Chinese Snuff Bottles and Matching Dishes from Private Collections A snuff dish was part of Qing-dynasty snuff-taking paraphernalia. It seems to have served several functions. It would allow for a portion of snuff to be taken from a bottle so that any lumps that may have formed could be returned to the powdered state for inhalation, perhaps by using either the snuff-bottle spoon, a stopper of suitable shape – a cabochon, for instance – or even a finger-nail or finger. When Ye Bengqi葉菶祺, the inside-painted artist son of Ye Zhongsan葉仲三, was interviewed in Beijing by Hugh Moss over a two week period in January 1974, the question of the snuff dish was raised.1 Ye Bengqi stated that during the first half of the twentieth century, when snuff was still commonly used, the dish was associated not with a particular bottle but with a particular snuff taker. When snuff takers gathered, and snuff bottles were passed around socially the etiquette was to transfer the proffered snuff onto a personal dish in order to prepare it for inhalation. This would certainly be a hygienic solution, but may also have evolved as part of snuff-taking etiquette. It would also solve the riddle of why so many plain ivory snuff dishes have survived into the present day. If there were certain standard materials that were considered ideal for snuff dishes, then dishes in those materials would far outnumber any other type, which is the case. How such etiquette came about, however, is speculative. Many early bottles have what must, presumably, be integral snuff dishes where the two main sides are dished. But equally common with many early- and mid-Qing snuff bottles were bottles with raised, flat panels on each main side which could also have served as integral snuff dishes, leading to the possibility that any bottle with at least one flat main side could equally be used as an integral snuff dish. Because none of the more common, ivory and stained walrus-ivory snuff dishes are precisely dateable, it is entirely speculative as to when a separate dish came into use. Snuff taking was a Manchu social marker, and at the Qing court, a snuff bottle and a thumb-ring were among the most common accoutrements of the Manchu elite, soon copied, of course, by Han Chinese who served the Qing court. As snuff bottles became fashionable at court by the first half of the eighteenth century, novelty of materials, forms and decoration guided fashion, and the wealthy elite, including of course the Emperor and his imperial workshops, became obsessed with snuff, snuff taking, and snuffing accessories, so it would be a natural inclination to evolve an integral snuff dish to a separate one to further complicate the rituals of snuff taking, and introduce more novelty. Matching snuff dishes appear to have been the exception rather than the rule, suggesting that Ye Bengqi’s account of early twentieth century snuffing practice may have represented Qing practice in general. The earliest dateable snuff dishes are made of enamels on metal, and less commonly, enamels on glass, imperially made either at the Palace Workshops or, in the case of one very rare group, at Guangzhou during the second half of the eighteenth century.2 The Guangzhou group, where four are known, all of foliate, asymmetrical form, possibly dating from as early as the mid-eighteenth century, but if not from the second half of the Qianlong period, from the 1760s to 1780s.3 The one remaining in the imperial collection has a northern-style blue enamel, regular-script reign mark in a white cartouche.4 The others have small four-character marks in black that are typical of Guangzhou. Another clue is the subject matter of small creatures and insects on lotus leaves, which match in style a small group of superbly painted small boxes and covers from Guangzhou, some of them of European hinged snuff-box shape. The example with the blue mark is a useful reminder, however, of the confusion that can be caused by workshops hundreds of miles apart both producing wares for the court with a good deal of influence going back and forth between them, sometimes in the form of expert enamelers being co-opted to the Palace workshops. A neat northern-style blue reign mark does not necessarily prove a northern product by any means. An open mind is still appropriate for this rare group, but Guangzhou now seems the more likely place of manufacture. Several of the late-Qianlong Palace workshops enamelled metal dishes are primarily monochrome with either ruby red or blue landscapes, although others are known with the fuller palette.5 Among these is a small group, obviously made at the Palace workshops, that is decorated with chicks in a garden setting on a yellow ground, with regular-script marks reading Jingwei tang zhi敬畏堂製(‘Made for the Hall of Respect and Awe’). The mark on ceramics is usually dated to the Qianlong reign, or sometimes optimistically to as early as the Yongzheng reign, but given the enamelled metal dishes which can be confidently dated to around 1780-1810 at the latest, this would seem the more likely period for its use. It is probably one of many imperial studio names in mid-Qing residences of the imperial family.6 These are less well recorded than many private studio names, and we have been unable to locate it in the literature, although we have identified a number of non-imperial studios by this name around the country, none suggesting any relevance to these snuff dishes. As products of the palace workshops (evident by style and materials), and with their yellow ground, they appear to have been made for imperial use, or distribution, whether by the emperor or his family or officials granted the honour of using imperial yellow wares. It seems likely that as snuff-dishes became fashionable, the emperor, or perhaps another member of his family, decided to make a series of these snuff dishes, all with chicks in a garden scene. The design of chickens and chicks is found elsewhere on late-Qianlong palace enamels on glass, possibly a reflection of the popular chicken cups inspired by Chenghua originals from the Ming dynasty and produced for the court at Jingdezhen from the Yongzheng into the Qianlong period. It would perhaps make more sense for the Emperor to have encouraged the matching dish as it seems that at Court the imperial family and high ranking officials would have had bottles full of snuff set aside in various living spaces where it would