Animal-form and figural porcelain snuff bottles gained popularity towards the very end of the eighteenth century and continued to be produced through the nineteenth century. Several versions of figural bottles formed in the shape of Liu Hai exist. There are two examples in the Princeton Art Museum, New Jersey, all dating slightly earlier than the present example. For a discussion of the group and list of other examples see M. Hughes, The Blair Bequest, Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Princeton University Art Museum, Baltimore, 2002, pp. 221-222, nos. 302-303. Also see Xia Gengqi and Zhang Rong (ed.), Masterpieces of Snuff Bottles in the Palace Museum, Beijing, 1995, p. 166, no. 169, for a Daoguang example. All of these examples are modeled in a columnar fashion. The present bottle is unusual in the group for the freely modeled arms and legs.
Liu Hai is the immortal associated with commercial success. He is nearly always portrayed with his three-legged toad and cash, and conveys a wish for prosperity. The three-legged toad itself has origins in the magical realm, representing the unattainable. It was only in later Chinese art that it was associated with Liu Hai. There are many versions of the story of Liu Hai and his toad companion, but the essential elements remain that as a reward for his friendship, the toad revealed the secret to eternal life. Holding the toad also allowed Liu Hai to travel anywhere in the world instantaneously.