Chinese Snuff Bottles: Collectible Items

Probably one of the smallest, yet most sought items in Chinese antiques is called the snuff bottle. Snuff bottles were used by the Chinese during the Qing Dynasty to contain powdered tobacco. During the mid- to late-16th century the use of snuff and snuff bottles spread through the upper class, and by the end of the 18th century it had become popular in every social class around the country. It was even common to offer a pinch of snuff as a way to greet friends and relatives! Granted, this blog is not to encourage you to snuff tobacco, but do note that during this period of time snuff bottles became an object of beauty and a way to represent status. They were made to be held and so, as a rule, a good snuff bottle must have a wonderful tactile quality. For most, it is this touch and beauty that sparked their interest in snuff bottles.

The size of a snuff bottle is small enough to fit nicely inside the palm. Snuff bottles were made out of many different materials including porcelain, jade, ivory, wood, tortoiseshell, metal and ceramic, though probably the most commonly used material was glass. Also, Chinese snuff bottles were typically decorated with paintings or carvings, which distinguished bottles of different quality and value. Most times the themes and styles represented in the decoration of the snuff bottles go back many centuries. Today those lucky enough to own a collection of snuff bottles have published countless number of articles on the subject, and at the same time displayed their collections in exhibitions and catalogues.

Decorative bottles were, and remain, time-consuming in their production and are thus desirable for today’s collectors. But how would I know if such a valuable item was authentic or not? While it would be good to have an expert snuff bottle collector tag alongside, not everyone has that luxury. Good news is that there are guides on avoiding fake snuff bottles and better yet it isn’t too difficult.

So it is no surprise that in this new day and age, snuff bottles has become one of the most sought items in history; in 1968, the Chinese Snuff Bottle Society of America, Inc. was formed to honor snuff bottle collectors and to write scholarly articles on the matter. Today, like in ancient times, the highest status goes to whomever has the rarest and finest snuff bottle.

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