Seal Material

A list of stones and other materials used to make Chinese seals. Keep in mind that stones have been traditionally characterized by origin, color, and physical qualities rather than by a modern geology/mineral classification. There is a huge variety of names in use. I have been asked to help identify seal stone – usually an impossible task. For instance, any stone with red spots may be called Chicken-blood Stone no matter where it comes from or what it is made of. More than once I have cut into a stone only to be surprised to find it was something other than I thought it to be. Be extremely cautious before buying a very expensive stone, especially if it has been supposedly carved by a well-known artist.

Contact us if you have any corrections or additions.

Agalmatolite
This term is sometimes used to describe Shoushan stone and is a synonym for Pinite, Pyrophyllite, and/or Talc. (Mindat.org) See: shou shan shi.
Agate Jelly Stone
See: ma nao dong
Ba lin cai shi 巴林彩石
Pinyin: [ba lin] căi shí. Balin color stone.
Ba lin dan sha dong shi 巴林丹砂凍石
Pinyin: [ba lin] dān shā dòng shí. Balin Cinnabar Jelly Stone, a form of red translucent Balin stone.
Ba lin dong 巴林凍
Pinyin: [ba lin] dòng. Balin Jelly Stone.
Ba lin huang dong 巴林黃凍
Pinyin: [ba lin] huáng dòng. Balin Yellow Jelly Stone.
Ba lin ji xue shi [fang zhang] 巴林雞血石[方章]
Pinyin: ba lin jī xuè shí [fang zhāng]. Balin Chicken-blood Stone.
Ba lin niu jiao dong 巴林牛角凍
Pinyin: [ba lin] niú jiăo dòng. Balin Ox Horn Jelly, a black stone.
Ba lin shi 巴林石
Pinyin: [ba lin] shí. Balin Stone. A popular stone for seals quarried in Daban Township in the Balin Right Banner, Zhaowuda League, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the area of Mount Yamatu. Mined in north China only since 1973. It comes in many colors. It has been said to be less liable to crack than other popular seal stones. Pyrophyllite [another source says mostly Kaolinite].
Ba lin tian ji huang 巴林田雞黃凍
Pinyin: [ba lin] tián jī huáng. Balin “Frog” Yellow Stone.
Bai guo dong 白果凍
Pinyin: bái guŏ dòng. Gingko Jelly, a form of Qingtian stone.
Balin Blood Stone
See: ba lin ji xue shi
Balin Bull Horn Stone
See: ba lin niu jiao dong
Balin Color Stone
See: ba lin ba lin cai shi
Balin Frog Yellow
See: ba lin tian ji huang
Balin Ink-figured Stone
See: mo hua shi
Balin Ivory
See: xiang ya bai shi
Balin Stone
See: ba lin shi
Balin Yellow
See: ba lin huang dong and ba lin tian ji huang
Ban tou ming
See: shou shan ban tou ming
Brocade Stone
See: jin shi
Calcite
See: rong yan
Chang bai lu shi 長白綠石
Pinyin: cháng bái lù shí. Changbai Green Stone, from Jilin.
Chang hua dong 昌化凍
Pinyin: chāng huà dòng. Chuanghua Jelly, a form of Changhua stone. See also: ou fen dong.
Chang hua ji xie shi 昌化雞血石
Pinyin: chāng huà jī xuè shí. Changhua Chicken-blood Stone, a form of Changhua stone colored with red spatters.
Chang hua shi 昌化石
Pinyin: chāng huà shí. Changhua Stone. Quarried in Shangxi Township, Ning’an City, Zhejiang province (originally under the jurisdiction of Changhua County). First used for seals in the mid-Qing dynasty. Available in several colors, it is one of the three most popular forms of stone used to make seals though not in such quantities as Qingtian or Shoushan. Includes Changhuadong, Changhuajixie, Dahongpao, Jixueshi, Liuguanzhang, and Oufendong stones. A form of Pyrophyllite.
Chang mao xiang 長毛象
Pinyin: cháng máo xiàng. Mammoth, wooly mammoth. The tusks are occasionally used as seal carving material.
