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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 50 

Lot 50

Lot 50
Treasury 2, no. 209 (‘The Zhirou Zhai Touchstone’)

Basanite (touchstone); adequately but not extensively hollowed, with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim with rounded edges; carved with raised concave oval panels on each narrow side
Height: 5.63 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.32 cm
Stopper: coral; turquoise collar

Zhirou Zhai Collection
Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1993)

Treasury 2, no. 209

This appears to be the variety of quartz that is a homogeneous black jasper known as touchstone, or basanite. It certainly functions as touchstone, which earned its name because of its ability to allow the knowledgeable to test the quality of gold or silver by rubbing it on the stone. A streak of metal is left on the material, the colour of which indicates its quality.

This is not a material commonly found in the snuff-bottle arts, and only one or two other examples are known. It was not, apparently, a common material in China in any case, since it is unknown outside the snuff-bottle world. Extant basanite snuff bottles may all date from the second half of the Qing dynasty, the material perhaps having been imported in response to its Western use and incorporated into the snuff-bottle arts only in the nineteenth century.

This bottle’s formal resemblance to a number of early-nineteenth-century Yangzhou glass overlay bottles may be significant. Although the dished narrow-side panels might have been derived from earlier models, their application to a tall, thin, rounded-rectangular form seems to echo the popular Yangzhou shape with the typical, exaggeratedly-long rings of Yangzhou mask handles, which can sometimes fill the entire narrow side, as these panels do.

We know that Yangzhou was a major stone-carving centre, but as yet no stone snuff bottles can be identified as a product of the town. If there is any significance in the similarity of shape, it need not rest entirely on the possibility of this having been made at Yangzhou; it could also indicate that the Yangzhou glass bottles had become popular by the time this was made and had begun to influence snuff-bottle form in general.


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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