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December 18, 2017, 08:46:59 am
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Question about cinnabar boxes and other cinnabar items

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Author Topic: Question about cinnabar boxes and other cinnabar items  (Read 313 times)
ileney
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« on: April 14, 2016, 07:55:57 am »

Questions: 1) Are these boxes inherited from my mom related to snuff or just made for tourists/ holding paperclips and the like? 2) Any idea of value or is it just snuff bottles that have value as cinnabar? 3) Are these toxic at all in terms of handling them? I understand in nature cinnabar is poisonous (mercury) and have been told not to cut into stones that are laden with cinnabar.

Although I try to read what I can on this website and view photos, I'm afraid very little of the vast knowledge generously shared herein has penetrated my thick skull. Possibly I need to actually see bottles in person and hold them because they all do look somewhat alike to me. However, one of the things I did manage to understand is that genuine cinnabar is put on in layers and thus, under magnification, you will see those layers where the carver carved through them. My mom bought these small cinnabar boxes (both 3" wide and one 1.4 inches tall, the other 1.8 inches tall) in China when she was there with a group of educators, one of the first groups allowed back in to Mainland China, around 1976  I think it was. Anyway, based upon the layers, I believe they are real cinnabar. I also think the very large detailed carved panel I bought for my sister-in-law was genuine cinnabar (weighed relatively little and was somewhere around 30" by 26" if I remember correctly.) I assume it had been part of a piece of furniture or something and that panel was later turned into a wall hanging. Any idea what this would have come from and if that has any especial value? She displays it in her unused fireplace. It really never occurred to me (or the seller of the panel) that genuine cinnabar had any especial value over carved wood.

Thank you for any information you can provide!


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Boletus
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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2017, 01:04:29 pm »

Dear ileney,

I have stumbled upon this post by chance and realized you didn't get any reply... I feel sorry about that so although I'm not really an expert on cinnabar boxes and don't even know if you'll get my reply, here I am with my opinion.
To me these boxes look of very recent/modern manufacture, I have seen quite a few of these in various shops, and especially those with blue enamel on the inside seem to me like a modern product made for export. As for dates, I am afraid perhaps these were probably made just prior to you mom buying them, in the 1970s.
Unfortunately, as per value, I really don't think that they can be worth much, even if made of real cinnabar lacquer.
Also, in regard to toxicity, I really don't think that those boxes can be considered toxic, at least not by just handling them.
I hope this helps.
Cheers
Frank
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Frank
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« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2017, 06:16:00 pm »

Dear Ileney,

I can not add anything, only to agree with Frank.

Regards Jason.
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George
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« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2017, 07:41:16 pm »

I can not add anything either except to say that I do think it is lacquer as I can see good layers..
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« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2017, 01:26:21 am »

Dear Frank,
what you did here is much appreciated. I am referring to digging old, not answered posts. It is very god for the Forum. Well done.
Dear Ileney, these boxes were not mean for holding snuff. They are either cosmetic boxes or seal wax boxes.
Kind regards
Giovanni
 
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« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2017, 03:44:35 am »

Hi Ileney,

I hadn't seen this post either so well done to Frank for resurrecting it.

I bought a very similar tea caddy last week from an antique shop, not expensive but I collect lacquered tea caddies. Some Japanese ones are carved wood with a layer of cinnabar lacquer on top (Kamakura-bori) but these are Chinese with the blue bases and are layered cinnabar lacquer normally over metal.

Lacquer on it's own in it's raw state is harmful but entirely safe once set and has been used for eating vessels for centuries. Cinnabar is mercury sulphide and is highly toxic. The Spanish used their convicts to mine it as it was considered a death sentence to work in the mines. Cinnabar added to lacquer shouldn't be harmful as the lacquer sets and forms a skin to contain the cinnabar.

Having said that I recently bought a cinnabar lacquer box and tray and drove for a few hours with them sitting uncovered on the passenger seat of my car and ended up with a headache which persisted until after I got home and cleared when I put them in my "posh" sitting room which I rarely use.

Carved cinnabar lacquer can be valuable in any form, not just as snuff bottles. You see various panels sold that would have been part of a piece of furniture and I have a lacquered and ivory inlaid panel myself.

