Collecting and Bribery - Chinese Snuff Bottles
A personal view by John Neville Cohen
There is little doubt that the finest bottles were made in the reigns of Chien Lung 1736 - 95, Chia Ching 1796 - 1820 and Tao Kuang 1821 - 50.
All Chinese artwork reached the highest of peaks during Chien Lung's reign thanks to his patronage and encouragement.
Unlike most other great works of art, in collecting snuff bottles we have no artists' signatures. I use the term
'artist' deliberately rather than craftsman, for when studying the finest of bottles brilliant though the skills are, there is also superb artistry involved.
Taking snuff was not just a habit, but closer to a fashion in the way it was
practiced by the Manchus right up to the Emperor.
Friends would exchange snuff when meeting in the street or at social occasions, but a number of etiquette rules were demanded.
Rather like with the well known tea ceremony, where appreciation of the containers and the aroma were of great importance, so it was with snuff:- sometimes partaking a little of the snuff offered, otherwise just sniffing the aroma, but always paying a lot of attention to the bottle before returning it with a bow.
There were many different types of snuff made by adding herbs and spices to the tobacco.
The Emperor Chien-Lung had his own collection, but his prime minister Ho-Shen, who at the time was the wealthiest man in the world controlling the opium trade, owned a huge collection of 2,390 bottles.
He was a very dubious and corrupt character who demanded snuff bottles in return for almost anything.
I think this is an apt place to mention my personal views about collections in private hands as against museums. I am strongly in favour of private collection for certain tactile creations. A big part of the appreciation of items like netsuke, pendants, amulets and snuff bottles is dependent upon being able to handle them as so much is lost if they remain locked away behind glass! It is much better for those who really desire them to pay for the privilege of being the guardians of these little treasures for a limited time.
Ho-Shen favoured, as we do, the stone bottles so perhaps I should explain more about
jade, the most treasured stone of all to the Chinese. jade has been highly prized by the earliest of civilisations, having far more value than gold.
Sages of the past believed and related jade to all the virtues, as it was thought to protect and cure both physical and psychological ills, plus having the powers to endow one with wisdom.
Many other stones were carved into bottles particularly the quartz type of minerals. These are the most abundant of all the rocks and make up a large part of the world's surface and are found in the form of many semi-precious stones such as rock crystal, cornelian, chalcedony, smoke quartz and agate. All these varieties have been successfully used and feature in all good bottle collections. As an example I have illustrated a fine well hollowed bulbous quartz bottle with various crystalline inclusions that look like they are exploding! Other interesting bottles have been made from such minerals as limestone; puddingstone formed in volcanoes, inkstone, soapstone and coral. Later malachite, turquoise, lapis lazuli, tourmaline, and aquamarine were also carved, although a few of these were carved earlier, they tend to be rather rare.
So what do I look for when buying stone bottles? Personally the first thing I check is the weight, as I only buy really well hollowed bottles.
The material must be attractive and the shape should also appeal. Make sure the bottle is in perfect condition; always have a good look at the neck and the foot of the bottle for any signs of damage.
I also prefer one that has a good stopper and spoon that looks right with the bottle.
I have also shown a well-carved jade snuff bottle featuring the five bats. Bats are a good luck symbol for the Chinese and the five bats represent the five blessings of long life. These are wealth, tranquility, and love of virtue, children and a natural peaceful death.
Of all the stone snuff bottles the picture agates are really our favourites.
These are snuff bottles where the natural inclusions found inside the stone have been used to create pictures.
There is so much to describe about these bottles that I have decided that they justify a separate article.
Neville Cohen: An international award winning photographer
who also became a well known Asian antiques collector and an
enthusiast of Jensen British classic cars.
Other interests are skiing and Salsa dancing.
The author has been a very keen
collector for many years in helping to create ‘The Cohen
Please have a look at: - https://www.jncohen.com
To see other articles, with photographs, please use the following link: https://www.jncohen.com/Articles/articles.htm
Keywords: Collecting, bribery, John Neville Cohen, Collecting, Chien Lung, Chia Ching, Tao Kuang, By Imperial Command, Manchus, snuff, Ho-Shen, glass, porcelain, enamel, lacquer, cloisonne, ivory, bronze, inside painted bottles, Pendants, Amulets, Snuff Bottles, Rock Crystal, Cornelian, Chalcedony, Smoke Quartz, Agate, Inkstone, Soapstone, Puddingstone, Coral, well hollowed, eggshell thin, Bats.