Chinese Snuff Bottles

Chinese Snuff Bottles

Snuff bottles have held a specific allure for collectors since they were first
produced in China in the early 18th century. Known as ‘snuff boxes’ in other
cultures, the delicate containers, made of jade, bone, glass, and ivory, were created
to hold ground powdered tobacco (called snuff). The bottles were initially made for
the Chinese Emperor of the Qing Dynasty after he received a gift of a snuff box
and realized that the tobacco-quite the expensive item in Asia at the time-could be
kept fresher in Chinese medicine bottles (building a better mousetrap, in this case,
snuff box to bottle). As with many items like this, eventually snuff bottles were
‘mass’ produced in greater quantities, nobles of every stripe yearning to display
such high society trinkets; in the 19th century the public caught on to collecting
and using them. The Chinese Snuff Bottles on display in EHM sport Cornelian
stoppers and are painted from the inside, featuring at least one nude female
adorning a side. In some of our bottles, as many as four ladies can be seen on a
side.

We can date our bottles as being made from the late 19th century to the first few
decades of the 20th when inside-painted snuff bottles were produced; the paint
used being watercolor. And of course, to have each reveal such an interesting and
explicit tableaux makes the items even more interesting. Given that the Chinese
have a ‘tonal’ language, where any sound could have three tones and mean three
different things, the scenes depicted on our Chinese Snuff Bottles are some of the
most distinct a collector could hope to find in this particular item of miniature
Chinese craftsmanship.

There is even a web portal supporting further exploration of Chinese Snuff
Bottles/Boxes, The International Chinese Snuff Box Society, that can be found
here:
https://snuffbottlesociety.org/

– R.G., Dr. Victoria and Mircalla McNeely

Image Credit: Christies

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