere was produced.

It is the third largest crystal sphere in the world, with a diameter of 25.4 cm, and weighing 49 lbs. Only the spheres in the Smithsonian (32.7 cm) and the Crow Collection in Dallas (28.9 cm) are larger. The fourth-largest sphere (22 cm) is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The sphere is not made of glass, but rather from a naturally-occurring crystal of pure quartz, and was shaped into a sphere through years of constant turning in a semi-cylindrical container filled with abrasive powders and water.

Current & Past Exhibitions:

Chinese Rotunda (1968)View Objects in Exhibition
Chinese Halls (1941 - 1966)View Objects in Exhibition
In A Rush? Take a Quick Tour of The Museum ( Sep 1996 - Jun 1997)View Objects in Exhibition


[Article] Fernald, H. E. 1928. The George Byron Gordon Memorial Collection of Chinese Objects in Jade, Crystal, Lapis Lazuli and Coral. The Museum Journal. Volume XIX (No. 1): 35-71. : Page/Fig./Plate: Pg. 41View Objects cited in this Publication

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