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Interesting Article from 1918 on Snuff Bottles

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Joey
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« on: August 11, 2017, 04:36:24 am »

While trawling the internet, I found this article reproduced in 1921 NYC auction catalogue featuring a collection of 300 snuff bottles:

The Treasured Snuff- Bottles of the Celestials
by
GARDNER TEALL
(Reprinted from March, 1918, issue of House and Garden)
One day when, happening into a Chinese shop where some antiques and
curios were offered for sale, I chanced to pick up a tiny bottle. It was not
over 2 1/2" high. Its weight proclaimed it crystal. A miniature scene and in-
scription were skilfully and beautifully painted inside.
"But what a tiny bottle. What was it used for?"
And the Celestial said: "Much little bottle China old time fine like this.
More other bottle kinds use snuff for, medicine for. Look yes you please."
The Celestial showed me how the ivory "spoon," running the depth of the
bottle and fastened in the coral stopper, was manipulated to fetch forth
portions of anything a vial of this sort might contain. In snuff-taking the
"spoon" was emptied on the thumb nail and the "sniff" deftly taken. That was
my introduction to the fact that snuff-taking in the Orient had fostered a
fashion that produced objects of vertu fully as interesting, certainly more
curious and as beautiful, as the snuff-boxes affected by the Europeans of the
17th and 18th Centuries.
After this is it any wonder that the collector's instinct should have led me
to be enthusiastic about Chinese snuff-bottles as a field for browsing? And
soon I found that the fascination of these little objects d'art had exerted no
small influence on other collectors.
Fine snuff-bottles were not to be found at every turning. Nevertheless they
were not so rare as one might imagine, although as with any other class of art
objects supreme examples were difficult to obtain at any price. Nearly all of
these bottles that we see in colIections are snuff-bottles, though many of them
were undoubtedly used for medicines, as the Chinese were great medicine con-
sumers.

Among the ornamental articles of Chinese dress, says an authority on
Eastern costume, in none do they go to so much expense and style as in the
snuff-bottle, which is often carved from stone, amber, agate and other rare
minerals with most exquisite taste. Jade, of course, was most precious of all
and often imitated in glass, as were topaz, amethyst, tourmaline, amber, and
other materials. Collectors in Euro:pe and America are beginning to realize
what interesting things in the way of snuff-bottles the Chinese glass-worker
produced .
. The fine porcelain snuff-bottles of the Celestials are indeed things to be
treasured. We find them in endless colors and designs. Some are plain, some
with under-glaze decoration, some cased with pierced porcelain casing, others
with moulded decoration, and still others with painted decoration. Occasionally
one finds a porcelain bottle whose glaze intentionally simulates glass.
The Chinese are skilful lapidaries. Their work in shaping jade and other
hard stones has not been surpassed. The Celestial craftsman likewise shows
great ingenuity in taking advantage of any irregularity in form or color of the
stone he is working. The various quartzes are worked by the Chinese on the
same treadle bench which they use in fashioning jade, and they work quartz
stones along the same general lines.
The writer is indebted to an American collector of Chinese snuff-boxes,
Mr. H. E. Bauer, for permission to reproduce some of the snuff-bottles in the
Bauer Collection. There are a number of fine private collections in America
and several notable public ones. Among the latter is that in the Metropolitan
Museum, New York. An examination of these illustrations will indicate the
unlimited range in the decoration, form, etc., of these objects. It will be seen,
however, that they are all nearly of a size dictated by general convenience in
carrying in pockets and pouches. The stoppers of these Chinese snuff-bottles
are scarcely less beautiful in many instances than the bottles themselves. As
a general rule the stoppers are of materials more precious than that used for
the bottle. In the Bauer Collection, for instance, is a Blue-and- White porcelain
snuff-bottle of the Ch'ien-lung Period (1736-1796) with a stopper inset with
semi-precious stones. Pearls and precious stones are less often employed, and
I have never seen a Chinese snuff-bottle stopper inset with diamonds. The
diamond is a stone the Chinese have never appeared to regard highly except
for its utilitarian possibilities. Coral is a favorite material for the snuff-bottle
stoppers. A number of such stoppers are in the Bauer Collection. Ivory is
not an uncommon material for stoppers, but fine ivory snuff-bottles are very
rare, as likewise are good cloisonne enamel bottles. One of the finest cloisonne
of which I know is to be found in the Bauer Collection.
There is no gainsaying that Chinese snuff-bottles cannot fail to attract the
collector by reason of their aesthetic interest. At the same time few objects
open up a more interesting intellectual treat than is afforded by a study of
these tiny bottles in respect to the subject of their decoration.
Surely the treasured snuff-bottles of the Celestials offer the collector much
that is intellectually delectable and as really interesting specimens are not
beyond the moderate purse their enjoyment does not necessitate the sacrifices
that might deter the collector whose enthusiasm might be dampened by other
objects of art that seem as hopelessly out of reach as were the grapes to Tantalus!


