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The bottle of flattened, rounded form, carved through the bright blue overlay with the obverse and reverse of a Spanish silver dollar complete with its milled edge, the obverse with the monarch's head encircled by the legend 'Carolus.IIII.dei.gratia' and the date, 1796, the reverse with the Spanish coat of arms and 'Hispan.et.ind.rex. M.8R.F.M', the narrow sides with plain elongated ovoid panels, all on a 'snowflake' ground, tourmaline stopper
2 3/16 in. (5.5 cm.) high
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1981)
100 Selected Chinese Snuff Bottles from the J & J Collection, back cover and no. 97
J & J poster
JICSBS, Autumn 1989, front cover
Moss et. al., The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle, The J & J Collection, vol. 2, no.
The Art of Chinese Snuff Bottle, Poly Art Museum, p. 111
Christie's London, October 1987
Christie's New York, 1993
Empress Place Museum, Singapore, 1994
Museum fur Kunsthandwerk, Frankfurt, 1996-1997
Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 1997
Naples Museum of Art, Florida, 2002
Portland Museum of Art, Oregon, 2002
National Museum of History, Taipei, 2002
International Asian Art Fair, Seventh Regiment Armory, New York, 2003
Poly Art Museum, Beijing, 2003
Special notice

Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.

Lot Essay

This bottle belongs to a series of intriguing 'coin' bottles carved with the two sides of the Spanish silver dollar which, along with a gold counterpart, were standard international currency in trading during the 19th century. Such bottles are usually of rock crystal but are also found in other types of quartz, and nephrite, and very rarely, in glass. This excellent example exhibits a faithful reproduction of the original coin, including all the text, which would have meant nothing to a Chinese lapidary and was frequently reduced to mirror images, a pastiche, or meaningless squiggles. The 'M' with a small circle over it indicates production at the Mexican mint. For a discussion on these coins, see Moss, Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, vol. 2, Quartz, no. 238, where it is noted:

Of the known early coin bottles, almost all of them reproduce coins minted in Mexico during the reign of Charles III (1760-1788) or his son Charles IV (1788-1808). The earliest date noted so far on one of these coin bottles is 1780 and the latest 1801, with many examples for the years 1789-1798, which coincides almost exactly with the period when commerce between China and the United States intensified, the first American trading vessel having arrived in Guangzhou in 1785. After the American War of Independence, the United States accepted the eight-reales coins as their official currency. It was not until 1785 that a new American-style silver dollar was approved by Congress but no coins were struck until 1794. American traders to China would have been using mostly Mexican dollars in the early trading years and were almost certainly the main impetus behind this new type of snuff bottle. After the Mexican declaration of independence in 1821, no more Spanish dollars were minted in that country. The tendency to treat coins alternately as coins and lumps of silver also led to the common practice in the Spanish colonies of cutting a dollar into eight pieces, or 'bits', in order to produce smaller units of currency, and the convenience of this practice was perpetuated in the division of the American dollar into four 'quarters', which are still referred to colloquially as 'two bits'.

The arrangement of the obverse and reverse of the coin on different sides of the bottle perfectly suits the Chinese taste for panels of decoration. The milled edge of the coin on the present bottle creates the panel frame. Milled edges on coinage were introduced at a time when coins were made of precious metal, to prevent the clipping of small amounts of valuable material from the edges of coins.

The distinctly opaque appearance created by the concentrated white flecks in the glass was an alternative to bubbles in transforming clear glass into a non-transparent material for overlaying. The usual term for such glass, which seems o have been in use since the early eighteenth century, is 'snowflake' or 'camphor' glass. In earlier bottles, the flecks were more sparsely distributed and usually combined with bubbles. The very dense, even disposition of the 'snowflakes' in this example seem to have been an early nineteenth-century development.


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