EASTERN HAN DYNASTY (25 – 220 AD)
The thick Han Dynasty brick tile is of rectangular form and has characters moulded on two sides of the brick. The face of the brick was levelled later to form the well and surface of an inkstone. Two inscriptions adorn the remaining two sides of the brick. The top side reads, 萬世老壽 ‘Longevity for A Myriad Years’ while the left inscription reads 延熹四年 ‘Fourth Year of the Yanxi Era [161 C. E.].’
19th century collector 陸心源 Lu Xinyuan (1834-1894) inscribed on the bottom of the brick, which reads:
‘Fourth year of Yanxi (‘Prolonged Joy’), the cycle of the god of the year dwelling in xinchou: May longevity last for a myriad generations and Yang [the sun] ignite wealth and honour into a blaze.’ [Followed by a transcription of the same characters, and ending in] ‘Lu Lushi shi (Record of Mr. Lu’s Explication.’
Lu, whose personal name is Gangzhi, sobriquet Cunzhai, second sobriquet adopted late in life Jianyuan laoren (Old Man of Shoulder Garden), was a native of Huzhou in Zhejiang. He was a juren (elevated scholar) of the ninth year of the Xianfeng era  and served as Salt Distribution Commissioner for Fujian. He was also a collector and prolific writer.
Lu Xinyuan published this brick in a catalogue during the 17th year of the Guangxu reign , entitled 千甓亭古磚 圖釋卷一 P16 Qianpi ting guzhuan tushi (Illustrations and Explications of Ancient Bricks from the Thousand Bricks Pavilion), 1:16a and the first edition of this catalogue is dated to 清光緒辛卯(十七年)吳興陸氏石印本 “Qing, Guangxu xinmao (17th year) , Wuxing [Zhejiang]: Lushi shiyin ben (Lithographic edition printed by Mr. Lu).
The annotation in the Qianpi ting guzhuan tushi (Illustrations and Explications of Ancient Bricks from the Thousand Bricks Pavilion), 1:16a can be translated as:
漢延熹磚長一尺二寸厚一寸九分 • 文曰 • 延熹四年太歲在辛丑 • 上端萬世老壽 • 下端陽遂富貴反文 • 案 • 延熹為漢桓帝第六改 元 • 陽遂富貴 • 楊氏峴謂 • 與易林之逢時陽遂富且尊貴同言 • 富貴如火之盛也 • 其說可通 • 字畫瑰異 • 皆變體也 •
‘The length of the Han Yanxi brick is 1 chi 2 cun [9.18 inches or 23.3172 centimetres] and 1 cun 9 fen thick. The texts read as follows: ‘Fourth year of Yanxi (“Prolonged Joy”), the cycle of the god of the year dwelling in xinchou.’ At the top end is ‘May longevity last for a myriad generations’; at the bottom end is ‘May Yang [the sun] ignite wealth and honour into a blaze,’ which is in mirror-reversed script. Comment: ‘Yanxi was the sixth reign name change made by Emperor Huan of the Han.’ As for ‘May Yang [the sun] ignite wealth and honour into a blaze,’ Mr. Yang Xian [1819-1896] says that it means the same thing as ‘Fortunately met, Yang ignites wealth and honour,’ which appears in the Jiaoshi yilin (Mr. Jiao’s Forest of the Changes) [Jian Yanshou 焦延壽 (1st century B.C.E.), Jiaoshi yilin (Siku quanshu ed.), 3:15a.], that is, wealth and honour will blaze up like fire. What he says fittingly makes sense. The way the characters are composed is unique, all in a distinctive variant style.’
The right side of the brick also has an inscription, which reads:
延熹為漢桓帝第六改元年號 • 距離千八百年 • 〇係吳興千甓亭所藏 • 作四斷左取其上截品錄 • 鑿而成斯硯 • 三十五年季四月 • 左夫自鑿于吳興並識 •
‘Yanxi was the sixth reign name change made by Emperor Huan of the Han, one thousand eight hundred ago. This [brick] once belonged to the collection at the Qianpi ting (Thousand Bricks Pavilion) in Wuxing. On what forms the fourth surface section, I prepared the surface to record this appraisal there, and carved the brick into this inkstone.
Thirty-fifth year [Minguo, Chinese Republic (1946)], season now the fourth month, Zuofu engraved this himself at Wuxing, together with an appraisal.’
陳左夫 Chen Zuofu (1911-1998), alternate given name Haoran, pen name Zuofu, was a self-taught seal engraver, who could combine in one seal face seal-script, clerical-script, full elaborate forms and abbreviated forms. He was a member of the Xiling seal carver’s society [Hangzhou, founded in 1904] and the China Calligraphers Association. Chen Haoran changed his name to Zuofu ‘Lefty’ because he was left-handed and used that hand to carve. His inscription suggests the brick was converted into an inkstone while in his possession.
The inkstone has a zitan cover and rests on a zitan base supported on shallow feet.
Lu Xinyuan 陸心源 (1834-1894)
Chen Zuofu 陳左夫 (1911-1998)