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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 22 

Lot 22

Lot 22
Treasury 2, no. 352

The Imperial Response Chalcedony

Chalcedony with red pigment; very well hollowed, with a concave inner lip and flat foot; inscribed on each side with Manchu text, the incising once filled with red pigment
Height: 6.5 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.60/2.17 cm
Stopper: stained crystal with integral finial and collar

Lot 22 Provenance:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1995)

Kleiner 1995, no. 260
Treasury 2, no. 352

British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

Lot 22 Commentary
This extraordinary documentary bottle was acquired for the collection quite recently and posed considerable problems of translation. Having deciphered the inscription, we have gained support for our previous supposition that a large quantity of snuff bottles would have been made as gifts from the emperor on special occasions, suggesting that vast numbers of bottles must have been made in imperial workshops. We are very grateful to Professor James Bosson, of the University of California at Berkeley, for both the transcription and translation, which had previously stumped other scholars of the Manchu language. On the side with the darker markings at the base is written:

amtalame tuwara
han-i jetere jaka be
eldeke [this should read eldeki] inenggi
tumen jalafun
doroi acanara

which translates as ‘An imperial taste-treat to be sampled, conforming to the congratulatory tradition [on] the imperial birthday.’

On the other side is:

banjiha inenggi
julesi yabure
jaka de amasi
benere doroi
doroi jaka

‘A present in the tradition of returning gifts for the gifts received [on my] birthday.’

This is a very popular shape for the snuff bottle, appearing in a wide variety of materials and as a standard form for one or two schools not yet associated with any particular workshop. There is, for instance, the group of jade bottles represented by no. 28 in Treasury 1, where so many are of this distinctive form. If this is a standard imperial form, we can begin to enquire whether the jade group might not also represent an imperial school.

Professor Bosson also informs us that the use of Manchu declined markedly after the Qianlong period and that the accuracy of this example suggests a Qianlong date.

The inscription here is cut apparently with a spinning wheel, in a manner common to court inscriptions. We find the remnants of red pigment in the rough incisions of the carving, just as we do in other inscriptions on quartz bottles in this collection. Among those with the same colour remaining in the incised inscriptions are Treasury 2, nos. 353, 360, and 362 (the last is lot 131 in the present auction), where much more of the original filling is evident, albeit darkened with age. The reign mark on no. 361 also has traces of a dark pigment that might originally have been the same cinnabar filling. It is also thicker, as on no. 362. Since two of these are inscriptions added by the fifth Prince Ding in the first half of the nineteenth century, it is possible that this was a mid-Qing trend that continued into the nineteenth century.

A similarly shaped crystal bottle, also inscribed with a Manchu text related to this example, is illustrated by William S. Weedon, ‘Some Notes on Chinese Snuff Bottles’, Apollo Annual, 1949, p. 22, fig. 7, front row centre. The inscription is, regrettably, not readable from the illustration.

A third similarly inscribed bottle of this general form is known, but in silver (Hugh Moss Records).


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