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Old cinnabar snuff bottle?

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artadorned
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« on: February 04, 2017, 09:38:30 am »

Hello:) anyone have any thoughts about this cinnabar bottle? I was under the impression that metal and cinnabar together mean it's not too old? The old ones are lacquer or papier-mâché? But another friend says it's old?


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« Last Edit: February 04, 2017, 04:30:39 pm by Steven » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2017, 11:09:49 am »

Dear Elisha,

     First of all, your photos are TOO BIG! I've been downloading them and then looking at them.

     Now, as to your Cinnabar Lacquer SB. It is ca. 1830-1880, and a nice example. If it had a reign mark, I'd be dubious, but it seems fine re.age. There are condition issues (chips in the mouth rim, etc.), but it looks nice, as an example.

     It is such a pleasure to see genuine snuff bottles (ie., bottles made during the 'classical snuff taking period in China, ca.1600-1900), even though I've been slowly converted to admiring modern SBs from some striking examples posted on the Forum, especially a group of Opal bottles posted by another new member on the Forum, and another bottle, a modern overlay glass posted by yet another new member!

    Before seeing that one, the only modern (ca. 1950-2010) overlay glass bottles that impressed me and caused me to covet them, were two made for Mao Zedong to give as gifts to Honoured Foreign Friends of the PRC. They were carved with what looked like classic 18th C. continuous landscapes in rich ruby red glass on camphor (also called 'snowflake') glass; but with power lines and a power station on the Yangze River in the landscape!

    One, I was actually offered as 18th C., by a HK dealer in 1981, for US$1,800! And stupidly, I was scathing when I found the power station and power lines in the design! It actually didn't 'click' till later, that it was an extremely rare Cultural Revolution period overlay glass, and even then, easily worth as much as a genuine 18th C. example. 

   Today, it would be worth a fraction of the price of an 18th C. example.
Best,
Joey
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Joey Silver, collecting snuff bottles since Feb.1970

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« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2017, 03:29:11 pm »

Dear Elisha and Joey,

I have to say that things on this bottle look a little wrong to me although it's hard to tell with the image size.

If you look into the neck of the bottle you can see that the metal doesn't continue into the neck as it would if the whole body was made of metal. The material you can see inside the neck looks the same as on the outside although it looks rougher than it would on a resin copy which are normally drilled straight down into the body and so look smoother. The surface of the bottle looks wrong in that it has a shine on the flatter surfaces but looses that shine in other areas.

The detail on the bottle would make it very hard to both take a mould from and to mould a new copy from without trapping any air which would cause bubbles and hollows on the surface yet I can't see any.

Regards, Adrian.
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« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2017, 04:34:00 pm »

Hi Elisha,

I have modified your photos to make it readable, since George has to pay for the space, we need save the space as we can, so next time, would you please scale down your images to no wider than 900px which is more readable also small file size.

Very nice bottle your are sharing here,its no doubt a 19th cinnabar bottle, the details of the craving is not top quality, but middle grade above bottle.  I like it a lot.

Best,

Steven
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« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2017, 05:23:55 pm »

Just wanted to highlight what I meant in terms of the surface looking wrong in places.

Regards, Adrian.


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« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2017, 07:36:43 am »

Having considered this for longer I thought I would add more comments.

To my eyes the areas that have shine have too much shine, conversely the dull areas are too dull. Unpolished lacquer has a slight lustre and needs polishing to get any shine.

Deeply carved lacquer can't be shined in any normal way, if at all. One way to polish more awkward shapes was to use a very finely ground powder made from deer antler which was rubbed in by finger in a paste which wouldn't work for deeply carved lacquer as it wouldn't reach into the detail to polish it but would clog the detail with the paste which would then be very hard to remove. Flat surfaces were polished with a specific type of coal or charcoal which is no use either.

I believe this is a type of resin that has a coat of a synthetic lacquer over it although the detail looks hand carved not moulded.

Lacquer adheres to itself very well. Lacquer artists polish each layer of lacquer after it has dried before they add another layer. Lacquer tends to chip if knocked but does so in layers, not in single layers. It also doesn't tend to "peel" in layers. Some surfaces, like metals, need preparation so the lacquer would adhere to them and if this wasn't done properly the lacquer will come unstuck at some point.

There are two arrows in the picture below. The left one shows where it seems a gap that has opened up between the metal foot and the resin has been filled. Lacquer wouldn't open up as a gap like this if it didn't adhere to the metal base. For resin to set it has a catalyst added and the chemical reaction that sets it produces heat which can cause it open up a gap like this.

