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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 84 

Lot 84

 

Lot 84
Treasury 7, no.1546 (‘Portly Official’)
HK$47,500

An ivory snuff bottle

Ivory; very well hollowed, with a concave lip, wide mouth, and flat, circular foot
1725–1850
Height: 2.86 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.57/0.91 cm
Stopper: ivory; with integral screw-threaded ‘cork’ and integral spoon; original

Provenance:
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1991)

Published:
Treasury 7, no. 1546

There is evidence that screw-threaded ivory bottles were made in the Yongzheng period (as mentioned under Sale 2, lot 120), the vase shape is typical of the court, and this shape of stopper was a standard at the palace workshops throughout the first half of the Qing dynasty and into the nineteenth century. There is nothing about the size, form, hollowing, stopper, or surface patination of this bottle that would preclude such an attribution. The problem, of course, is that there are three of these bottles: see lots 135 and 156 in this Sale. The chances of three early-eighteenth-century snuff bottles of this group surviving from the Yongzheng period, all with their original stoppers intact and all ending up in the same collection, are significantly slim. The patination argues against an early-eighteenth-century attribution, as well. If the bottles were so early, we might expect at least one of them to be more discoloured than the others, for three bottles over so long a period would have surely experienced very different patterns of use. All, however, have a similar degree of natural patination; this patination, moreover, while suggesting considerable age, seems insufficient for three centuries of handling.

The type of stopper, nevertheless, does suggest a northern product, and the similar vase shapes of all three may indicate courtly production. We have left a fairly wide dating range, given these questions. Such matters aside, perhaps the most important observation to make is that these masterpieces of the miniature snuff-bottle arts are faultlessly fashioned and of lovely form.

Of the three, only this one was originally decorated. The engraving is worn away completely in parts, but the original design is still obvious. This style of engraving ivory was a standard of the late Ming and early Qing for a wide range of wares for the scholar’s studio, including brush pots, brushes, paper-weights, and so on. It continued throughout the Qing dynasty, culminating in the micro-incised wares of such artists as Yu Shuo (see lots 167 and 168 in this auction, with discussion under no. lot 169), so this feature provides no particular clues for dating, but there is no reason why such a design should not have appeared in the early eighteenth century.

 

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