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The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 81 

Lot 81

Lot 81
Treasury 5, no. 707 (‘Standing Stones’)

Opaque variegated scarlet, orange, yellow, and mahogany-brown glass (known as ‘realgar-glass’); with a flat lip and flat foot
Height: 5.77 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.61/1.70 cm
Stopper: glass; silver collar

Hugh M. Moss Ltd, Hong Kong (1992)

Treasury 5, no. 707

Creditanstalt, Vienna, May-June 1993

Apart from the typical realgar-glass range, there was a related type made up entirely of mahogany-brown and deep, cinnabar-red, also mixed together in swirling patterns (similar to Sale 9, lot 35). This darker material sometimes appears in the normal range of realgar-glass colours, but usually does so only in a minor role, as threads of darker colour swirling through the ground. Use of the mahogany-brown and dark cinnabar-red range on their own can occur in early bottles but became a standard late-Qing and Republican types for the production of a wide range of objects and vessels, including snuff bottles. This influenced our broader dating range in this case to allow for a possible, albeit unlikely, nineteenth-century date.

If we are correct in believing that the majority of standard realgar-glass snuff bottles were made during the eighteenth century, it seems likely that the fashion would have died out at some stage. This probably occurred by the early nineteenth century, by which time production may have been considerably reduced. It would seem strange for a single type to have survived to the end of the dynasty, and it may be that the majority of these bottles were made in the earlier phase of production and that the type was only gradually phased out during the early nineteenth century. The general range of condition, even allowing for occasional re-polishing of plain glass bottles, suggests that they have been in existence for a long time.

Writing in the late nineteenth century, Zhou Jixu周繼煦 expressed disdain for a kind of glass whose description fits what we call ‘realgar glass’:


And then there is ‘flesh of the dwarf squash’, which appeared most early and is a mishmash of red and yellow. Even in old objects, it is utterly detestable.

The placement of this remark immediately after a list of three types of glass that were considered very fine because of their colours raises the possibility that this kind of glass was also widely prized but offended his own sensibilities.

Zhou’s attitude was shared by many during the 1960s and 1970s. In both periods, it may have been a case of contempt bred of familiarity. Too many of them were produced, with the result that they were held too common to be worthy of attention. When Moss first visited Beijing in 1974, he visited the warehouse of the Beijing Arts and Crafts Corporation (the main exporting agency for works of art at the time), where he was shown hundreds of realgar-glass bottles. They were considered of so little value at the time that they were quite unprotected and simply thrown into large cardboard boxes by the dozens. The storekeeper demonstrated how common they were and his contempt for them by putting his hand into a box and stirring them as he might have done with porridge. Today we differentiate between good and bad in regard to realgar-glass bottles, but in those days all were tarred with the same brush of indifference.

This example has fragments of the more regular realgar colouring rolled into the surface of darker mahogany-coloured glass before it was reheated and blown into the mould. With its unusual combination of darker colours and the brighter yellows and scarlets of the usual range, this bottle is striking regardless of any interpretation of its design.


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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