The Chinese snuff bottle was used during the Qing Dynasty which ruled China from 1644 to 1912. The small bottles contained powered tobacco that was used for the purpose of treating colds, headaches and stomach ailments. During this time it was illegal to smoke tobacco in China so the small bottle was used as a "medicinal" carrier.
Snuff Bottle Expansion
The snuff bottles were first used by the upper class Chinese but quickly spread through all social strata. It was considered polite to offer friends and relatives a pinch of snuff whenever they were visiting. The snuff bottles soon became objects of great beauty as their popularity increased. The best Chinese snuff bottles were manufactured during the 18th century.
As the end of the Qing Dynasty approached, the use of snuff bottles decreased and with the start of the Republic of China, the use of snuff boxes ended. However, there continued to be interest in collecting the bottles since many of them were great works of art. They are now collectors’ items and prized pieces in museums with original snuff bottles from the Qing Dynasty being the most prized possessions.
The size of the snuff bottles was small and could fit into the palm of one’s hand. They consisted of various materials with glass being the most common. Other materials included jade, ivory, porcelain, wood, metal, ceramic and tortoise shell. Each bottle had a stopper for keeping the contents inside and most stoppers had a very small spoon attached which was used for dispensing the snuff. The beauty of the snuff bottles was that each one normally had some type of painting or carving on it and this artwork is what has made them a collector’s item.
Symbolism On The Snuff Bottle
The Chinese culture in this era was very symbolic and this was indicated on the bottles. The symbolism could reflect legends, religion, philosophy or superstition. The thought behind the symbolism focused on adding wealth, health, good luck or longevity to the life of the owner.
Animals were frequently used in the decoration of the snuff bottles. A horse is a notable figure in Buddhism and is symbolic of speed, perseverance, rank, power and wealth, all of which are attributes of the bottle owner.
For the collector, it may take some time before knowledge is developed to the level of knowing what a bottle is worth. Most bottles are not signed for identification purposes so knowledge of the style and quality of the bottle’s carving determine its value. It is also important to remember that there are Chinese snuff bottles that are not the originals from the Qing Dynasty and care should be taken when buying them. It is best to seek out those collectors who have been in the business for a long time and know what they are doing. They can provide much insight to the novice with their advice and publications.
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