A censer is a bowl made to hold burning incense, often crafted from bronze, copper, porcelain, or stone. The first Chinese vessels designed specifically for burning incense appeared during the Western Han Dynasty, from 206 BC to 8 AD. By this time, ancient bowls like the ceramic dou or three-legged bronze ding had been adapted as vessels to hold ceremonial offerings, and eventually became the prototypes for incense holders.

Censers were made for several distinct uses that signified social status, from the incense baskets used to perfume bedclothes or garments to the small hand censers used as hand-warming devices in winter. Filled with incense made from dried aromatic plants and essential oils, many were utilized for religious or secular rituals, like funerary services or prayer offerings.

The simplest vessels were decorated with small geometric shapes, animal designs, or an ornamental band, while more complex censers made from precious metals might include cloisonné enamel or repousse engravings, as well as ornately carved lids. A few even took the form of jade or celadon-glazed statues, like a standing duck or a sailing ship. However, the most common form of Chinese censer was generally mounted on a three-footed base, or tripod, with two looped handles along its sides.

By the time of the Song Dynasty, from 960 to 1279 AD, incense culture was common to all classes in China. Along with flower arranging, tea-whisking, and painting, incense burning was regarded as one of the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar. During the Ming Dynasty, from 1368 to 1644 AD, censers were adapted to more modern forms, such as the rectangular bronze vessels with delicate openwork lids from this period.

Boshanlu, or mountain censers, were particularly elaborate. Shaped like a miniature mountaintop on a narrow base and suspended over a larger ashtray, boshanlu were inspired by the Taoist pursuit of immortality. The pierced covering that fitted over the boshanlu’s bowl was carved with intricate peaks to resemble the “mountains of the immortals,” allowing smoke to rise like mist from its craggy forms.

Another ingenious censer design was the incense sphere, consisting of a latticed metal orb that hung from a long chain and opened in half along a center hinge. This sphere surrounded a small cup that was weighted with a bearing to ensure the incense wouldn’t spill as it was carried.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]



Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Old Chinese Bronze Incense Burner Marked White Jade Zitan Cover Asian China MingChinese Silver Inlaid Bronze Censer, 18th Century, Incense Burner, 602.90 GramsSmall Chinese Jadeite Tripod Covered Censer With Hardwood Stand, Early 20th C.Chinese Late Ming To Early Qing Pure White Porcelain Incense Burner,Antique Qing Dynasty Chinese Asian Signed Bronze Cloisonne Censer 3# Old Rare Antique Chinese Bronze / Copper Hand Warmer 19th CenturyAntique Rare Chinese Bronze Censer Wood Cover Tripod Ming 17th C. Antique Large Blue White Porcelain Tripod Mask Head Censer Pot Jardinere Antique Chinese Bronze Censer Incense Burner Xuande Marked P50Very Unique Antique Chinese Incense Burner Bronze Handles With Food DogVery Rare Antique Chinese Chenqiaosheng Mark Bronze Ears Incense BurnerAntique Chinese Brass Incense Burner Censer - Marked - With StandChinese Very Old Ming Bronze Incense Burner It Marked Buddha Qing Asian ChinaAntique Chinese Bronze Double Elephant Incense Burner Chenqiaosheng Marked 68Wonderful Antique Qing Dynasty Large 1880s Chinese Incense Burner BronzeChinese Cloisonne Enamel Bronze Dragon Beast Elephant Incense Burner BhChinese Cloisonne Hand-carved Incense Burner & Buddha Lid W Qianlong Mark Z567Very Fine Antique Chinese Cloisonne Enamel Double Lions Incense BurnerAntique Chinese Censor, Hand Warmer, Incense Burner, Brass Or BronzeChinese Cloisonne Hand-carved Incense Burner & Lid W Xuan De Mark Z533Old Chinese Tibet Silver Handwork Elephant Incense Burner C540Fine Antique Chinese Bronze Censer Handwarmer Xuande Marked P41China Brass Handwork Carved Dragon Statue Incense Burner W Xuande MarkTibetan Silver Hand-carved Crane Incense Burner &turtle Lid G756Antique Chinese Bronze Bamboo Censer Incense Burner Xuande Marked 36Chinese Bronze Gilt Handwork Dragon Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Xuande Mark Chinese Bronze Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Xuande Mark Chinese Cloisonne Hand-carved Incense Burner & Deer Lid W Xuan De Mark Z566Chinese Silver Copper Handwork Dragon Tortoise Incense Burner Collection Kangxi Years Cloisonne Three-legged Brass Like Ear Incense Burner TgChinese Tibetan Silver Hand-carved Gourd Incense Burner W Qing Dynasty MarkChinese Hand-carved Bronze Longding Incense Burner W Xuande Mark G545Chinese Brass Hand-carved Incense Burner & Dragon Lid W Xuande Mark G50110'' Oriental Vintage Handwork Chilong Dragon Silver Copper Incense Burner & LidChinese Cloisonne Handwork Flower Incense Burner Z72Chinese Bronze Cloisonne Handwork Carved Flower & Deer Lid Incense Burner Csy427Antique Chinese Bronze Carved Dragon Censer Incense Burner 109Tibet Silver Handwork Carved Fish Incense Burner W Xuande Mark G703Chinese Bronze Cloisonne Handwork Carved Dog Incense Burner W Xuande Mark Csy396Chinese Antique White Jade Hand Carved Incense Burner&lid Z989Chinese Cloisonne Handwork Flower Incense Burner W Qing Dynasty Qianlong Mark Chinese Vintage Brass Handwork Carved Incense Burners Csy345Chinese Tibetan Silver Hand-carved Incense Burner &lion Lid W Qianlong MarkTibetan Silver Hand-carved Crane Incense Burner &turtle Lid G756Chinese Silver Copper Handwork The Zodiac Incense Burner W Qianlong Mark D281Chinese Silver Copper Hand-carved Dragon Incense Burner W Xuande Mark G569Chinese Brass Hand-carved Incense Burner & Dragon Lid W Xuande Mark G501Archaic Patina Bronze Statue Gilt Liuniao Birds Rare Incense Burner /censer PlSilver Copper Carved Elephant Incense Burner& Lid W Ming Dynasty Xuan De Mark Asia Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Carving Bronze Ssangyong CenserChinese Hand Carved 100% Natural Jade Dragon Incense BurnerVintage Tibet Silver Copper Handwork Carved Qilin Incense Burner W Qing DynastyChinese Collectable Tibet Silver Handwork Dragon Pattern Incense Burners C587Chinese Tibetan Silver Hand-carved Peacock Incense Burner & Lid X0220Oriental Vintage Cupronickel Handwork Dragon Incense Burner W Qianlong MarkChinese Cupronickel Hand-carved Dragon Incense Burner&lid W Xuande Mark Chinese Tibetan Silver Hand-carved Characters Incense Burner&lid W Qing DynastyRare! Old & Big Tibet Incense Burner Big Copper Cloisonne Incense Burner, Fine!Tibet Silver Hand-carved Bergamot Incense Burner W Ming Xuan De Mark G854Chinese Brass Hand Carved Dragon Incense Burner W Qing Generation Mark D1171