Changbai Green Stone
See: chang bai lu shi
Changhua Blood Stone
See: chang hua ji xue shi
Changhua Cinnabar
See: zhu sha dong
Changhua Jelly Stone
See: chang hua dong, ou fen dong
Changhua Stone
See: chang hua shi
Chicken-blood Stone
Any stone colored with red spatters (caused by inclusions of sulfite mercury). Natural chicken-blood stone is usually very expensive but look-alikes can be produced artificially, so buyer beware. Usually a form of Qingtian stone. See: ji xue shi.
Chu shi 楚石
Pinyin: chŭ shí. Chu Stone, quarried in Xinhua County, Hunan Province. Named for the ancient Chu Kingdom. An opaque black stone.
Cinnabar Jelly
See: zhu sha dong and Balin dan sha dong shi
Crystal Jelly Stone
See: shui jing dong
Da hong pao 大紅袍
Pinyin: dà hóng páo. “Bright Red Gown,” a form of Qingtian stone fully covered in “chicken blood.”
Da song shi
Dasong Stone, quarried in Yinzhou, Zhejiang Province.
Dan sha dong shi
See: ba lin dan sha dong shi
Dasong Stone
See: da song shi
Deng guang dong 燈光凍
Pinyin: dēng guāng dòng. Lamplight Jelly, a form of Qingtian stone.
Dong 凍
Pinyin: dòng. “Jelly,” refers to the transparent look of a stone.
Dong you shi 凍油石
Pinyin: dòng yóu shí. Frozen Oil Stone, a form of Shoushan Shuikeng stone.
Du ling shi 杜陵石
Duling Stone, a form of Shoushan stone.
Eel Weed Jelly Stone
See: shan cao dong
Fang jie shi 方解石
Pinyin: fāng jiĕ shí. Calcite, a non-traditional seal carving material. Harder than traditional Chinese seal stone, it cannot be cut with a knife and must be worked with grinders.
Feng men qing 封門青
Pinyin: fēng mén qīng. A form of Qingtian stone. Also called Qingtian Fengmen Blue, although its color is not blue. Fengmen Jelly Stone is considered the best stone for seals.
Field Pit Stone
See: tian keng
Fish Brain Jelly Stone
See: yu nao dong
Frozen Oil Stone
See: dong you shi
Fu rong shi 芙蓉石
Lotus Stone, a form of Shoushan stone.
Gaoshan Stone
“Named for its occurrence at Mount Gao (Gaoshan) near Shoushan, Fuzhou City, Fujian Province. A dense variety of dickite with red spots of hematite … it also contains quartz and pyrophyllite as minor impurities. The Chinese consider this material as a variety of Shoushan stone, although true Shoushan stone mainly consists of pyrophyllite.” (mindat.org)
Gingko Jelly Stone
See: bai guo dong
Grape Ice Stone
See: pu tao bing
Guang dong lu shi 廣東綠石
Pinyin: guăng dōng lù shí. Green Stone, also called Guangdong Green, from Guangdong province.
Guangdong Green
See: guang dong lu shi
Han bai yu 漢白玉
Pinyin: hàn bái yù. White marble, a non-traditional material for seals.
Hu shi 壺石
Pinyin: hú shí. Kettle Stone, another name for Shoushan stone.
Hua keng shi 花坑石
Pinyin: huā keng shí. Huakeng Stone, a form of Shoushan stone.
Huan dong 環凍
Pinyin: huán dòng. Ring Jelly, a form of Shoushan Shuikeng stone.
Huang dong 黃凍
Pinyin: huáng dòng. Yellow Jelly, a form of Shoushan Shuikeng stone.
Huang dong shui zao hua shi 黃凍水藻化石
Pinyin: huáng dòng shuĭ zăo huà shí. Lit.: “yellow jelly algae flower stone,” a form of Balin stone.
Hunan Chu Stone
See: chu shi
Jelly
Refers to the translucent/transparent quality of a stone.
