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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 19 

Lot 19

Lot 19
Treasury 7, no. 1635 (‘Posing’)

Copper and silver; with a flat lip and protruding flat foot; a box in the form of a snuff bottle, the two halves hinged at the foot and separating along the lipped, narrow sides, with raised panels on four sides; the two main-side panels decorated with inlaid silver wire, one with a quatrain in regular script followed by a dedication Ti zhi wei Duhou xiansheng qingwan 題製為度侯先生清玩 (‘Inscribed and made for the pure delight of Mr Duhou’) followed by Shuangxi 雙溪, all enclosed in a frame made up of concentric circular lines, and on the other, set within a similar frame, with a couplet in cursive – draft script, followed by Shi Daoguang jiawu juyue shanghuan Sun Xike xie bing zhi 時道光甲午菊月上浣孫溪柯寫并識 (‘Written and inscribed Sun Xike during the first decade of the chrysanthemum month of the jiawu year of the Daoguang era’)
3–12 October 1834
Height: 6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.91 and 0.78 cm/1.17 and 1.20 cm (both oval)
Stopper: coral; silver collar

Albert Pyke
Sydney L. Moss Ltd
Elizabeth and Ladislas Kardos
Sotheby’s, New York, 1 July 1985, lot 15

Connaissance des arts, November 1971, p. 107
Canadian Society for Asian Arts 1977, slide no. 58
Kleiner 1987, no. 246
Treasury 7, no. 1635

Vancouver Centennial Museum, October 1977
Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

Associated paraphernalia:
Snuff dish: copper; with a protruding, flattened, foot rim; 1800–1940
Height: 6.94 cm
Diameter: 4.12 cm



This rare little bottle-shaped box is a bit of an imposter, only posing as a snuff bottle. It is in fact a hinged container in the form of a snuff bottle, which would have been an entertaining bit of trompe l’oeil among snuff-takers in the nineteenth century. What it was made to contain is a mystery. Kleiner suggested it might have been used for cheating at exams, allowing a would-be licentiate to smuggle some useful texts into his examination cubicle. Two favourite methods of doing this were to have the lining of clothes covered with tiny copies from the Classics, or to have salient sections inscribed in miniature on a handkerchief. It would be equally possible to hide sheets of paper containing tiny copies of the classics inside this bottle, so we would not rule it out, but there may be another purpose behind its odd construction, a purpose hinted at by the interior. Two internal depressions in the centre of each inner panel contain the remnants of solder and perhaps holding pins, suggesting that something was fixed to the inside. Whatever it was is now lost, and we are left with no idea of what it might have been. Certainly what it contains now is not what it was originally made to contain: it is a matching copper snuff dish that was not associated with it until recently, despite being a perfect fit.

The inscription in regular script refers to bamboo (‘this gentleman’) of exaggerated value, but the connection between bamboo and eyesight is unclear to us. Shuangxi, thirty-some km north-west of Hangzhou, is a scenic spot known for a large grove of bamboo, however, suggesting that the name Shuangxi on this bottle may be a place name, not a personal name.

My eyes feel a lot brighter;
I can see everything in the four quarters of the world clearly.
‘This gentleman’ is really useful,
Its fame and value greater than that of fifteen cities.

The other side is inscribed in cursive – draft script with a couplet that seems to recommend the ingestion of Daoist pills to avoid old age—which was likely to ‘succeed’ if the pills contained mercury!

This mirror does not take pity on pink-powdered faces.
Pills of immortality can cut down on white-headed people.

The first ten days of the ninth month of the fourteenth year of Daoguang correspond to 3–12 October 1834. This leaves us in no doubt about precisely when it was made, and who made it. We also know that it was made for Duhou with the involvement of Sun Xike, but unfortunately cannot further identify the participants. Sun’s name was misread Yunke 澐柯 when we were writing Treasury 7; that is a very unlikely name, but Xike is almost as unknown as a name.

A very similar bottle exists, although it has been soldered shut to function as a snuff bottle (Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 30 October 2000, lot 746). What appears to be a third example, with an inscription that is illegible in the poor illustration, was in Sotheby’s, New York, 25 February 1982, lot 89.


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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