After being introduced to the court at Beijing by the Portuguese in the mid- to late-18th century, the use of tobacco spread among the upper class until it became a social ritual, first among the social elite and eventually through all classes. As its popularity grew, snuff bottles became a symbol of status and wealth. Its use tailed off after the fall of the Qing Dynasty and essentially disappeared after the establishment of the Republic of China. Today, snuff bottles are coveted by serious collectors who see value not only in the appearance, but also in the touch of the surface, because they were made to be held and therefore often have exceptionally smooth outer surfaces.
Heritage Auctions’ Asian Art Auction Sept. 12 in New York will include an extraordinary array of Chinese snuff bottles that will appeal to collectors at all levels, including:
1. A Very Fine Chinese White Jade Snuff Bottle and Cover (est. $10,000-15,000) from the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century, this bottle’s subtle, graceful carving accentuates the material’s pure white hue. White jade typically is graded based on the evenness and whiteness of its tone, and the material in this bottle is exceptional, and surely would have been considered a luxury accessory reserved for the Qing aristocracy.
2. An Exceptional Chinese Striated and Carved Glass Melon-Form Snuff Bottle from the Qianlong-Jiaqing Period (est. $2,500-3,000) is a beautiful piece made from a difficult material. There were few civilian glass shops around the turn of the 19th century, and it is hard to imagine the vines, leaves and butterfly carved into this bottle outside the walls of the Imperial glassworks in Beijing.
3. A Chinese Carved Suzhou Chalcedony Snuff Bottle with “Fu Lu Shou” Allegory (est. $1,200-1,800) from the Qing Dynasty stands 2-1/4 inches high. It’s carver – typical of those associated with the Suzhou School – incorporates the stone’s dark inclusions into the design. The bottle was acquired with wishes for a long and healthy life for its owner and friends who were welcome to partake of the snuff inside.
4. A Chinese Pudding Stone Snuff Bottle (est. $800-1,200) is a somewhat unusual cylindrical bottle and a good specimen of “puddingstone” – a name given to assorted conglomerates containing distinctly colored pebbles within a larger mass. This bottle likely would have been treasured by a gentleman with scholarly tastes, who could appreciate its earthy material and simple form, in contrast to some of the other bottles elaborately carved from other materials.
5. A Chinese Reverse Painted Rutilated Quartz Snuff Bottle With Gold Fish and Carp Motif from the Studio of Ye Zhongsan (est. $600-800) features an aquatic scene artfully painted by master snuff bottle painter Ye Zhongsan on the inside of this rutilated crystal bottle. Its location in the interior of the bottle means the design incorporates the slight murkiness and “hairs” of the quartz material to create the illusion of depth and debris in the water. This is another bottle that would have appealed to individuals, who would have appreciated the extraordinary painting on the inside of the bottle.
Written by: Steve Lansdale
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