Ji xue shi 雞血石
Pinyin: jī xuè shí. Chicken-blood Stone, a form of Changhua stone. Also any stone with red spots. See also: Chicken-blood Stone.
Jiang you dong 醬油凍
Pinyin: jiàng yóu dòng. Soy Sauce Jelly, a form of Qingtian stone.
Jin shi 錦石
Pinyin: jĭn shí. Brocade Stone, from Liaoning.
Kaolinite
A soft stone used for seal carving.
Kettle Stone
See: hu shi
Kong que shi 孔雀石
Pinyin: kŏng què shí. Malachite, a hard green stone occasionally used for seals.
Kuai hua shi 塊滑石
Steatite, Soapstone. See also: la shi, shi jian shi.
La shi 蠟石
Pinyin: là shí. Steatite; soapstone.
Lai yang shi
Laiyang Stone is quarried in Ye County, Shandong Province (formerly Lai Prefecture). A green semi-translucent jelly stone. In use by the early Ming dynasty.
Laiyang stone
See: lai yang shi
Lamplight Jelly Stone
See: deng guang dong
Lan dai qing 蘭帶青
A form of Qingtian stone.
Lan ding qing tian 藍釘青田
A form of Qingtian stone.
Lan hua dong 蘭花凍
Literally “orchid flower jelly,” Lanhua Jelly is a form of Qingtian stone.
Lan xing qing tian 藍星青田
A form of Qingtian stone with small blue dots.
Liu guan zhang
A form of Qingtian stone with black, white, and red colors.
Lotus Root Jelly Stone
See: ou fen dong
Lotus stone
See: fu rong shi
Ma nao dong 瑪瑙凍
Pinyin: mă năo dòng. Agate Jelly, a form of Shoushan Shuikeng stone.
Malachite
See: kong que shi
Meng ma xiang 猛獁象
Pinyin: mĕng mă xiàng. Mammoth; wooly mammoth. The tusk is not a traditional material for seals.
Mo hua shi 墨花石
Pinyin: mò huā shí. Ink-figured Stone, a form of Balin stone.
Mountain Pit Stone
See: shan keng
Ou fen dong 藕粉凍
Pinyin: ŏu fĕn dòng. Lotus Root Jelly, a form of Changua stone. Also called Changhua jelly.
Peach Blossom Jelly Stone
See: tao hua dong
Peak Balin
See: huang dong shui zao hua shi
Pu tao bing 葡萄冰
Grape Ice, a form of Qingtian stone.
Pyrophyllite 葉腊石
A soft stone (1-2 on the Mohs scale) in the talc group used for seal carving. Pyrophyllite quarried in Africa is marketed for carving as “wonderstone.”
Qian ceng wen 千層紋
Thousand-layer-vein stone, a form of Qingtian stone with various colored lines running through it.
Qing tian qian ceng shi 青田千層石
Pinyin: qing tian qiān céng shí. Qingtian Multi-layer Stone.
Qing tian shi 青田石
Qingtian Stone. Quarried in Shankou, Fangshan, and Zhoucun in Qingtian County, Zhejiang province [10 km outside Qingtian County town]. Mostly light green, but found in other colors, it is one of the three most popular forms of stone used to make seals and was the most common stone for seals made in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Mostly pyrophyllite
Qingtian Fengmen
See: feng men qing
Qingtian Multi-layer Stone
See: qing tian qian ceng shí
Qingtian Padauk
See: zi tan dong, zi tan hua su zhang
Qingtian Stone
See: qing tian shi
Qingtian Wuchi Red
See: wu chi hong shi
Red Sandalwood Jelly
See: zi tan dong
Ring Jelly Stone
See: huan dong
Rong yan 溶岩
Pinyin: róng yán. Calcite. Somewhat harder than Chinese seal stone; not tradionally used for seals.
Ruan lan ding 軟蘭丁
Pinyin: ruăn [lan ding.] A form of Qingtian stone.
Ruan yu 軟玉
Pinyin: ruăn yù. Nephrite (jade).
