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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 127 

Lot 127

Lot 127
Treasury 3, no. 391 (‘Penghuke’s Successful Candidate’)

Shale; adequately but not extensively hollowed, with a flat lip and a flat, ovoid foot; carved on one side with a crab clutching a severed clump of reeds and on the other with an inscription in draft script ‘This lord with yellow stuff inside plays with a blade of reed’ followed by the signature Penghu ke
Penghu ke, 1780–1880
Height: 6.53 cm
Mouth: 0.6 cm
Stopper: carnelian agate; vinyl collar

Spink & Son Ltd (London, 1965)
Nellie Ionides
D. A. Ionides Will Trust
Christie’s, London, 13 June 1990, lot 527

‘Chinese Snuff Bottles,’ The Antique Collectors’ Club, September 1967, no. 5
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 242
Kleiner 1995, no. 287
Snuff Bottles from the Collection of Mary and George Bloch (illustrated folder), Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July 1997
Treasury 3, no. 391

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

This is of the reasonably common and popular material mined at Duanzhou in Guangdong province and known as Duanstone or, because it was a favourite material for the making of ink palettes from the Tang dynasty onwards, as inkstone.

It is possible that the design and inscription here were both carved by the unrecorded artist, Penghu ke, a hao or assumed art name meaning ‘A Traveller in the Isles of the Immortals’. Penghu was another name for Penglai; it, Fangzhang, and Yingzhou were three mythical islands in the sea inhabited by the Undying.

The bottle has a slightly amateurish air to it in the shaping, hollowing, and detailing. An amateurish air was, of course, essential to the literati aesthetic, existing far above the level of the professional and often translated in literati arts into a deliberately unskilled appearance on the surface of the art. Also, what we read today as rather less-than-perfect formal integrity is probably more likely to be the result of minor damage having been repaired. The bottle leans slightly to one side, but if a small chip had been removed from one side of the foot, this could happen and, with a soft stone like this, would have been so easy to correct at conception that it is not credible as an original formal shortcoming. The irregularities at the neck may have occurred for a similar reason. Duanstone is easily worn and damaged, and many old bottles have wear and minor chipping to extremities. We may also assume that the relatively large numbers that have survived represent a much larger original output some of which has succumbed to damage.

Referring to a crab as ‘an old gent with yellow inside’ is rare (in fact, we have not found another example), but the crab and reed on one side and the inscription on the other clearly go together. (The yellow is the crab’s hepatopancreas, a delicacy familiar to anyone who enjoys crab.)


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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Hugh Moss |