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    

An Antique Chinese Bronze Censer 18th Century.An Antique Chinese Bronze Censer 17th/18th Century.xuande MarkWonderful Antique Chinese Incense Burner Bronze Very Good Mark No ReserveAn Antique Chinese Bronze Censer 18th Century.xuande MarkFine Chinese Porcelain Incense Burner Qianlong Mark Very Fine Chinese Bronze Censer Incense Burner Xuan Marked C69Asian Pewter Censer With Lion On Top.Very Rare Chinese Copper Incense Burner Marked (l628)Chinese Tibetan Silver Handwork Incense Burner --- Ghost Dragon 18 Inch/ China Folk Bronze Gilt Wall Hanging Bird Magpie Censer Incense Statue Nice Antique Signed Chinese Bronze Pomegranate Form Censer 18/19thc Seal MarkChinese Ming Dynasty Porcelain / Ceramic Green Lion Incense BurnerChinese Export Figural Buddha Deer Brass Censer Incense Burner W Pierced Bat LidChinese Silver Copper Hand-carved Toad & Gold Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Mark China Buddhist Silver Young Monk Statue Box Incense Burner W Ming DynastyChinese Brass Handmade Dragon And Phoenix Incense Burner W Kangxi MarkChinese Brass Handwork Bats Incense Burner W Qianlong Mark Cloisonne Handwork Carved Elephant Incense Burner& Ruyi Lid W Qing Dynasty MarkVery Rare Old Chinese Bronze Incense Burner Handle Censer Marked Xuande Wj426Chinese Ge-kiln Porcelain Incense BurnerChinese Silver Hand-carved Crane Incense Burner NrChinese Ancient Brass Hand-carved Lotus Style Incense BurnerChina Red Bronze Handwork Frog Incense Burner & Frog & Ingot Lid W Xuan De MarkChinese Hand-work Carved Incense Burner W Phoenix LidChinese Silver Copper Handwork Carving Flower Incense Burner W Xuande MarkChinese Cloisonne Bronze Handwork Carved Phoenix & Flower Incense Burners Csy469Rare Cloisonne Handwork Dragon Incense Burner & Foo Dog Lid W Xuande MarkChinese Bronze Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Xuande MarkChinese Brass Hand-carved Incense Burner W Xuande MarkVintage Brass Cloisonne Gilt Handwork Foo Dog Incense Burner & Lid W Xuande MarkBrass Hand Carved Lion Incense Burner & Maitreya Lid W Ming Dynasty Xuan De MarkChinese Hand-carved Longevity Thousand Crane Bronze Incense Burner NrVery Rare Chinese Copper Incense Burner With Xuan De Mark (l681)China Brass Handwork Carved Dragon Statue Incense Burner W Xuande MarkChinese Silver Bronze Dragon Incense Burner & Lid W Ming Dynasty Xuande MarkSilver Copper Handwork Carved Flower Pattern Incense Burner & Dragon LidA Fine Chinese Antique Bronze Vase, Early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)China Bronze Handwork Carved Lion Incense Burner & Lid Chinese Silver Copper Handwork Mandarin Duck Incense Burner Quality Superior Pure Copper Handmade Tibetan Buddhist Statues Incense BurnerChinese Old Handwork Tibet Bronze Carved Dragon Incense BurnerVintage Brass Crafted Lotus Flowers & Leaves Shaped Incense Burner Chinese Bronze Cloisonne Handwork Carved Dog Incense Burner W Xuande Mark Csy420Tibet Silve Copper Hand-carved Foo Dog & Dragon Incense Burner Csy613Chinese Brass Handwork Incense Burner & Hollow Out Lid W Kangxi MarkChinese Folk Myth Brass Soldier General Guan Gong Guan Yu Ride Horse StatueExquisite Chinese Natural Wood Carving Three-legged Incense BurnerChinese Hand-carved One Hundred Crane Longevity Silver CenserChinese Brass Cloisonne Gilt Handwork Fu Dog Incense Burner & Lid W Xuande MarkOld Type Manual Brass Vintage Hand Hammered Buddha Exorcist Incense Burner NrChinese Vintage Handwork Bronze Carved Dragon Incense BurnersChinese Silver Copper Handwork Carve Dragon Incense Burner Xuande Mark Csy671Tibet Silver Copper Hand-carved Fish Shape Incense Burner W Kangxi Mark Cs635Rare! Old & Big Tibet Incense Burner Big Copper Cloisonne Incense Burner, Fine!Chinese Bronze Gilt Hand-carved Kirin Incense Burner W Qianlong Mark Csyb299sF853: Popular Chinese Green Stone Gyoku Ware Incense Burner With Wooden StandCollect Old Chinese Antique Adder Qianlong Emperor PotChinese Old Handwork Tibet Bronze Carved Dragon Incense BurnerTibet Silver Copper Handwork Carved Dragon Incense Burner W Xuande Mark100% Natural Afghan White Jade Hand-craved Incense Burner & Lid W Pixiu Dragon