History of Chinese Name Seals
The exact time that Chinese name seals became popular is not known, but records have traced their origin back to at least 770 B.C. Originally they were popularized by merchants. These traders' official seals would be a mark to signify genuine goods, verify transactions, and functioned almost as a contract. Later nobles started to use chops as a signature and the emperor as well. The emperor's name seal was made out of a rare jade and was exceptionally large, about the size of a cantaloupe. This was called the imperial seal. It was illegal for anyone other than the emperor to use jade for their name seals. Instead the nobles used gold, silver, and other precious metals while commoners used stones.
Eventually Chinese name seals became especially common for calligraphers. The seal was the final touch on their works of art. Affixing their seal like a signature showed their pride in a job well done. Chinese calligraphers still use these for every painting they make. Now they traditionally use two, one to start off the calligraphy art and one to finish it. The chop used to start the calligraphy painting is typically a blessing and the one to finish it is their name. Artists who paint backgrounds just use one chop since in a painting an artist doesn't necessarily know where he will start.
Today Chinese chops make great souvenirs not only for artists exploring Chinese calligraphy, but for anyone wanting to experience authentic Asian culture.