make sense to have beside it a matching dish. It would also be less likely that the Emperor, or perhaps other high-ranking members of the family would, in any case, be as frequently offering their snuff to others as a social habit. Few of these enamelled dishes ever precisely match a known bottle, and even when they do it would be difficult to prove that they were intended as an original, matching set. Apart from these more identifiable dishes, there are also many others in plain glass, even glass overlay dishes that can be matched to bottles, but only because they are in the same materials as the bottles; there is no particular indication in nearly all cases that they were originally made to be matched. This may also be the case with other relatively common types, such as in cloisonné enamel, nephrite, agate and many other materials. As the paraphernalia of snuff taking became more complex, there is no reason why the same fashionable approach to novel types of bottles should not have spread to the associated snuff dishes. Even if we can identify nothing in the way of a separate snuff dish that is definitely earlier than the mid eighteenth century, dishes survive in large numbers. Hundreds are known in ivory, which seems to have been the single most popular material for them. Chinese ivory snuff bottles made to function before collectors became involved are relatively rare, which would seem to endorse the conviction that bottles and dishes were not generally made in matching sets of the same material. Many of these ivory dishes may appear to be earlier than they are as their patinated surface can be misleading. Ivory will patinate rapidly in constant use and contact with the hand, the more so if used in conjunction with something that would rapidly stain it brown, such as snuff. Even allowing for that, however, many of them might date from an earlier period than the late Qianlong. The proliferation of snuff dishes dateable to the mid-Qing into the early twentieth century allows us to speculate that the integral snuff dish may have gradually given way to its separate counterpart at some time during the latter part of the eighteenth century, the influence coming from the court as did so much snuff taking fashion at that time. It then became a popular accessory, taking on a life of its own for the rest of the dynasty and into the twentieth century. Snuff dishes are known bearing dates into the 1920s and they undoubtedly continued to be produced even thereafter. Matching of bottles and dishes is seemingly primarily a recent, collectors’ response. Prior to the 1960s such matches are uncommon with only the occasional set found in an old, specially fitted case. But in Hong Kong in the 1960s-1980s, when the market was awash with snuff bottles and dishes, a keen and very active group of local collectors sometimes matched the two as part of their collecting hobby. The driving force behind this, and keenest exponent, was the late Arthur Gadsby who not only formed one of the more impressive collections of snuff bottles in Hong Kong at the time, but the largest and most comprehensive collection of dishes matched to bottles.7 The current sale comprising matching snuff bottles and dishes from private collections was formed with the advice and help of Hugh Moss for over nearly thirty years, with continued additions up until quite recently. It includes some of Gadsby’s original collection, in his signature, blue-cloth fitted cases. While every bottle has been matched with a dish of similar material or design, one must note that they were not necessarily made together as a set, nor were they necessarily made at the same time. The dating in this catalogue largely applies to the bottles only. As will be seen, in most cases the matching has been done recently, by buying bottles and matching dishes separately over a period of time. Nonetheless, very few private collectors are able to amass over a hundred pieces of matched snuff bottle and dish, which requires tremendous effort and time. This sale comprises a rich array of materials including enamel, jade, jadeite, glass, agate, amber, jasper, ruby, mother-of-pearl, lacquer, and coconut shell, among others, encompassing almost all materials seen among snuff bottles and dishes, making it a truly representative and remarkable group. 1 Hugh Moss arranged the two-week visit specifically to interview the artist regarding his work in painted enamels with the help of the snuff-bottle collector Adolph Silver who was an advisor on economics to Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. 2 For Palace enamels on metal, see The Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection of Snuff Bottles. Part One. Imperial Influence over the Snuff Bottle Arts, 21.3.596, and 21.3.307 for enamelled glass. This publication is available free of charge on the website e-yaji.com. Also, for enamelled metal, see The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum 47: Snuff Bottles – Gugong Bowuyuan Cang Wenwu Zhenpin Quanji 47: Biyanhu, no. 178. 3 The smallest of these was in Hanhai Beijing, 12 January 2004, lot 2142 – also in The Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection of Snuff Bottles. Part One. Imperial Influence over the Snuff Bottle Arts, 21.3.505. This publication is available free of charge on the website e-yaji.com. Another is still in the imperial collection in Beijing (Xia Gugong, no. 36, and Gugong Complete Snuff Bottles, no. 179). One is in Treasures from the Scholar’s Studio, Tokyo: Dohosha, 1992, Illustrations Vol., p.145, no. 115. 52, fig. 43, and the fourth, with a katydid on the leaf-shaped dish, was in Sotheby’s, New York, 1 June 1993, lot 108. 4 Not illustrated in the earlier publication but shown in Zhang Rong 2008, no. 104. 5 The Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection of Snuff Bottles. Part One. Imperial Influence over the Snuff Bottle Arts, 21.3.1101. This publication is available free of charge on the website e-yaji.com 6 The Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection of Snuff Bottles. Part One. Imperial Influence over the Snuff Bottle Arts, 21.3.616, 21.3.800, 21.3.801. This publication is available free of charge on the website e-yaji.com 7 For an article by him, see Arthur Gadsby, ‘Matching Snuff Bottles and Saucers’, Arts of Asia, 1/1 (January–February 1971), 33–35.
IMPERIAL, ATTRIBUTED TO THE PALACE WORKSHOPS, QING DYNASTY, 1740-1850