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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 96 

Lot 96

Lot 96
Treasury 6, no. 1338 (‘Puzzle Pod’)
HK$17,500

Iron-red and gold enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a convex lip; moulded in the form of a pea pod, a severed stem curled against the pod and sporting a smaller pea pod and leaves, the glaze extending to the interior of the neck; the interior unglazed
Jingdezhen, 1790–1870
Height: 4.5 cm (greatest extent including original stopper)
Mouth: 0.51 and 0.40 cm. (oval)
Stopper: gold enamel on porcelain, in the form of bean pod cap; with integral porcelain ‘cork’ made as a hollow tube

Provenance:
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1987)

Published:
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 181
Treasury 6, no. 1338

Exhibited:
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994  
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

This moulded bottle is so rare and so unusual that we have left a fairly broad dating range, but the Daoguang period is as good a guess as any. The limited palette is very effective but hardly helps with the dating. Since the design is taken from a two-part mould joined in the traditional manner, we might expect to find other examples one day.

Quite unlike any imperial type, it appears to be a rare model produced for a wider audience. Another feature suggesting that it is not imperial is the odd integral porcelain hollow cylinder that forms part of the stopper. What remains of it is just under two centimetres long, but the end is broken, preventing us from knowing how long it was to begin with. This was probably not the shaft of an integral porcelain spoon; there would be no point in going to all that effort to hollow out a shaft just to make it so easy to snap off.

We must remember that, although the traditional fitting for snuff bottles in China was a spoon attached to a tight cork, that was not the only system used for extracting snuff, and the bottle was not always refilled through the neck. In the Mullin Collection there is a Mongolian-style snuff bottle fitted with a traditional spoon, but with a central plug in one main side for filling the bottle (Moss and Sargent 2012, pp. 261 – 262, no. 275); there is another (pp. 260 – 262, no. 274) where the stopper has a spout with a hinged lid so that the snuff could be tipped from the bottle, presumably onto a snuff dish.

Most importantly, we have also seen rare examples where a short cylinder was attached to the cork. When the bottle was tipped upside down, the cylinder would fill with snuff, which could then be removed and deposited on a snuff dish, providing a consistent amount for each delivery.

This bean-pod cap appears to be fitted with such a cylinder, though the load here would not be enough for a heavily addicted snuff-taker unless he liked his snuff in a constant stream of small doses.

 

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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