The above article and cover design reproduced by permission of
House and Garden [in the 1921 auction catalogue - JBS]

Joey
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Joey
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« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2017, 04:39:02 am »

This is the link:  nyarc.org/digital_projects/gilded_age/31289009873151.pdf‎

Best,
Joey
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forestman
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« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2017, 05:39:02 am »

Thanks Joey.

The closer the article to the true snuffing period of time, the more relevant they are.

Regards, Adrian.
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« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2017, 06:32:19 am »

Dear Adrian,

    You are probably right, but the imitation pidgin [And the Celestial said: "Much little bottle China old time fine like this.
More other bottle kinds use snuff for, medicine for. Look yes you please."] bothers me; as do the references to 'Celestials'.
Best,
Joey
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« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2017, 06:55:08 am »

Dear George,

    I am wondering if I put this in the right category. If not, could you please move it to where it should be?
Thanking you in advance,
Shabbat Shalom,
Joey
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« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2017, 09:41:28 pm »

Dear Joey,

An interesting "find". I have not come across this article before. Thanks for sharing.
The style of writing, not to mention the pidgin English, I found to be quite irritating - but I imagine that was the way a lot of House & Garden 'writing' was done back then.

Best,
Tom
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« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2017, 01:31:09 am »

Thank you dear Joey.
Interesting, I didn't know that the citizens of the Celestial Empire was called Celestials, although logical.
And I didn't realize before that indeed I have never found any Chinese object of Art with diamonds.
Kind regards
Giovanni
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« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2017, 04:07:31 am »

Dear Tom,

     Yes, I agree - the writing style is quite irritating.

Dear Giovanni,

    Thank you. Yes, in the 19th C. and the first 3rd of the 20th C., Sinophiles (lovers of Chinese culture, arts, etc.), referred to Chinese as 'Celestials'.

    The odd thing about the lack of diamonds is, I have in my own possession, a bottle out of the Guangzhou Imperial Court Tribute Workshops in gilt copper. It is attributed to the Qianlong period, and inset with paste gems in green, red, and clear. These are obviously meant to imitate emeralds, rubies and diamonds, with a design of red and clear coloured flower heads on a green background. And I have, in my possession, a Chinese belt buckle in gilt copper, same period and production, with inset agate and jade cabochons surrounded by clear paste gems, obviously again imitating diamonds.

   Now the snuff bottle, which I believe someone (probably Steven; Thank you Steven) has posted for me on the Forum, 'could be' meant as a gift for a Moghul or a Westerner etc. But the belt buckle is obviously in Chinese taste and for a Chinese, in my opinion.