Sandalwood Jelly Stone
See: zi tan dong
Serpentine
A stone (2.5-4 on the Mohs scale) in the serpentine group. Sometimes called “Teton Jade” and often found as a substitute for jade. Antigorite mostly used for art. See also: she bao shi, she wen shi.
Shan cao dong 鱔草凍
Pinyin: shàn căo dòng. Eel Weed Jelly, a form of Shoushan Shuikeng stone.
Shan keng 山坑
Pinyin: shān kēng. Mountain Pit Stone, a variety of Shoushan stone.
She bao shi 蛇寶石
Pinyin: shé băo shí. [Mineral] serpentine. See also: she wen shi, serpentine.
She wen shi 蛇紋石
Pinyin: shé wén shí. [Mineral] serpentine. See also: she bao shi, serpentine.
Shi hui hua 石灰華
Pinyin: shí huī huá. Travertine; tufa.
Shi jian shi 石碱石 / 石撿石
Pinyin: shí jiăn shí. Soapstone. See also: kuai hua shi, la shi.
Shi yu 石玉
Pinyin: shí yù. Jadeite.
Shou ning shi 壽寧石
Pinyin: shòu níng shí. Shouning Stone.
Shou shan shi 壽山石
Pinyin: shòu shān shí. Shoushan Stone. Quarried in Shoushan Village, 40 km north of Fuzhou City, Fujian Province. Also called húshí (壺石 kettle stone) or tăshí (塔石 tower stone). Glossy and wax-like. Available in many colors, it is one of the three most popular forms of stone used for seals. Includes Tiankeng (field pit stone—the most valuable of the Shoushan stone), Shuikeng (water pit stone), and Shankeng (mountain pit stone). A form of Agalmatolite/Pyrophyllite.
Shou shan ban tou ming 壽山半透明
Pinyin: shòu shān bàn tòu míng. Shoushan “Taiji Head” Stone, lit. Shoushan “tranlucent/semi-transparent.”
Shouning Stone
See: shou ning shi
Shoushan
see: shou shan shi
Shoushan Cinnabar
See: zhu sha hong gao shan shi
Shoushan Stone
See: shou shan shi
Shoushan Taiji Head Stone
See: shou shan ban tou ming
Shui cao 水草
Pinyin: shuĭ [cao.] “[Water grass],” a form of Qingtian stone.
Shui jing dong 水晶凍
Pinyin: shuĭ jīng dòng. Crystal Jelly, a form of Shoushan Shuikeng stone.
Shui keng 水坑
Pinyin: shuĭ kēng. Water Pit Stone, a variety of Shoushan stone. Includes Dongyoushi (frozen oil stone), Huandong (ring jelly), Huangdong (yellow jelly), Manaodong (agate jelly), Shancaodong (eel weeds jelly), Shuijingdong (crystal jelly), Taohuadong (peach blossom jelly), and Yunaodong (fish brain jelly).
Soapstone
Named for its slippery feel. A term often used for any soft stone. This causes a lot of confusion because most information in English says the Chinese use soapstone for seals, which is in fact not usually the case. From Wikipedia: “Pyrophyllite, a mineral very similar to talc, is sometimes called soapstone in the generic sense since its physical characteristics and industrial uses are similar, and because it is also commonly used as a carving material. However, this mineral typically does not have such a soapy feel as soapstone.” See: Steatite
Soy Sauce Jelly Stone
See: jiang you dong
Steatite
The softest stone. A massive form of talc. Because of it’s greasy feeling it is also called soapstone. Be careful when using this material as it can be found along with asbestos; be sure to wear a dust mask. Most of the steatite I have found locally has been too soft to use for seals. For the same reason this is why I suspect the ancient Chinese sometimes used this material for seals intended as grave offerings – it was easy to carve and didn’t need to stand up to much use.
Ta shi 塔石
Pinyin: tă shí. Tower Stone, another name for Shoushan stone.
