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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 76 

Lot 76


Lot 76
Treasury 7, no. 1600

A jet snuff bottle

(‘The Trojan Jet’)

Jet; very well hollowed, with a flat lip and recessed, flat foot
Height: 6.18 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.78/2.5 cm
Stopper: glass; plastic collar

Lot 76 Provenance:
Trojan Collection
Robert Hall (1993)

Hall 1992, no. 67
Kleiner 1995, no. 311
JICSBS, Summer 1998, p. 12
Treasury 7, no. 1600

British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997
Lot 76 Commentary
Although the Chinese carved a good many jet snuff bottles during the Qing dynasty, Pedersen is rather disparaging about the quality of the Chinese material (Pedersen 2004, pp. 39-49). In dealing with the relative quality of jet from various parts of the world, she cites China as one of several sources of lower-quality material, defining this grade as dull in appearance and brittle and liable to crack when worked. Referring specifically to Chinese material, she notes that it can be carved but asserts that it cannot be polished to a high lustre. This does not accord with the evidence as far as the snuff bottle collector is concerned, where very dense, highly polished material is found. Unquestionably, jet from different sources can differ—Treasury 7, no. 1608 is an example of a duller material—but the Chinese during the Qing dynasty certainly had access to high-quality material. The present example is exemplary. If the material was not native, then it was imported.

Judging by illustrations of the finest jet from around the world in its polished state, Chinese works of art are not wanting in any significant respect. The flourishing maritime trade with Europe and the New World during the Qing dynasty ensured that many materials were imported and transformed into snuff bottles. Ships sailing to East and Southeast Asia to buy tea, silks, and other Oriental exotics needed both ballast and some sort of trade goods on the outward journey so as to make the voyage doubly profitable, so holds full of all sorts of raw materials are recorded as having been landed at Guangzhou during the Qing period. Jet may have been among those materials; it would have been one of the few English products the Chinese might have been interested in buying. Jet was also found in continental Europe, Russia, and Turkey, and could just as well have been carried in the holds of ships from other nations or traded along the Silk Road, as it had been in more ancient times.

This splendid and formally generous bottle is the jet equivalent of a series of large, superbly hollowed and well-formed but essentially plain bottles from the mid-Qing period, beginning perhaps in the Qianlong period and probably continuing into the first half of the nineteenth century. Those bottles are found in nephrite and crystal primarily, and secondarily in agate; a jet example is unusual. (For a remarkably close equivalent in flawless crystal, as an example, see Sale 1, lot 73).


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Hugh Moss |