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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 45 

Lot 45


Lot 45
Treasury 2, no. 335 (‘The Palace Ancient Coins Crystal’)

A carved rock-crystal 'ancient coins' snuff bottle

Crystal; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and concave foot surrounded by a very narrow rounded footrim; carved in low relief on each side with the overlapped obverse and reverse of a five-zhu coin surrounded by a symmetrical, formalized floral design centred on each narrow side
Probably imperial, probably palace workshops, Beijing, 1736–1820
Height: 5.05 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.71 cm
Stopper: glass; vinyl collar

The Hon. Irene Austin (Fernhill Park Collection, formed between 1944 and 1977)
Chinese Porcelain Company (1991)

Chinese Porcelain Company 1991, no. 163
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 200
Treasury 2, no. 335

Chinese Porcelain Company, New York, October 1991
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1990
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

The carving style on this bottle is very similar to glass bottles attributable to the palace workshops, including here some apparently wheel-cut lines defining the character zhu on the coins and on the leaves and flower heads of the formalized floral design. The subject matter also relates to other palace arts. Formalized floral designs of exactly this type are found on a wide range of imperial glass and jade snuff bottles. They are also a common border design on imperial enamel bottles made at the court and at Guangzhou for the court, where they are used in exactly the same way to fill in the narrow sides and space around the principal decoration with a busy pattern. On jade bottles, they occur quite commonly either as the subsidiary or the overall design on post-1756 works made at the Tibetan workshop at the palace (the Xifanzuo). There is ample evidence that such designs were a standard imperial filler, and they even appear commonly, as Kleiner has pointed out, on imperial ceramics made at Jingdezhen. For a glass bottle from the Kardos Collection with a similar design of overlapping coins, but in a yellow overlay on amber glass, see Sotheby’s New York, 1 July 1985, lot 45. Apart from the colour combination, thought to have been an imperial one of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the bottle is also decorated with narrow-side chi dragons, a subject commonly used on imperial snuff bottles and, during the latter part of the eighteenth century, one of the more common narrow-side imperial subjects.

The coin shown here is typical of the post-archaic Chinese coinage, known in English as ‘cash’, the identifying feature being the square hole in the centre. This coin is a five-zhu piece. Zhu is a measure of weight, but like all units of measurement, its value varied over time, and coins probably seldom had their nominal weight, anyway; extant five-zhu coins seem to vary from 1.5 to over 5 grams, and they were minted in different metals. Ignoring these discontinuities, the five-zhu piece was the longest-lived of all Chinese coins, first minted in 118  BCE and not permanently abandoned until 621. Interruptions in its use were associated with usurpation and inflation, so it seems to have become a symbol of the orthodox succession and social order, and in later dynasties it was prized for its antiqueness. An intriguing imperial connection with the subject of these coins is made through one of the Daoguang emperor’s personal belt buckles. In a handscroll showing the emperor seated at leisure with his children, snuff bottle in hand, his belt buckle incorporates just such a five-zhu coin (see JICSBS, Autumn 1996, p. 24).


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Hugh Moss |