The lower arrow shows how what I believe is an added coat of synthetic lacquer has peeled away in areas which is not how real lacquer tends to behave. I would also question if lacquer would be applied in a layer at this angle to the body if it was genuine layered lacquer. The applied layers would be more parallel to the metal body, this peeled single layer is more fitting as a layer added later and not the uppermost layer of numerous others.

Regards, Adrian. 


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« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2017, 01:01:33 pm »

Dear Adrian, Elisha,
what is this shown by the arrow here below? A bubble?
Anyway, please not ethe different color and surface texture of the whole base and the rest of the bottle. I believe that the base has been restored somehow with a paint or a resin.
Kind regards
Giovanni


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« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2017, 02:17:03 pm »

Hi Giovanni.

I think the base has the same dull look as some of the other areas I pointed out.

I wasn't sure if what you arrowed was a bubble but I was going to add to my previous post that the indents on the base (including your marked bubble) shouldn't be there. You paint lacquer on in layers so there would be no holes in the lacquer.

There appear to be a lot of very small holes or indents at numerous places but you have to save the pictures to your pc so you can zoom right in to see them. They are almost pin prick small, far smaller than I have ever seen on any other resin bottle.

Regards, Adrian.
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« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2017, 04:14:39 pm »

Dear Adrian,

     There are 'condition issues' (read damage, and then poorly repaired) with this bottle, but I still believe it is a genuine 19th C. Cinnabar Lacquer.  I see your point and Giovanni's, but I think his backs up my opinion.
 
     I understood that the Chinese artisans had fine tools which could be used to get into small places on an ornately decorated object like this bottle. Where did you get the info that they couldn't do polishing in the hard to get at places?

    For craftsmen who could carve and smooth and polish in the multi-layer ivory spheres, and then shake them up so one wouldn't think of the channels used to get into the centre, it seems a doddle to get into single layer Lacquer work, no matter how ornate.

Best,
Joey
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« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2017, 05:19:55 pm »

Dear Joey,

At the risk of having George cancel my membership here with immediate effect I would say that if I was told I could collect only one thing then I would choose Japanese lacquer over snuff bottles.

When I looked at Elisha's bottle it just seemed wrong to me even before I noted that the brass top to the collar didn't extend into the bottle (effectively a brass disc mimicing a brass bodied bottle). A brass bodied cinnabar bottle has a brass lip (which is connected to the brass body as in a Cloisonne bottle) although it doesn't need one. Lacquered boxes, Inro etc have lacquer resting on lacquer, it's a very resilient material and doesn't need a brass on brass contact between the collar top and stopper bottom to protect it. There are very high quality cinnabar bottles that have a pure lacquered outer surface to show as much, lacquer on lacquer where stopper bottom meets bottle top and lacquer covering the base (thought to be on a wooden body).

If you compare the surface lustre of Elisha's bottle to examples from Bonhams etc there is a difference (I have provided a link to a Bonhams bottle, you can click on the main picture to enlarge it to very high detail and links from there to other cinnabar bottles for more comparison). The surface on those bottles have a duller sense to them than Elisha's bottle.

The first two detail pictures I added show enlargements of her bottle showing where there are distinct changes between shiny to non-shiny areas. If the surface of her bottle had been polished (and I would say it would have to have been to show that much shine if it was real lacquer) then why didn't the polishing extend into the areas I highlighted ? Those un-shiny areas are also too dull to be unpolished real lacquer.

I would happily polish the surface of ivory with a rotory tool. I wouldn't go near a cinnabar lacquered item with one. There are some cinnabar bottles and Inro that could take a light polish to their flatter areas, but it would be a gentle buff with say charcoal dust on a wettened cloth which wouldn't reach into deeper areas of the carving. Any sharp point on the carving that could snag a polishing cloth could be damaged on lacquer.

Then there are the bubbles and voids which do not occur when you paint lacquer on.

It is very hard to tell from pictures and any real opinion would best be reserved until a bottle is in hand but I have enlarged the pictures of Elisha's bottle and given them some attention because I still have a sense it may be carved not molded.

I would be far happier for Elisha's sake if it is real cinnabar lacquer  Smiley

I have a multi layered puzzle ball although sadly showing some damage now.

http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/19621/lot/46/

Kindest regards, Adrian.


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« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2017, 02:24:21 am »

Dear Joey,

At the risk of having George cancel my membership here with immediate effect I would say that if I was told I could collect only one thing then I would choose Japanese lacquer over snuff bottles.


Lol !  Cheesy
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« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2017, 08:45:52 am »

Dear Elisha,

As the person questioning your bottle I wanted to say that I hope you don't take it personally.

