Lot 155 Lot 155 Lot 155 Lot 155 Lot 155 Lot 155 Lot 156

photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 155 

Lot 155

Lot 155
Treasury 7, no. 1669 (‘Scented Snuff’)

Colourless glass, ivory, and organic fibre; with no functional foot; the colourless glass flask enclosed in a woven fibre casing with an ivory screw-threaded neck and matching original screw-threaded cover
Height: 8.57 cm (including ivory cover)
Mouth/lip: 0.80/1.27 cm
Stopper: ivory; coral finial (contained inside the ivory cover)

John Ault
Robert Kleiner (2005)

Treasury 7, no. 1669

We suspect that this was not originally intended as a snuff bottle. There is no precedent for a snuff bottle stopper to be covered in this way with a screw-on cap, nor would it be necessary. The bottle is certainly on the late side, perhaps from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, and by that time the snuff-bottle stopper was so well established that there would be little point in attempting a cap-over-stopper design innovation. The considerable space within the screw-on top suggests that it originally contained another stopper of some sort, perhaps a cork with a little knob on it to stopper a liquid or keep some medicinal powder dry. One other very similar example is known (Sotheby’s, London, 6 June 1988, lot 375). It is of identical construction, but of compressed spherical form.

This case demonstrates that not everything that ended up as a snuff bottle was originally conceived as one. There are various ways to transform other art objects or containers into snuff bottles. A small carving of some sort might be hollowed out and converted into a snuff bottle. Miniature vases might also be easily transformed into snuff bottles by the addition of a stopper and spoon, and the same treatment could convert a range of medicine containers. Once converted, of course, all become de facto snuff bottles.

There is no pressing reason to assume that the woven fibre container and the ivory neck and cover were necessarily produced in China. If the stopper is removed, the vessel itself looks like a European glass flask. Perhaps this rare little flask was originally a scent bottle; upon reaching China from unknown shores, it was converted into a snuff bottle by the addition of the stopper.


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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