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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part II  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 23 November 2010: Lot 42 

Lot 42


Lot 42
Treasury 2, no. 191

Midnight Crystal

Crystal; extremely well hollowed, with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a wide, flat footrim.
Height: 6.45 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.69/2.06 and 2.00 cm (oval)
Stopper: tourmaline; gilt-silver collar

Lot 42 Provenance:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1993)

Treasury 2, no. 191

Lot 42 Commentary
Brown crystal is also known to snuff-bottle collectors as ‘smoky-crystal’ or ‘tea-crystal’. Its colour ranges from the slightest tint, barely discernible as brown at all until held against a piece of colourless crystal, to what appears to be opaque jet black until held up to a strong light. Judging from existing bottles, brown crystal seems to have been almost as popular as clear crystal during the mid-Qing period.

This particular bottle belongs to a large group of mid-Qing snuff bottles characterized by their rounded rectangular forms, superb workmanship, confident, sturdy forms, and mouths that were as a rule relatively narrow, sometimes even extremely so. They are most common in nephrite and crystal, but examples are known in jadeite, coral, aquamarine, and other materials (see Treasury 1, nos. 162 and 178, and Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, p. 98 for discussion and no. 97 for a similar example in brown crystal).

The relatively large number of existing bottles of this shape, the range of materials used, and the details of workmanship, hollowing, and mouth suggest that, whatever its origin, this was a popular form throughout the mid-Qing period, from say 1750 to 1860, although it may have evolved earlier and certainly continued into the twentieth century, since it became one of the most popular forms for inside-painted snuff bottles of the Beijing school from the 1880s into the early twentieth century.

Of all the known plain brown crystal bottles of this group, none is more impressive than this one. It has a lovely, warm, and even colour and a level of brilliance that is unusual. The bottle is more generous in form than usual. It is slightly fatter, broader, and with a more substantial width of foot and neck. It is also slightly more rounded at the shoulders, giving it greater elegance by varying the rounding of the rectangle from shoulder to base details.

The spoon on this example represents the more imaginative and exotic end of spoon making. The vast majority of spoons were simple, although usually elegant, made mostly of ivory, tortoiseshell, or metal. Occasionally, however, the imaginative flair that we associate with the snuff-bottle form as a whole, and which is often echoed in the stoppering, is carried over into the detailing of the spoon. Here, the handle or shaft of the spoon metamorphoses into a closed fist that is clutching the handle of a trowel-shaped spoon. The fact that the upper end of the handle is intended to be read as an arm is demonstrated by the loose ring that surrounds it and acts as the typical bangle, usually of jade, commonly worn by Chinese of both sexes.


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