When you introduced yourself you said you had read the photo enhanced IP bottle thread which was the thread that lead me to join here as I had just bought one. Yesterday a more obviously photo enhanced one than mine sold for £560 on ebay. Sadly the buyer hadn't found this forum before buying it.

Two of the most viewed threads here are the photo enhanced one and one on cinnabar bottles. They are probably the two types of bottles that catch out the unwary more than any other. The other cinnabar thread has dealt with resin copies and how to spot them but your bottle (to me) is a very different thing in that it seems hand carved from a type of resin which is why I am pointing out differences I see between it and a real cinnabar bottle.

Another thing I haven't mentioned is the crispness of some of the carving on your bottle compared to a cinnabar one. Forms of plastics cut very cleanly leaving a smooth surface to the cut. Lacquer very rarely does. It is more brittle when set. A cut through a plastic/resin is like a cut through butter in the smooth surface of the cut. A cut in lacquer is more like a cut through a mature cheddar cheese which flakes to a degree when cut. You would need a loupe to see this properly.

You also raised whether metal with cinnabar meant a bottle was newer. The moulded resin fakes invariably have a brass disc on the base and on the top of the collar and bottom of the stopper and they do so because they are trying to emulate the best quality older real cinnabar bottles that tended to be made on a hollow metal base. So it does, just not always !

You also raised whether the old ones are lacquer or papier-mache. Cinnabar is a certain colour of lacquer, red or reddish orange. You see white resin copies called cinnabar which is wrong. Papier-mache was lacquered for Chinese export goods but not used for snuff bottles as far as I now. So cinnabar lacquer can be any age, old or new as it is still used.

Regards, Adrian.
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« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2017, 03:19:12 am »

Dear Joey,

It's said that Japanese netsuke carvers managed to carve ivory so finely that carving marks rarely showed but used pulverised hartshorn to give a polish to it.

Japanese lacquer workers used fish teeth to polish lacquer in hard to reach areas but any very fine detail would be hard to polish, especially acute angles ending in points. I have a cinnabar Inro and the background diaper pattern has very small areas on it's surface that show a slight polishing was done, probably by a finger wrapped in cloth.

If a metal surface was being lacquered the metal was first polished then coated with a crude variety of lacquer which was burnt on over a charcoal fire until no smoke was appearing. This was smoothed with a certain type of charcoal and repeated for 3 or 4 more layers. Then more normal base layers are built up as a ground for the rest of the lacquering process. This is why I said that you cannot get lacquer opening up a gap from the metal over which it's applied because it sets very hard by the heating process.

Regards, Adrian.
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« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2017, 07:20:17 am »

Dear Adrian,
 
     You've now given me, and others on the Forum, the start to a serious education in Lacquer production!  Shocked Wink   I'm impressed. 
   
     And I agree with you, that to me personally,  Japanese lacquer ware is much superior to Chinese, at least in design. I love the space on Japanese wares, while Chinese tend to display a 'horror vacui' ["fear of open space"] type of design.

    Luckily, George is not a fanatic, so we are safe. Wink Grin Roll Eyes

    But does all you've wriiten also apply to Chinese lacquer, or just Japanese?  What I mean is, was there no way to do finer work available to the Chinese artisans? I ask this for a specific reason.

    I've the privilege to be friendly with a couple in Japan who live within 1 hr. drive from Kyoto who are both craftspeople. He is an acomplished potter and she is an equally successful hand-weaver, at least in my opinion. I have purchased a lot of his beautiful B & W porcelain, mainly tea-ware, but also other objects; and I enjoy wearing a beautiful handwoven scarf by her.

    When I asked certain questions dealing with technique, they both had certain things they were able to do, but would not do, because these 'shorcuts' or 'timesaving acts' were unacceptable in Japanese craft producing. Their colleagues would have been offended, so my friends would not go against 'accepted Japanese craft practice'.

   While as a rule I respect Japanese craftspeople's loyalty to tradition etc, I am not hidebound, and I'd reckon, neither would the Chinese craftsmen have been.

   Best,
Joey
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« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2017, 04:26:30 pm »

Dear Joey,

My reading so far has been on Japanese lacquer techniques although a book on Chinese lacquering techniques is on the way to me so I will find out the differences between the two when I have read it. Nothing so far has given a specific look at cinnabar lacquer techniques although it involves layer after layer of the same thing whereas other techniques involved a far greater number of different techniques so hold more interest but I would like to learn more about it.

