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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 38 

Lot 38

   

Lot 38
Treasury 3, no. 421

The Edward Chow Blue Turquoise

Turquoise matrix; well hollowed, with a flat lip and concave foot
1740–1850
Height: 4.75 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.6/1.6 cm
Stopper: coral of official’s hat shape with integral finial and collar; additional gilt-silver collar

Lot 38 Provenance:
Edward T. Chow
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 5 May 1994, lot 1362

Published:
Treasury 3, no. 421

Lot 38 Commentary
Because of its unusually brilliant blue colour, this bottle was considered by at least one leading expert to have been skimmed, or re-polished when viewed at its last auction outing. The surface, however, has a microscopic network of entirely natural random scratches from years of wear, and we are convinced that it is simply an unusually blue colour. We know that both blue and green material was available and that both were valued, although blue was the most precious colour materially. As a rule, this sort of blue is rare in early snuff bottles, although quite common from the 1960s with a group of high-quality modern bottles made in Beijing for export.

Apart from lovely colour and a fascinating network of black matrix veins, opening up any number of possible representational interpretations, the bottle is extremely well made and finished. Although we have not attributed the series of plainer turquoise bottles here to the court, many of them may have been imperial. We know the material was favoured at court from the three pebbles still in the imperial collection, from a small group of known imperially-marked or inscribed examples, including one in the Susan Ault Collection with an entirely credible Yongzheng reign-mark on its foot (see Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty, no. 38.) and Treasury 3, no. 424, and from imperial porcelain and glass imitations of it cited under Treasury 3, no. 420. There is also one example with kui dragons on each main face, a typically imperial subject of the eighteenth century, illustrated in Kleiner 1990, no. 91. Another indication that it was valued at court as a material is found in Tributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court, p. 48, where a turquoise mountain is listed as part of the tribute from the fifty-ninth year of the Qianlong period.

We can also be certain that some of the finest raw material would have found its way to the court, at least from Turkestan, as part of the bi-annual tribute following the conquest of 1759. As in other areas, while we can be sure that a great many of the finest turquoise bottles would have been made for or at the court, we cannot be certain which particular ones are imperial. Certainly this is a strong possibility with its compressed ovoid form, but no more so than the last, so we have restrained ourselves from any imperial attribution. It is of the sort of quality that would have been sensible for a courtly product, and it is hardly surprising that it was the only turquoise bottle in a small group of snuff bottles in the famous Edward Chow Collection, formed by the dealer from Shanghai whose taste and expertise were legendary and who never dabbled in less than the best for his own wide-ranging collections.

 

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