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    

18th Century Chinese Bronze Censer Qing Bronze Censer Tripod Archaistic Elephant Head Incense Burner 1800's Nr YqzOld Antique Chinese Bronze Censer Very Fine Quality Buddha Handles Very Rare19th Chinese Antique Teapot Style Censer E800Vintage Chinese Carved Root Wood Naturalistic Censer QingVintage Chinese Carved Wood Censer & Pierced Cover QingLiao Jin Period Chinese Antique White Jade Censer Top Qiu Shan Subject E786Vintage Chinese Blanc De Chine Porcelain Censer QingChinese Antique Jin Dynasty Dingyao Censer E673Chinese Bronze Tripod Censer W. Mark 19.cen. 7 12Rare Large Chinese Ming / Qing Period Bronze Archaistic Ding Censer Chinese Antique Song Dynasty Light Blue Glazed Censer E658Chinese Antique Brown Jade Censer Top E679Late 19th Chinese Antique Ge Type Porcelain Censer E647Vintage Chinese Jade / Jadeite / Hardstone Censer Hand Carved With DragonsVintage Chinese Jade / Hardstone Censer Hand Carved With Dragons And BatsFine Antique Chinese Bronze Peach Form Censer & Lid Incense Burner 19th CenturyAntique / Vintage Porcelain Chinese Incense Figurine W / Dragons Foo Dog FigureOld Chinese Dynasty Cloisonne Bronze Beast Head Flower Box Incense Burner CenserChinese Archaic Bronze Tang Dynasty Style Censor As Ice Bucket 20th CenturyAntique Chinese Bronze Double Lions Censer Incense Burner Xuande Marked S24Antique Chinese Bronze Censer Incense Burner Yu Tang Qing Wan Marked S120Excellent Chinese Song Dy Jun Porcelain Incense Burner H135Perfect Antique Chinese Bronze Censer Incense Burner Chen Qiaosheng Marked T58Old Chinese Dynasty Cloisonne Bronze Beast Head Flower Box Incense Burner CenserChinese Bronze Copper Gilt Jixiang Elephant Statue Box Incense Burner Tt20China Old Dynasty Silver Lucky Elephant Incense Burner Censer / Daqing MarkChinese Cloisonne Hand Carved Incense Burner W Qing Dynasty Mark Er0114Chinese Carving Brass Ssangyong Show Bead Brass Incense Burner Qianlong MarkOld Tibet Buddhism Brass Carved Elephant Tripod Incense BurnerAntique Chinese Brass Bronze Covered Urn Or Censer W/ Foo Dogs - 12" Tall SignedChinese Silver Include Copper Vintage Hand Hammered Old Flower Incense BurnerChina's Rare Copper Incense Burner, Cicada StatueChina Brass Handwork Carved Dragon Statue Incense Burner W Xuande Mark Gd4005Old Marked Chinese Copper 8 Eight Immortals Instruments Incense Burner CenserUnusual Old Chinese Bronze Incense Burner Cover Censer "xuande" Mark Antique Chinese Bronze Incense Burner H2376: Chinese Cinnabar Glaze Shapely Incense Burner Tea CeremonyChinese Bronze Handwork Carved Incense Burner & Dragon Lid Pa0908Old Cloisonne Handcrafed 3 Feet Incense Burner Pa0909H519: Chinese Wooden Shapely Incense Burner Tea Ceremony100% Natural White Jade Hang Carved Incense Burner Pj289100% Natural White Jade Hand Carved Hollow Incense Burner Afh11100% Natural Yellow Jade Hand Carved Hollow Incense Burner Afh04100% Natural White Jade Hand Carved Hollow Incense Burner Afh10100% Natural White Jade Hand Carved Hollow Incense Burner Afh11Antique 19th C. Chinese Bronze Censer Bowl Signed 6 Character Mark Chinese Old Cupronickel Carved Dragon And Lion Foo Dog Statue Incense BurnerOld Type Manual Brass Vintage Hand Hammered Buddha Exorcist Incense Burner NrChinese Copper Gilt Hand Carved Buddha&lotus Incense Burner W Qianlong Mark Chinese Silve Copper Hand Carved Ganoderma Incense Burner Bt050Old Copper Hand Carved Chinese Zodiac Incense Burner With Ming Xuande Markht070Chinese Bronze Handwork Carved Incense Burner Qt008Chinese Tibetan Silver Hand-carved 2 Dragon Incense Burner W Hollow Foo Dog Lid Chinese Cloisonne Handwork Carved Flower Incense Burner W Xuande Mark Pa0693Chinese Cloisonne Hand Carved Incense Burner & Lion Lid W Xuande Mark Dy0401Old Silver Copper Handwork Carved Cute Little Monk Incense Burner W Xuande Mark Chinese Cloisonne Hand Carved Unicorn Incense Burner W Xuande Mark Er0113China Old Buddhism Silver Mahakala Buddha Lion Beast Statue Incense BurnerChinese Old Hand-made Dragon Statues & Lion Lid Bronze Incense Burner Nr