It is a personal opinion but most people with a love of lacquer feel the Japanese took lacquer work to levels unseen in any other county. That doesn't apply to all types of lacquer work and cinnabar lacquer in China could be pretty wonderful although I saw a Japanese cinnabar snuff bottle that had a layer of brown lacquer between the layers of red which when carved produced something quite different.

Japanese art seems to have had a considerable influence on Western art when it started to be seen here, you could say it was the start of many genres of Western art that are seen as starting in the West. Japanese art developed out of Chinese art which took over from their own art when the Chinese introduced the Japanese to Buddhism but in more closed periods the Japanese started to move away from Chinese influence and developed their own style. A lot of later Inro cases have designs that are very off centre and wrap around all sides of the Inro and show movement and facial expression, very non Chinese.

Whilst most Inro are highly decorated I bought one recently which has no decoration at all which has become one of my favourites, plain dark wood with ivory cord channels and a signature and nothing else. It works because it's perfectly executed. I much prefer the lacque burgaute snuff bottles that have pictured panels as opposed to just repeated patterns all over as much as I admire the level of work that goes in to producing them.

It seems that historically it was Westerners who recorded the processes involved in Japanese lacquer work and the last book I read was "A Lacquer Legacy at Kew". It is about the work a man called John Quin did when based in Japan soon after if opened up to the West in the middle of the 19th century. He recorded every process involved in lacquer, from the way they raised lacquer trees, how the lacquer was collected from them, processed and the methods used to produce lacquered products. He also sent back examples of all the tools used in harvesting lacquer, samples of every type and colour of lacquer, tools and brushes and everything else used in producing lacquered goods. He also sent back examples of lacquered goods, old and new and commissioned boards showing every type of lacquer technique and examples of designs showing how they were worked from start to finish. All was sent back To Kew Gardens who had asked for information on the Japanese lacquer industry as well as seeds for the trees.

When he did this in 1881 he said he was very concerned at the state of production of lacquer production at the time and feared the methods that had been refined over centuries were being abandoned in favour of cheaper materials and quicker setting inferior mixes of lacquer.

In the same way the Chinese Emperors bank rolled production of the finest snuff bottles, the Japanese Imperial household and Shoguns bank rolled production of the finest lacquer works. The time taken and the number of processes involved in producing the best lacquer works beggars belief really and couldn't be justified when these patrons of art stopped supporting it. Although short cuts were being used it was by economic necessity rather than choice.

Art in so many forms seems to be part of Japanese culture, even their food is art so your friends attitude is no surprise.

Regards, Adrian.

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« Reply #15 on: February 07, 2017, 05:34:08 pm »

Dear Adrian,

     Again, a facinating post! Thank you.

     But, while you acknowledged my comment re. my friends and their loyalty to the Japanese way of doing things at the end of the post, to the exclusion of 'unacceptable techniques', you did not say whether the Japanese restrictions on certain ways of working are because of inability or only due to their being unwilling.

     I have spoken to a craftsman who also works in black and red lacquer, and he claims it is possible to polish lacquer in hard to get at places, with specific fine tools, and that it should have been possible in the 18th C., as well.
   
     I will have to reread this and the prior posts. I have a collection of mainly Taisho Obis, and also Taisho Obi Designs produced as wood block prints (among a lot of collecting subjects), and the Japanese taste can be amazing.

Best,
Joey
   When
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« Reply #16 on: February 08, 2017, 03:38:10 am »

Dear Joey,

The point I was trying to make about polishing was that Elisha's bottle looked wrong to me in the quality of it's shine and the contrast to where it didn't shine because those areas should have had the same shine to them but didn't. I agree it is possible to reach difficult areas to polish them but some bits you would avoid for fear of shearing off the layers of lacquer.

This link is to the Japanese bottle I mentioned, the surface of this could take a good polish but this bottle and other good cinnabar ones don't have the same level of shine as Elisha's seems to have which is what made it look unnatural to me.

http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/18592/lot/150/

I found a modern lacquer company in Japan that detailed the processes involved in them producing inlaid boxes and while they have a number of processes they go through there aren't as many as John Quin reported on in 1881. They also never mentioned any different types of lacquer being used through their processes and yet Quin mentioned numerous varieties of lacquer, all of which had different properties, being available then.

Japanese lacquer is of a better quality than found in other countries as it has a higher (70%) content of urushiol in it and the processes they used to harvest and produce the varieties of different lacquers added to the cost of production of it. While they used to produce most if not all of the lacquer they used by 1998 they only produced 2.5 tonnes and imported 192 tonnes. Imported lacquers are cheaper and inferior  and don't seem to have the same care applied and the varieties of lacquer have been lost so Japanese lacquerers are restricted in that sense.

