While taking snuff may have fallen out of favor,
snuff bottles continue to be treasured
This rare enameled and
carved Imperial snuff
bottle sold for an amazing
$134,500 at a recent
A History of Snuff
To appreciate the Chinese snuff bottle as a collectible, one has to know
something of the history of snuff. Early references to the invention of
snuff are vague, although most believe that it began with the arrival of
smoking tobacco in Japan during the late 16th century. Some scholars
credit the Japanese with introducing snuff to China, where its use
exceeded that of any other country in the Far East.
Originally introduced as a medicine, snuff was very popular among the
Chinese aristocracy for the exhilarating feeling that it produced. By
1680, Imperial workshops were established in the Forbidden City in
Beijing. Here craftsmen produced the most elaborate snuff bottles for the
Chinese aristocracy. During the reign of the Qianlong emperor between
1736-1795, snuff bottle production reached its height in China.
Chinese snuff bottles are highly functional works of art. As a mixture of
powdered tobacco, herbs and spices, snuff has a tendency to cake easily in
humid environments. The dense humidity of the climate in the Far East led
to the invention of 2 to 3 inch high containers fitted with a top.
Fastened to the inside of the top is an interior ladle that ends with a
tiny spoon, from which the snuff is inhaled through the nostril.
Chinese Snuff Bottles come in a variety of materials, and collectors will
often focus on a certain medium or decorative subject matter. Porcelain is
the most common medium, although there are overwhelming choices in jade,
agate, glass, silver, ivory and lacquer.
Each year, the highlight of the fall season for international collectors
of Asian art revolves around AsiaWeek. In New York during the third week
of September, international dealers and collectors descend upon the city
for a busy schedule of shows and viewings. This season's Asia Week will be
of particular interest to snuff bottle collectors, as the major auction
houses will feature a strong selection.