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    

Antique 19th C Or Earlier Chinese Bronze Tripod Censer W/ Mark To Base18th C. Chinese Celadon Glazed Tripod Incense Burner With Rope Twist HandlesChinese Bronze Censer, Liu Hai & Three-legged Toad, Late Ming Dynasty PeriodLarge Chinese Qing Dynasty Bronze Censer Incense Burner Xuande Marked Lc081Antique Chinese Bronze Censer Lamp Set Hollywood Regency Qilin Beast QLge 12" Antique Chinese Carved Soapstone Lidded Incense Burner Censor & Stand #1Antique Chinese Turquoise Glaze Porcelain Gu Vase Gu Form Vase 19th Century Zk251 Excellent Chinese Bronze Incense Burner MarkedD3096 Tsfk Chinese Antique Gold Spotted Tripod Bronze Incense Burner W/standOil Lamp. Ming. Pipe. Opium.Fine Old Chinese 19th Red Copper Censer/incense Burner~old With Soft Age PatinaMatching Pair Of Oriental 'koi' Cast Metal Incense Burners With Six Figure Mark Antique Bronze Chinese Censer - Foo Dog Lion Head Handles - Xuande MarkB509: Chinese Green Stone Gyoku Ware Incense Burner With Wooden Stand.Collectible Decorated Old Tibet Silver Carved Demon Hold Dragon Incense BurnerFine Pair Chinese Carved Soapstone Lidded Shi-shi Incense Burners On Stands #2Chinese Silver Bronze Dragon Incense Burner & Lid W Ming Dynasty Xuande Mark6.5" Chinese Hardwood Carved Teapot/incense Burners/vase Stand Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Tibet Silver Carved Dragon Incense BurnerL@@k! Awesome Antique 19c Chinese Bronze Tripod Design Incense Burner Censer BinCollectable China Old Handwork Copper Lotus Shape Superb Incense Burner Cp42d38Chinese Silver Bronze Six Dragon Incense Burner & LidAntique Chinese Bronze Censer And Incense Burner W LidDecorated Old China Superb Copper Lotus Flowers Shape Incense Burner Cp43e02Antique Chinese Bronze Incense Burner MarkedChinese Collection Old Brass Carved Lotus Flower Incense Burner CenserChinese Bronze Gilt Carved Lotus Incense Burner & Frog Lid W Qianlong MarkChinese Bronze Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Xuande MarkOld Handwork China Copper Lotus Shape Incense Burner Carved Frog Cp42d52Oriental Vintage Handwork Cloisonne Flower Incense BurnerChinese Silver Copper Incense Burner & Lid W Ming Dynasty Xuan De Mark10'' Oriental Vintage Handwork Chilong Dragon Silver Copper Incense Burner & LidSmall Chinese Cast Bronze Square Ding ~ Brown Lacquer ~ Foo Dog FinialVintage Asian Chinese Incense Burner Pot With 3 LegsJade Copper Vintage Chinese Old Handwork Carving Kirin Incense BurnerCloisonne And Gilt Chicken Or PheasantRare Chinese Old Natural Jade Carving Incense Burner Worth CollectingCollectable Old Handwork Superb China Copper Lotus Shaped Incense Burner Cp41b43Chinese Bronze Dragon Phoenix Incense Burner W Peony & Lid W Phoenix Zk487 Excellent Chinese Bronze Censer Incense Burner MarkedChina Old Handwork Superb Copper Incense Burner Armored 3 Tigers Cp42d35Chinese Bronze Collect Dragon Head Statue Old Hanzi Cloud Incense Burner CenserChinese Brass Foundry Censer - A Lot Of CraneChinese Brass Carving Dragon Incense BurnerChinese Copper-nickel Alloy Casting Incense BurnerOld Decorated Handwork Superb Hollow Fish Shape Copper Incense Burner Cp42c76Chinese Old Hand-carved Brass Dragon Incense BurnerAntique Chinese Brass Incense Burner #11Silver Bronze Carved Peony Incense Burner & Dog Lid W Ming Dynasty Xuan De MarkCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Tibet Silver Carved Dragon Incense BurnerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Tibet Silver Carved Dragon Incense BurnerChinese Copper-nickel Alloy Casting Double Dragon Incense BurnerChinese Bronze Incense Burner W Ming Dynasty Xuande Mark NrChinese Bronze Carved Dragon 4 Foot Incense Burner & Lid W Qing Dynasty Mark100% Natural Mihuang Jade Incense Burner & Lid W Pixiu DragonChina Old Handwork Copper Carved Tibet Incantation Incense Burner Cp42d53China Old Handwork Collectable Copper Carved Dragon Incense Burner Cp42d46Old Handwork Collectable Bronze Tripod Incense Burner Totem Patterns Cp42d20Chinese Bronze Carved Guanyin Buddha Incense Burners Handwork Old Decorated Jade Incense Burner Armored Guanyin Kirin Buddha Ib43e09