In the past they had their lives provided for by their patrons and were free to spend as long as they needed to both produce the highest quality of work and develop the best quality of lacquers and techniques to achieve that work. I don't see modern lacquer workers as unwilling to produce the best quality works they can, it is more a case of finding people willing to pay them to do so which is the same with so many crafts in all countries.

The lacquer work that Japan is probably best known for is their makie or sprinkled gold works. Quin reported that there were 12 grades of powdered metals in numerous kinds of pure gold ranging to pure silver with mixes of both metals in between and other metals used as well. Then there were 8 grades of finer metal particles and then 7 grades of larger individual pieces of mainly gold. I doubt this range would be available today.

Regards, Adrian. 

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« Reply #17 on: February 08, 2017, 04:24:34 am »

Dear Adrian,

     Again, your information is exact and detailed. thank you!

     I understand now. I did not pick up on the fact that you were using the levels of polish, and the fact that areas that should have been were not, and areas that should not have been, were, to make a statement about the authenticity of the bottle.

    My problem is that I never really trust my own or others' judgement through the screen. I had a bottle very similar to this one, and am assuming her's is the same period. I could be wrong.

    Again, amazing info on Lacquer. Do you have Dr. Edmund J Lewis' book on his Japanese Lacquer collection?  He and his wife are friends I met in Hawaii, when he was exhibiting his collection at the then Honolulu Academy of Arts (HAA), now the Honolulu Museum of Art (HoMA).

Best,
Joey
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« Reply #18 on: February 09, 2017, 04:40:24 pm »

I hope no-one minds if I add more to this but I just had my modern cinnabar lacquer bottle delivered so it offers comparison to Elisha's and relevance in new versus old.

If I say it's post 1950 then I may be being kind and it's not a well carved example but it is real layered lacquer over a proper hollow formed metal base. Probably Japanese in design ?

I've mentioned the difference in the shiny changing to dull transition on Elisha's bottle and how it doesn't feel right to me. If you think of it in terms of paint then it's gloss immediately changing to matt even though there are no sudden changes of angle to explain it.

My bottle is more of a satin finish as it isn't polished which is what I would expect and it's consistent across all the surface even along the carved edges.

It seems from a second reading of John Quin's findings that normal coloured lacquer had colour added to one layer only within many other layers and any layers that may have been able to be shined were finishing layers without any colour. The properties of lacquers that could take colour were different to finishing layers that gave a harder finish. Only black seems to be a colour that suited finishing type lacquers. Only a few different types of finishing layers could be polished to give a proper shine, most gave a more shiny satin finish rather than a shine although other types may have been developed since.

Cinnabar lacquer for carving was different, a harder top finish would make it harder to carve being more brittle and as colour is consistent through the depth of cinnabar carved lacquer it seems it was made up of numerous layers of a coloured lacquer that gave a finish that would never be described as hard relative to other finishes. There was little point in giving it a different type of lacquer as a top layer as the majority would be lost to carving.

Older quality Cinnabar lacquer may never show different layers because the sanding between layers and quality of lacquers used may make the layers nigh on invisible as they almost blend together. On my modern bottle the layers are very clear even in cuts going straight down into the lacquer while normally 45 degree cuts show layers better. The lacquer is also soft and easy to cut (I've tried) and the cuts don't really show the fractured surface I see on older carved lacquer although the cut pieces do fracture as they are cut.

As far as I can count my bottle may have at best 20-25 layers and there is an inconsistency that suggests the layers weren't sanded down prior to the next layer being added. I guess with modern bottles there is a certain price they can achieve so a certain amount of time you can spend on working them so corners have to be cut. So lacquers that have been developed to be put on thicker, dry quicker and are softer as they are inferior etc mean the quality of past bottles may be unachievable now.

It was said on another thread here that each layer of lacquer takes a minimum of a day to dry and as better lacquered bottles could have between 100-200 layers it gives some idea of the time taken to prepare them. From my earlier understanding from reading about Inro cases I had thought it was 2-3 days minimum for each coat to dry. From reading Quin's information it varied considerably depending on what specific lacquer was used, anything from slightly under a day to a month minimum depending on atmospheric conditions as a minimum level of humidity was required.

Regards, Adrian.





 


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« Reply #19 on: February 09, 2017, 05:03:36 pm »

Wow! Adrian, 
That DOES look modern. But it also looks genuine, as in a genuine Cinnabar Lacquer bottle. 
I must admit that I like it. It is not trying to fake being antique. It is an antique for tomorrow (actually, in 2117, or thereabouts... Roll Eyes Grin).
Best,
Joey
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