Tallies, also known as fu, have their origins in ancient China, and many of the earliest examples were fashioned from bronze in the form of tigers. Known simply as 'tiger tallies,' they were crafted in two mirror pieces, and were used as methods of authenication. One portion would be held by a particular individual, and the second half by another, who would present the matching portion as a means of assuring his or her identity or right to pass or enter. Tallies made from precious metals or valuable materials were typically reserved for individuals of the highest rank.
Compare a related white jade tally in the Qing Court Collection (fig. 1), illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - III - Jadeware, Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 20-21, no. 16. Dated to the Qing dynasty, the tally is also carved in the archaistic manner, surmounted by humanoid figures reminiscent of those of the Tang or Liao dynasties. While of a different form, the illustrated example joins at the base to form a taotie mask, quite similar to, though not as finely done, as that on the current lot.