Regards, Adrian.
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Joey
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« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2017, 10:01:40 am »

Dear Ilene,

      I must apologise - I never saw this post either - 14.Apr.2016 - I believe I was travelling from Israel via Malta and Piacenza to London and back to Israel before Passover. But the info others have given you is correct.
Well done, Frank.
Best,
Joey
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Joey Silver, collecting snuff bottles since Feb.1970

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« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2017, 10:59:16 am »

Dear Jason, George, Giovanni, Adrian and Joey,

Thank you all for participating in this thread with further comments and for your kind words about my wanting to give some answers to the initial post.
I myself have a strong interest in anything that is cinnabar lacquer, passion that culminated in finding a very nice (at least Giovanni and I believe so) cinnabar snuff bottle in my recent trip to Australia, from an antiques dealer.
To remain on the topic of this thread I'd like to add here some images of another recent find of mine, this time here in Italy, in a local open air Sunday antiques market.
It is a cinnabar red lacquer cup, 6 cm in height an 13 cm in diameter, it bears two dragons carved on the sides and, at least in my opinion, bears good signs of use, wear and also a rather nice patina, all elements that made this piece stand out from all the rest, again this is according to my eye. I can guarantee it to be made or real multi-layered lacquer, and hope that my poor photos can pay justice to the muted colours and patina of the surface.
It also bears on the inside bottom and sides strong traces from the remnants of a what seems to be a "waxy", resinous substance now dry. (Giovanni, could that be the seal wax you mention in your previous post?)
Now that I think about it... could it be that this "cup" once had a matching lid now missing?
Dear everyone, what do you think of it?
Please, as always, let me have your kind thoughts and comments.
Cheers
Frank


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« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2017, 03:36:00 pm »

Dear Frank,
my fault. By "wax seal box" I meant indeed "paste seal box".
Kind regards
Giovanni
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« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2017, 09:43:01 pm »

Hi Frank,

I too need to thank you for 'reviving' this thread. (I hope Ilene has seen it.) I was also travelling at the time it was originally posted, which is probably why I missed it last year.

The bowl is a nice 'find'. Joey has commented more than once that he found the Italian open air antiques markets tantalising. It is far too large for a seal paste box. And, judging by the lip profile, I do not believe it was designed to have a lid.

Tom
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Joey
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« Reply #10 on: August 02, 2017, 10:11:32 pm »

Dear Frank,

     I agree with Tom. Personally, it looks to me like a personal food bowl, ie., for eating food out of.
Re. the quality of objects on offer at Italian antique fairs, open air or not, it is amazing in my opinion. I have bought some truly great objects while visiting Giovanni: near Linate, near Parma, and in La Spezia. And I've acquired from Giovanni many beautiful objects he has found, presumably at these fairs, as well. But Giovanni has a great eye for quality, and that helps as well.   
Best,
Joey


Hi Frank,

I too need to thank you for 'reviving' this thread. (I hope Ilene has seen it.) I was also travelling at the time it was originally posted, which is probably why I missed it last year.

The bowl is a nice 'find'. Joey has commented more than once that he found the Italian open air antiques markets tantalising. It is far too large for a seal paste box. And, judging by the lip profile, I do not believe it was designed to have a lid.

Tom
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« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2017, 12:39:04 am »

Dear all,
to be clear, as for seal paste box I was referring to Ileney's box, not to Frank's bowl, which is clearly a bowl.
Kind regards
Giovanni
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« Reply #12 on: August 03, 2017, 03:20:46 am »

Dear Giovanni,

thanks for that, it is very clear so I guess that that substance is not seal paste.
If any one has any idea of what it could be (or indeed, why it is found in there) please let me know.

Dear Tom and Joey, thanks for the information and comments.
It's good to learn that it is indeed a bowl and therefore there is no missing lid.
Yes, Italian antiques markets are really full of treasures (especially in certain collecting fields) if one has the knowledge to distinguish quality.
And Giovanni has a great eye indeed!
Best regards
Frank
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« Reply #13 on: August 04, 2017, 06:44:01 am »

Dear Frank,

     While visiting fellow snuff bottle collectors in La Spezia one time, Giovanni and I accompanied them to the tail end of an antique fair, and I found a really beautiful dish for serving sweets during the formal tea ceremony, cinnabar on porcelain, from the Taisho period (ca.1910-1935, in effect Japanese Art Deco). And quite reasonable - I believe it was about 40-60 Euros. And this was after I'd found a Meiji Ivory page turner with lacquer decoration on one side and embellished decoration on the reverse, both of birds and flowering or fruiting vines, for 60-80 Euros, at an antique market near Parma - Giovanni was able to get me moving earlier than we needed in order to get us to La Spezia for our lunch, so that we were able to stop and browse. And we were able to visit a beautiful Church there as well, decorated in the Baroque style, I believe.

