Sat. May 28th, 2022


As a new graduate in art history in the late 1980s, Susan Page flipped through the paper when a job advertisement piqued her interest. “It said, ‘Assistant needed for Chinese snuff bottle dealer,'” she recalls. “I thought, what on earth is this?” It turned out to be Page’s calling, and she has since bought and sold these small, decorative containers – first with leading specialist Robert Hall, and now under her own name. “I have visited collectors all over the world with my bag full of snuff bottles,” she says. “People just love them.”

The Chinese began making snuff bottles in the middle of the 17th century (while the Europeans went in for boxes) when the custom of inhaling ground tobacco was first introduced to the country by the Portuguese. “The Kangxi emperor was given the gift of sniffing by two Jesuit priests, and he just thought it was wonderful,” Page said. “So much so that he asked his craftsmen to make bottles to keep it.” The earliest recorded vessels – no more than 6 cm high – were made of glass, and the earliest surviving examples date to about 1700.

A Qing Dynasty glass bottle sold at Sotheby's for about £ 1,350

A Qing Dynasty glass bottle sold at Sotheby’s for about £ 1,350

A Daoguang period snuff bottle, € 2,700, from Bertrand de Lavergne

A Daoguang-era snuff bottle, € 2,700, from Bertrand de Lavergne © Yves Breton

A jadeite bottle from 1780-1880 sold at Bonhams for about £ 141,000

A jadeite bottle from 1780-1880 sold at Bonhams for about £ 141,000

a 1925 glass snuff bottle with a painted portrait sold at Bonhams for $ 20,312

a 1925 glass snuff bottle with a painted portrait sold at Bonhams for $ 20,312

“It is widely believed that the 18th-century imperial bottles are the best,” says Page, adding that palace-made stone versions – in jade but also lapis lazuli, agate and carnelian – began to appear around 1750. “The sniffing habit then spread from the court to the general population and really took hold in the 19th century.”

Page’s current choice costs between £ 800 and £ 20,000, ranging from glass to porcelain to “one made from a mandarin grown in a mold”, she says, emphasizing a peculiar sub-genre of plant-based snuff bottles . “My most expensive was a rare cylindrical spinach green jade, but my favorite is an 18th-century glass bottle with a red glass lid. [£14,000]. It shows a stylized phoenix on one side and a dragon on the other; it’s just so beautiful and lyrical. ”

An 18th Century Bottle Sold By Susan Page

An 18th Century Bottle Sold By Susan Page

a 1720-1840 bottle, $ 11,000, from Susan Page.

a 1720-1840 bottle, $ 11,000, from Susan Page.

An 18th Century Bottle Sold By Susan Page

An 18th Century Bottle Sold By Susan Page

A Qing Dynasty glass bottle sold at Sotheby's for about £ 4,250

A Qing Dynasty glass bottle sold at Sotheby’s for about £ 4,250

Another intricate style, developed in the early 19th century, involved carefully painting the interiors of glass or crystal bottles with scenes of people, wildlife, or landscapes. “They used curved bamboo or a very, very fine brush; they are really extraordinary, ”says Michael Hughes, Bonhams’ head of Chinese ceramics and artwork for the United States. “The market for them has grown tremendously. Anything with writing on it is especially highly valued. ” Last September, at Bonhams’ sales of the Manfred Arnold and Emily Byrne Curtis collections of Chinese snuff bottles, late-19th-century and early-20th-century specimens sold for between $ 765 and just over $ 20,000.

WHERE TO BUY

Bertrand de Lavergne bertranddelavergne.com

Brafa June 19-26, brafa.art

Bonhams bonhams.com

Christie’s christies.com

Robert Hall snuffbottle.com

Sotheby’s sothebys.com

Susan Bladsy
snuffbottlepages.com

WHERE TO SEE

Burghley House Lincolnshire, burghley.co.uk

Asian Art Museum San Francisco, asianart.org

National Palace Museum Taipei City, theme.npm.edu.tw

WHAT TO READ

Collect Chinese snuff bottles by Susan Page

WHAT TO JOIN

The International Chinese Snuff Bottle Association, snuffbottlesociety.org

For certain imperial items, however, prices can be “stratospheric,” Hughes says, especially for early enamelled examples, including one of the Qianlong Palace workshops that fetched $ 3,328,400 at Bonhams in 2011. At Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Julian King notes that the snuff bottle market was “very slow from around mid-2015, until the first online sale [from one private German collector] we held in February 2021 ”. The highest price went to an enamelled metal bottle showing a beautiful pink landscape from the Jiaqing period (1796-1820), which sold for HK $ 3,024,000 (about £ 288,270) – “the highest price for any snuff bottle in recent years “, says King.

Another scarce enameled bottle bearing the Qianlong Emperor’s mark (1736-1795) will be auctioned on March 24 at Christie’s in New York. “It’s a beautiful bottle that depicts birds on flower branches and butterflies,” says Andrew Lueck of the lot, which has an estimate of $ 400,000- $ 600,000.

A Qing Dynasty bottle sold at Sotheby's for about £ 39,000

A Qing Dynasty bottle sold at Sotheby’s for about £ 39,000

A Yangzhou snuff bottle sold for about £ 11,000 at Sotheby's

A Yangzhou snuff bottle sold for about £ 11,000 at Sotheby’s

On the more affordable side of the market, Paris-based trader Bertrand de Lavergne (who will be at Brussels’ Brafa Stock Exchange in June) is holding pieces starting at € 1,000. Porcelain bottles are well represented, with blue-and-white designs alongside “about 10 polychrome bottles from the Daoguang period ([1821-1850] made in the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen ”for up to € 10,000.

Bottles in Christie's New York
Bottles at Christie’s New York “Rivers and Mountains Far From the World” Sale, March 24, 2022 © Courtesy of Christie’s

“I’m one of the more impeccable collectors,” says Jeremy Levine, one of Susan Page’s London-based clients, who prefers hollowed-out jade pebbles. “They are very tangible, a bit like a worry. Holding a large piece of jade just feels nice. ” For lovers Hikari Yokoyama, founder of interior design and art curation firm Naum House, comes with aesthetics first: “I love finding them in flea markets and antique stores,” she says.

And in LA, more than 30 years ago, collector Richard Liu first came across an interior-painted bottle in Chinatown. “I now have about 450 bottles, mostly in glass and porcelain,” he says. “There is a seemingly infinite variety in terms of shape and color.” While the collection of snuff bottles is a way to learn more about his Chinese heritage, it is also a very sociable pastime for Liu, a member of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society who attends his annual conventions. “It is a small community, all very dedicated, but also very friendly and communicative. There is very little competitiveness; it’s not fun. ” And it’s definitely not something to sniff out.



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