University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Crystal Ball [Object of the Day #102]

November 7, 2012

Crystal Ball with stand

Seated on top of a stand shaped like a frothing wave, 24.5 cm in diameter, the Crystal Ball centered under the vaulted ceiling of the Chinese rotunda has an exciting and mysterious past. The forty-nine pounds of transparent quartz crystal is supposedly from the imperial collections of the infamous Qing dynasty Empress, Cixi (1835 – 1908). Cixi was a concubine who rose to the position of Dowager Empress during the end of China’s Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911). The end of the Qing dynasty was a period filled with political and economic distress and Cixi was not loved or revered for her lavish tastes and luxurious lifestyle. When her palace was ransacked and she fled Beijing, many of her precious belongings were dispersed. Among her possessions was a flawless, crystal ball – believed to be the crystal ball now owned by the Museum.

The Crystal Ball then became the spotlight of attention when it was mysteriously stolen from the Museum in November of 1988. To read about more about this theft, read this blog post about the crystal balls’ Mysterious Past.

Penn Museum Object #C681A

See this and other objects like it on Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database

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