    Best,
Shabbat Shalom,
Joey
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« Reply #14 on: August 04, 2017, 07:25:21 am »

Dear Joey,

thank you for sharing your story.
You know what? Personally (I wonder if it is just me) I find that certain tales that come with the objects are even more interesting than the objects themselves.
After all, is it the catch or the chase?
I believe we should talk more about this issue, and share more tales of treasure hunting.
I wonder if this angle would make the Forum even more interesting!
Please let me know what your thoughts are on this.
Kindest regards
Frank

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« Reply #15 on: August 04, 2017, 09:48:11 am »

Dear Frank,

     Being an addicted collector, I want the objects; but there is no question in my mind that an interesting story adds to the object's intrinsic value with another, less tangible but not less important value. It enriches the owner by reminding him or her of what was appealing in the piece in the first place, and makes for an entertaining story for someone just viewing it.

    There is definitely a place for these stories while posting them. I always try to add such personal historical and emotional context, but have occasionally been 'rapped on the knuckles' over it (a reference to the [thankfully outdated] practice of a teacher rapping a child on the knuckles with a ruler in class, for those who don't know the phrase's context), and told to 'keep to the topic'.

   I ignore such comments, and continue to 'do it my way' (by plagiarising a great singer's song  Roll Eyes Angry Grin)
Best,
Shabbat Shalom,
Joey

 
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Joey Silver, collecting snuff bottles since Feb.1970

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« Reply #16 on: August 04, 2017, 10:22:38 am »

Ha Joey, good point!
I am sure that for an avid collector the object itself is what really matters, but I am also sure that if you buy a very good bottle let's say at auction, bottle that comes with no exciting personal tale or attachment of any kind, or if you perhaps find just a good bottle but in an incredibly exciting situation, out of some crazy place or in a little market where you had no idea you could ever find something like that, etcetera... well, I think you'd probably in the end prefer the experience of acquiring the "just good" bottle to that of the "very good" one... at least that is probably the very personal way I'd see it.
So, you've been "rapped on the knuckles" for diverging from the topic...
But isn't an exciting and interesting tale of how one eventually finds a bottle as interesting and relevant to the topic as the bottle itself?
Talking about raw materials or carving techniques is very illuminating, listening to other people's real life hunting stories should be very illuminating too.

I guess what you say probably tells me that the experiment I had in mind is a "no-no" for now...
Best
Frank
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« Reply #17 on: November 21, 2017, 08:06:54 pm »

Dear Frank, I am so very sorry for failing to acknowledge your help! I also apologize to the many others who took time from their busy days to give me so much helpful information and to share such fascinating stories about treasure hunting, including, in addition to Frank, Jason, George, Adrian, Giovanni, Tom and Joey. I really learned much from your responses. You answered many of my questions about these boxes and other items.  I am afraid I have been away from the forum for a while and just checked back in to find I missed all these replies, with such excellent information, not to mention that I missed hundreds of fascinating snuff bottle posts that I will have to catch up on.

My teenage son (who has mild autism and is very bright) returned to college in August, then decided to take a leave of absence so he could try out becoming (ugh) a professional poker player. That has had me worried/preoccupied. I've also been very busy with metalsmithing class and lapidary work and didn't realize how much time had passed since I last looked in.

My parent's neighbor, who collected (mostly very inexpensive, touristy) Chinese decorative items decided to move and my parents went to the tag sale the second day and bought me half the things there, I think, for three hundred dollars, as they know I have a mostly undecorated condo and like Chinese artwork. Now they are having great difficulty mailing it all to me, but amongst the items so far have received were three cheap snuff bottles, which made me think of this site, only because one has me quite puzzled as to material. They also sent me many small carved panels, some of which have red lacquer or paint on them, which might have been made with cinnabar? They smell camphorish. I love the panels and plan to put them in some sort of pattern on the wall in my entryway hall. (I also had bought while antiquing, for a bargain price, a large but lightweight cinnabar carved panel that I gave to my sister and brother-in-laws for their anniversary, as they liked it.)

(I will try to post the snuff bottles tonight if possible or later if I don't get a chance. They said they had a price of $3- $5 each, I think, so they did not go wrong with them!)
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« Reply #18 on: November 22, 2017, 05:40:25 am »

Dear Ilene,

    From the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, to the late 1990s, lots of very good Chinese things were coming out as 'tourist trinkets'. The Chinese needed foreign currency. Badly.

    Now they are buying things back...
Best,
Joey                                                                     
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ileney
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« Reply #19 on: November 22, 2017, 09:50:25 am »

Thank you Joey. I am beginning to suspect my parents got a really great bargain for me. In any case, I am super excited by how nice some of these things look in my condo. My favorite items so far are deeply carved and gilted wood panels which may possibly have some old cinnabar paint on them. I plan to hang them in a pattern in my entry foyer (some of the panels shown below). They claim  they haven't sent me the nicest things because they are too fragile and large (pots and lacquer trays and display plates, I think), so they want me to pack them myself next time I visit (or I'll just have UPS deal with it). I posted a picture of the panels. Maybe they were from beds originally?


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