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The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 12 

Lot 12

Lot 12
Treasury 2, no. 198 (‘The Banded-Bat Agate’)
HK$18,750

Agate; extensively but irregularly hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim
1770–1880
Height: 4.6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.55/1.52 and 1.48 cm (oval)
Stopper: glass; ivory collar

Provenance:
Robert Kleiner (1992)

Published:
Treasury 2, no. 198

In a large geode or rock cavern, chalcedony can crystallize with areas of relatively regular banding large enough for a snuff bottle, or even for bigger objects. The so-called ‘banded agates’ where relatively even bands of different colour encircle the bottle horizontally in this way (or, much less often, vertically) are the result of cutting a cross-section from the outer edge of the geode or cavern, which is one place where chalcedony forms. In theory it might have been possible to get a fairly large number of somewhat similar bottles from a single large section of agate material; this little bottle represents only a small section of what must have been a very much larger piece of material, judging from the broadness and straightness of the banding. Indeed, it is this thickness and homogeneity of the banding, rather than its unusually small size, that sets this vessel apart from other banded agate snuff bottles.

The transparent golden-brown material of the shoulders is separated by a short series of dark and light bands, but the main part of the banding is made up of only two broad bands of visually almost homogeneous colour enclosed again at the base by a further narrow band of darker brown. It is both unusual and extremely effective. For the more usual type of material in this range, see Sale 7, lot 51, and for a rare example both in colouring and the vertical setting of the bands, Sale 4, lot 36.

However unusual the broadness of the bands, and however many similar bottles might have been made from adjacent cross-sections, one of the features that lifts this bottle into an extraordinary class is a freak accident of nature. On one side there is a flaw in the material, apparently caused by a fracture in the quartz as it was crystallizing, with a distinct pattern of micro-crystalline markings along its length. The result resembles a flying bat, wings outstretched and reaching beyond the central paler areas of banding, the head with darker markings which could be read as facial features. The creature flies horizontally around the banding, transforming the paler, broad bands into mist and even slightly affecting the swirl of the area through which it passes.

This is verging on the miniature for a snuff bottle but lacks none of the formal precision of its larger counterparts of the same basic shape. The hollowing, however, is slightly fan-shaped at the shoulders, suggesting that it may be from the period when standards of hollowing seem to have slipped. Formally it is a miniature equivalent of the broad group of rounded rectangular bottles discussed under Sale 2, lot 42 that spanned the mid-Qing period and probably beyond, but this may be one of those made during the early or even mid-nineteenth century.

 

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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