Stamp Carving in Hanoi

There were times when wooden stamp carving seemed to be forgotten. However, it has now been revived and is strongly developing, featuring new traits of a traditional craft of Hanoians. Walking around on Hang Quat Street, one can see artisans quietly and painstakingly carving wood blocks to make small stamps of different shapes.

Long ago wooden stamps were used by Confucian scholars to imprint his name or school name on books and the stamps have round or rectangular shapes. Nowadays, the wooden stamps are engraved with various shapes and patterns, such as street names, 12 zodiac animals, conical hats, calligraphic letters, signatures, Khue Van Pavilion, Vietnamese girls in Ao dai and Dong Ho folk paintings.

We visited a small shop at No. 62 Hang Quat Street and talked with Dinh Thien Hung, the shop owner. He said: “This job requires the artisan’s carefulness and high concentration. Just a little negligence may lead the knife astray and the work will be wasted”. Only watching Hung meticulously carving each drawing on the stamp with curving lines and delicate motifs, we know that the young artisan is very expert in this craft.

A foreign tourist learns about stamp carving at Phuc Loi Shop (No.6, Hang Quat Street).

A stamp carving shop on Hang Quat Street, Hanoi.

Meticulously carving on a stamp.

Introducing models of stamps to customers.

Stamps are used by scholars to imprint their names on parallel sentences.

 Wooden stamps of diverse styles and sizes.

Stamps sold in Hung’s store are diverse, ranging from finger-size to half-a-notebook size with a rich content. Most of the stamps on Hang Quat street are made of wood from Long muc trees, a soft wood with a fine grain and quick ink absorbency so that the stamp carver can easily engrave elegant and thin lines on it without the fear of it cracking or breaking.

Customers buy the stamps for different purposes so the carvers have to create their stamps with various content, sizes and models. They also carefully sketch the model on paper before carving on wood. As a result, the price of each wooden stamp ranges from tens of thousands of dong to a few hundred thousand dong depending on the difficulty of carving the lines.

We were talking at Hung’s store when Tashima Eruko, a Japanese girl, came to buy some small stamps. The girl said that she loved handmade products of Vietnam and she learned about the wooden stamps on Hang Quat Street through the internet. She wanted to order these stamps for her friends, each stamp engraved with the name of each person. Feeling excited when Hung put a red stamp on her hand, Tashima Eruko eagerly said: “I will buy this stamp to decorate my house, it’s so beautiful!” 

Story: Ngan Ha – Photos: Tat Son