Taiji Head Stone
See: shou shan ban tou ming
Talc
Another name for steatite. When ground down it is made into talcum powder. See: steatite
Tao hua dong 桃花凍
Pinyin: táo huā dòng. Peach Blossom Jelly, a form of Shoushan Shuikeng stone.
Thousand-layer-vein Stone
See: qian ceng wen.
Tian huang shi 田黃石
Pinyin: tián huáng shí. Field Yellow Stone, a form of Shoushan stone. “The material consists mainly of nacrite, but may also contain minor illite or dickite in varying proportions. The most valuable variety consists of golden yellow nacrite with a coating of colourless, transparent to semi-transparent dickite. This material is only known from the Banlian gravel beds near Shoushan, Fuzhou Prefecture, Fujian Province. The Chinese consider Tianhuang stone as a variety of Shoushan stone although true Shoushan stone mainly consists of pyrophyllite. This material is the most valuable variety of the so-called Tianhuang Stone. It is traded in China for very high prices.” (Mindat.org)
Tian keng 田坑
Pinyin: tián kēng. Field Pit Stone, the most valuable variety of Shoushan stone.
Tianhuang Stone
See: tián huáng shí
Tong yin 銅印
Pinyin: tóng yìn. Copper seal.
Tower Stone
See: ta shi
Water Pit Stone
See: shui keng
Wu chi hong shi 武池紅石
Pinyin: wŭ chí hóng shí. Wuchi Red, a form of Qingtian stone.
Wuchi Red
See: wu chi hong shi
Xian ju shi 仙居石
Pinyin: xiān jū shí. Xianju Stone, quarried in Dahong village southeast of Xianju in Zhejiang Province.
Xiang ya 象牙
Pinyin: xiàng yá. Elephant’s tusk, elephant ivory. Occasionally used for seals.
Xiang ya bai shi 象牙白石
Pinyin: xiàng yá bái shí. Balin Ivory Stone.
Xianju Stone
See: xian ju shi
Xiao shan shi
Xiaoshan Stone, quarried in Xiaoshan District, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province. An opaque stone.
Xiaoshan Stone
See: xiao shan shi
Xinjiang Yili Stone
See: yi li deng guang dong
Xue hua shi gao 雪花石膏
Pinyin: xuĕ huā shí gāo. Alabaster, a soft stone not traditionally used for seals.
Yellow Jelly Stone
See: huang dong
Yi li deng guang dong 伊犁燈光凍
Pinyin: yī lí dēng guāng dòng. Yili Lamplight Jelly, a stone from Xinjiang province.
Yili Stone
See: yi li deng guang dong
Yu nao dong 魚腦凍
Pinyin: yú năo dòng. Fish Brain Jelly, a form of Shoushan Shuikeng and Qingtian stone.
Yu zi bing 魚子冰
Pinyin: yú zi [bing.] Fish Roe Ice, a form of Qingtian stone.
Yu zi dong 魚子凍
Pinyin: yú zi dòng. Fish Roe Jelly, a form of Qingtian stone.
Yue wei zi 月尾紫
A form of Shoushan stone.
Yun nan kong que shi 雲南孔雀石
Pinyin: yun nan kŏng què shí. Malachite from Yunnan. Sometimes used for seals.
Zhejiang Xianju Stone
See: xian ju shi
Zhu sha dong 朱砂凍
Pinyin: zhū shā dòng. Cinnabar Jelly, a form of Changhua stone.
Zhu sha hong gao shan shi 朱砂紅高山石
Pinyin: zhū shā hóng gāo shān shí. “Cinnabar red high mountain stone,” also called “Shoushan Cinnabar,” a form of red Shoushan stone.
Zi tan dong 紫檀凍
Pinyin: zĭ tán dòng. Red Sandalwood Jelly, a form of Qingtian stone.
Zi tan hua qing 紫檀花青
Pinyin: zĭ tán huā qīng. Red Sandalwood Indigo, also called “Qingtian Padauk,” a form of Qingtian stone.
Zi tan hua su zhang 紫檀花素章
Pinyin: zĭ tán huā sù zhāng. Qingtian Padauk, a form of Qingtian stone.