When I was a young man, upon my Grandfather’s death, I received a special momento from his travels abroad that would delight me through my entire design career. It was a name seal he received as a gift during one of his visits to China. Colloquially called a “chop”, the seal was an intricately carved block of jade with his name translated into Chinese characters that is used as a stamp. I always wanted one of my own, and when I moved to Asia it was high on my list of things to do.
Still commonly used today in China, Japan and Korea, chops are used in lieu of or in tandem with signatures, particularly on important documents, contracts, office paperwork and personal papers. While there are many types (including some which need to be registered with the government to be legally binding), made from a variety of materials (anything from plastic and wood to ivory and gold), they all basically do the same thing: sign stuff – and they look cool doing it.
If you’re like me and love design, Asian culture, or marking stuff up, here’s some thoughts to consider when getting your own chop:
* Being in Korea, the first thing I discovered was that I could have one made with either traditional Chinese characters (usually done with more formal seals) or have one made using Korean characters (more commonly found on informal personal seals). I opted for the latter, since I wanted a distinctly Korean momento. They also make a great gift so I even picked one up for a friend.
* I was actually surprised to discover that pretty much any stationery shop makes chops, and will do so while you wait. Thanks to modern technology, aka the laser cutter, it only takes a few minutes. You start by choosing the actual stamp itself. Inexpensive wood or plastic ones cost around US$10 – 30. The more ornate, carved chops with animals or floral motifs on the handles can start to get a little more pricey. If you’re wanting something in jade or the like, expect to pay a few hundred bucks. If you want to go that route though, I’d suggest seeking out a shop that specializes in chops and not just your average art supply or stationery store.
* The next step is to have the chop makers translate your name if you haven’t already had that done. Common names are easy, and most already have accepted phonetic conversions. If your name is unusually long or rare, this step might require a little finesse. You don’t actually have to use a name either, any word or (short) phrase is could make for a nice chop, too.
* After you’ve figured out what you want your mark to say, the chop makers will set the type on a computer and show you several choices of fonts. Be careful here, and take your time to find something that looks nice. I made my decision too quickly and was a little disappointed with the result (I think my chop kinda looks like the Korean equivalent of “USDA grade A beef”). I made a much better choice the second time around with my friend’s and his came out really well.
That’s pretty much it. You’ve got your chop, and can now stamp stuff to your heart’s content. Just be sure to buy ink for it before you go. While any ink pad will work, the best ink to get is the ink paste they sell specifically for chops, which lends a more traditional and authentic feel.
And with that being said, I offer you my sincerest chop . . .
Signed and Sealed,