A Chinese Name Seal
A “chop” (sometimes called a “name seal”) is an artifact from ancient Chinese times that surprisingly survives to this day.
After the Chinese language appeared in its written form, Chinese writing was an exclusive activity belonging to the world of scholars and well educated government officials.
Some surmise that the tradition of using stone “chops” or seals came about as a result of the predominant illiteracy of the Chinese population of old times (thousands of years ago). Of course some people (businessmen included) were illiterate and could not affix their name to the contracts written during the course of their business dealings. A stone seal was the perfect answer to this dilemma.
A seal was a kind of old-fashioned rubber stamp. It was crafted usually from a choice piece of beautiful or precious stone which bore a flat smooth edge. Upon this edge was carved the business man’s name (or family name, or a symbol) in an ancient Chinese typeface.
After a contract was drawn up and approved, the parties in agreement would dip the flat edge of their seals in bright red ink – signifying a signature written in red blood! The seal bearers would then press the flat ink-bearing edge against the contract paper. By affixing these stone “signatures” upon the paper, the contract was as good as signed.
Another benefit that a stone seal provides is a continuously consistent image of the constituent’s signature “set in stone”. In other words, the signature rendered by the stone was difficult to forge. Usually only one stone was created per person or family, thus further reducing the chance of forgery.
Later on, the use of a stone seal continued to spread to the point where they were used to render a signature of authority on behalf of entire businesses or formalized groups of people (such as a government entity). Because these entities or groups of people obviously carried more clout than any one individual person, usually these seals were larger in size to represent the collective power and grandeur of that entity.
As an example of relative sizes of seals, my personal stone signature seal is about 2-1/2 cm wide (see IMAGE), while the seal of the company I worked for in China was perhaps five or 6 cm wide (not shown out of professional courtesy – since to show it indiscriminately in public would be a violation of its use for business only).
Basically: the larger the seal’s image made on the page, the larger or more powerful the entity was that held that seal.