There is a wide range of glass, particularly popular with the snuff-bottle maker, which imitated realgar. Realgar is the least toxic of all arsenic compounds but it tends to break down upon long exposure to sunlight and eventually disintegrates to a fine powder. It is the fifth basic element for the Chinese and played an important role for the alchemist, for whom it symbolized longevity and immortality. Only one early, functional snuff bottle in realgar is known (in a private collection in England), but glass copies of the material were a staple of Imperial production at the Imperial glassworks in Beijing from the Kangxi period onwards. It seems likely that the broad range of typical glass copies of the material were confined to Court production during the Qing period.
This bottle falls into a large group of plain, compressed-ovoid realgar-glass bottles which were blown into molds. It is likely that they were produced at the Imperial glassworks over a long period of time from the early-eighteenth century onwards, although it is also possible that such glass was produced elsewhere as well. See Moss, Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, Vol.5, Glass, no.703.
For a realgar-glass bottle still in the Imperial Collection, see Masterpieces of Snuff Bottles in the Palace Museum, p.82, no.58. For a series of five realgar-glass bottles of various types in The Victoria and Albert Museum, from bequests made from 1901 to 1936, see H. White, Snuff Bottles from China, pl.63.