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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 12 

Lot 12

Lot 12
Treasury 2, no. 230 (‘The Flawless Column Crystal’)

Flawless crystal; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and slightly concave foot
Height: 5.76 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.58/1.52 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Robert Hall (1984)

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 202
Treasury 2, no. 230

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

Cylindrical bottles in the broader sense are commonest in ceramics. From the late eighteenth century onwards, cylindrical porcelain bottles became extremely popular. In other materials they are rarer, although they do occur in glass, lacquer, wood, and various hardstones. Most cylindrical forms have a recessed, flat, or concave foot, allowing the bottle to stand firmly and the outer contour to be uninterrupted.

Here the shape so closely resembles a series of porcelain snuff bottles of the mid-Qing period, apparently beginning with the imperial group popularly decorated with dragons in underglaze cobalt-blue on a white ground initiated at some time in the late Qianlong period, that there must surely have been some sort of relationship between the two. The dragons on these bottles have five claws, the imperial prerogative, and we may be fairly certain that as a group they were made for the court.

Porcelain snuff bottles do not seem to have been made in large quantities until the second half of the eighteenth century. Although there is evidence of imperial orders in the 1740s, extant examples suggest that it was not until the last decades of the Qianlong period that large orders were placed on a regular basis. It is possible that this cylindrical form was developed at court and became one of the standards for later porcelain production at Jingdezhen. To endorse this possibility, we have two other cylindrical bottles with princely connections: Sale 5, lot 77 (with a mark of Yongxing 永瑆, 1752–1823, eleventh son of the Qianlong emperor), and lot 100 in the present auction (with a mark of Zaiquan 載銓,1794 – 1854, a great, great grandson of the Qianlong emperor).

Since there are practically no stylistic criteria to assess other than the plain form, there is as much chance of this bottle having been a court product as a product of any other centre. It has a distinct flattened rim to the upper neck, which was a common feature of palace hardstone bottles. Perhaps the exaggerated wide lip common on the Jingdezhen group of porcelain cylinders may be derived from a more subtle palace original such as this.

On the other hand, the lip may have been no more than a sensible way to finish such a widely flared neck. As yet we have been able to associate very few crystal bottles with palace production. (The commentaries to this bottle and no. 234 in Treasury 2 cite the gift of a ‘crystal’ snuff bottle from the Kangxi emperor to a Papal envoy, but in the Chronological List for Treasury 5, under 13 February 1706, we endorse Emily Burns Curtis’s position that this was in fact clear glass; one witness to the same event specifies ‘an enamelled-glass snuff bottle of His Majesty’s own use’. If it is the same bottle, we can be sure it was not crystal, which is never enamelled. Chinese sources that say it was crystal must be relying on erroneous Western accounts; they do not cite eighteenth-century Chinese records, and we have found no such records that mention the gift.)

The purity of the stone, the unusual form for the material, and the faultless technical and artistic control make this an imposing crystal bottle. The inside has not been as finely polished as the outside in this case, which could confirm that the bottle was made before the Daoguang era. In the late nineteenth century, Zhou Jixu 周繼煦 claimed that ‘The inside of a snuff bottle should be smooth; if it is smooth, it will not be stained by the tobacco; if it is not stained by the tobacco, the moisture of the tobacco will not be taken by the bottle and the tobacco will retain its richness. This began in the first year of the Daoguang era; previously, it did not exist. If you see an old bottle with a smooth interior, it is an old bottle that has been reworked’ (壺要內光,內光則不受煙,不受煙則煙之津液不為壺攝而煙常澤。始於道光元年間,前此無有也。老壺內光舊壺新作也).


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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