   So if they had no problem using paste gems to imitate diamonds, why didn't the Chinese use diamonds?
Best,
Shabbat Shalom,
Joey
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« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2017, 04:56:44 am »

Dear Joey,
I may be wrong, but I think that actually the pre-Columbian civilizations too did not use diamonds, which is strange because they do exist in the Americas.
Kind regards
Giovanni
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« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2017, 11:43:18 am »

Dear Giovanni,

    I don't know anything about pre-Columbian cultures, except that I like Mochica pottery stirrup spout bottles (5th-8th C.) from coastal Peru,
and have a couple, plus a few books on the subject.
   
    But Moghul India and Ottoman Turkey, both used diamonds in their jewelry and in objects of virtu; and the Chinese used facetted clear paste gems to suggest diamonds; so why didn't they?

    Does anyone have an answer?
Best,
Shabbat Shalom,
Joey
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« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2017, 04:08:27 am »

Dear Joey,

All I can find on a historical note is that some Chinese carried a diamond, I assume in a raw form, in the belief they could ward off evil spirits and because they became symbols of strength, courage and invincibility.

Other than that they seemed to have used diamonds for carving and engraving materials, mostly jade, and for drilling holes in beads and pearls for example.

The Romans were known to use diamond fragments set in iron tools which were traded with China.

The first main source of diamonds was India and so you would have thought some would have been traded with China.

Archaeologists recently found ceremonial burial axes in China dating back to the 4-2 centuries BC which they believe were polished with diamond powder.

For whatever reason they just didn't seem to attach the same value and importance to diamonds as other cultures.

Regards, Adrian.
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« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2017, 09:41:31 am »

Dear Adrian,

    I must admit that, thanks to friendship with some De Beers heirs, I understand why most cultures were not as 'crazy' about diamonds as Western culture of the 20th and early 21st C. has been (with it going to East Asia, etc. later): They did not have good PR selling diamonds till the Oppenheimers got involved in the South African Diamond trade!  Roll Eyes Shocked  Wink

   I thought that Chinese always carried a small piece of white Nephrite Jade with them.
Best,
Joey
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« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2017, 10:14:19 am »

Dear Joey,

My reference was only on looking into any history of a diamond culture in China so I have no doubt you are right in that it would be more usual for the Chinese to carry a small piece of white Nephrite Jade with them than a diamond.

Regards, Adrian.
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« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2017, 11:09:42 am »

Dear Adrian,

     No criticism was meant, just a question.
I can see having two such objects in hand. After all, I wear a 300 year old Amber amulet with a name of G-D incised in Hebrew, mounted in gold, around my neck, while I keep a small pebble of white Nephrite jade with me as well.  Wink
The first is because of belief; the other is just a nice fondling piece.

   But we've still not solved what is for me the chief query re.diamonds. I have 2 examples where facetted clear paste gems are used simulating diamonds (the Chester Beatty Library example, #275 in Michael Hughe's catalogue, features only red and green facetted paste gems), but assume there must be more. Both bottles with inset facetted paste gems are attributed to the Imperial Workshops in Guangzhou which produced certain wares for Imperial use. Presumably, the belt buckle is from there, as well.
But are there any examples of Chinese art objects incorporating actual facetted diamonds known?
 
Best,
Joey



Dear Joey,

My reference was only on looking into any history of a diamond culture in China so I have no doubt you are right in that it would be more usual for the Chinese to carry a small piece of white Nephrite Jade with them than a diamond.

Regards, Adrian.
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« Reply #14 on: August 13, 2017, 11:14:51 am »

Dear All,

    Please ignore my last question in my previous post. I just re-read Michael Hughe's entry on #275, in the CBL catalogue he wrote for them on their bottles. It seems that Guangzhou was a centre for glass production in Qing China, and the craftsmen were copying 'foreign' art with the paste gems. It seems that even the Qing Court's craftsmen were sometimes 'careful' of their money, and happy to use cheap paste instead of dear real gems.
And there was at least one other object with clear faceted paste gems inset in imitation of diamonds, a rui-i sceptre; also made for the Court.
Best,
Joey
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