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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1039 

Lot 1039
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Lot 1039
Treasury 2, no. 194 (‘The Hallett Red-haired Crystal’)

Colourless crystal with inclusions of rutile; well hollowed; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding, rounded foot rim
Height: 6.15 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.78 and 1.81 cm (oval)
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Paula J. Hallett
Sotheby’s, London, 2 May 1985, lot 401
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1986)

Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty, no. 189
Kleiner 1987, no. 139
Galeries Lafayette 1990, p. 13
Treasury 2, no. 194

Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–December 1978
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Galeries Lafayette, Paris, April 1990
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

We know that both black and red hair-crystal was found in what is today Xinjiang (see Yang Hanchen 1985, nos. 57, 58 and 60 for black examples, and 59 for an example of red hair-crystal, sufficiently similar to this example to suggest a common source of material). Most early red hair crystal is of this rich, coppery colour. Much of the alternative material with silvery or golden-coloured hairs, often very fine, was imported, apparently from Brazil, in the 1960s and 1970s and carved into snuff bottles, often in Hong Kong. Modern black (tourmaline) hair-crystal bottles were also made at this time. Only the green (actinolite) hair crystals remained unfaked as far as we can tell, and it remains by far the rarest colour in snuff bottles. If we remove the modern outburst of production from consideration, a very rough numerical relationship might be that out of every one hundred early hair-crystal bottles, five would have coppery-red inclusions and one green. The rest would have black needles.

This example comes from the large group of probably mid-Qing plain, rounded rectangular bottles exemplified by Sale 2, lot 42, where we mention a number of other materials in which this form is found. Formally, it exhibits the superb technical control of the group, with its faultless formal integrity, excellent hollowing (with closely matched inner and outer profiles), and neat, confidently carved foot and neck details. As a piece of material, while being of the standard colour for early red hair crystal, the variation in thickness of the needle-like crystals and their random positioning gives it considerable character, allowing the imaginative aesthete the opportunity to read a number of possible alternative representational subjects into the intersecting lines. The intriguing and unusual cluster of very thin hairs at the foot creates the impression of an area of coppery-golden haze that is visually effective, providing a foreground for any representational interpretation based upon landscape.


This is not the Sotheby’s sale catalogue. This is a product of Hugh Moss for the purposes of this website. For the catalogue details please refer to Sotheby’s website or request a copy of a printed sale catalogue from Sotheby’s.


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