The inscription may be read, shan fu wu, and deciphered as 'clan sign ('mountain') Father Wu'.
Except for the rare beak-like projection of the spout and the conforming beak-like extension of the cover, the shape of this lei and its decoration is quite similar to two published examples, which have a more sharply tapering body and a circular domed cover. Like the present lei, they have a pair of loop handles surmounted by a bovine mask and suspended loose rings. A third handle is on the lower body, and they also have bosses with whorl decoration on the shoulder and cover and the same kind of narrow shallow grooved band at the bottom of the shoulder and bowstring bands encircling the neck. They are also raised on a spreading foot. See R. W. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, 1987, pp. 422-3, no. 75; and M. Loehr, Ritual Vessels of Bronze Age China, The Asia Society, New York, 1968, pp. 100-1, no. 42, for a lei now missing its cover and ring handles in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Another example with cover and ring handles was sold in these rooms, 18 September 1997, lot 328.
The addition of a spout to this type of vessel would have made it more effective as a pouring vessel. The cover was obviously designed to cover and protect the spout, but in making the projection in imitation of a bird's beak, utility was taken to a far more imaginative level. Even the existing bosses on the cover flanking the 'beak' were ideally used to represent eyes, while the body was made fuller and rounder than the aforementioned lei, so that it is more like that of a plump bird. When looked at as a whole, even the loop handles now become somewhat wing-like in their placement on the shoulder.
The form of this lei is particularly rare at this early date, as the other bird-head wine vessels that are known are of hu form, and of later, 5th century BC, date. Two are illustrated by J. So, Eastern Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, vol. III, Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, 1995, pp. 274-5, figs. 48.1 (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) and fig. 48.3 (after Deydier 1980, pl. 56). The former has a plain body and the latter a concentrically grooved body, and both have a bird's head cover. See, also, the bird-head hu sold in these rooms, 25 March 1998, lot 63, which had a particularly plump plain body with taotie masks suspending ring handles on the shoulder and another on the lower body.
Technical examination report available upon request.