A BURLWOOD SNUFF BOTTLE, QING DYNASTY
Wood burl (possibly huamu, birch burl) with good patina and expressive grain.
China, 19th century
During the mid- to late Qing dynasty, burlwood snuff bottles seemed to have become popular as relatively inexpensive bottles for the growing private market as the habit of taking snuff spread throughout the empire. This example is related to that group of bottles by its material, but the shape is a rare one for a wooden bottle and was presumably inspired by the spade shaped jade bottles so popular during the second half of the Qing dynasty.
It is often difficult to identify the species of tree from which a burl has been taken, particularly in cut and polished examples, but this has the appearance of birch burl (huamu). Birch grew in Manchuria, homeland of the Qing rulers. Burl wood was used frequently in China and was also used for making the typical shallow tea bowls used in Tibet and Mongolia. The material would have been available to the Chinese throughout the Qing dynasty, and it is difficult to date many surviving examples because they lack decoration, dates, or inscriptions. The majority of burl-wood snuff bottles were probably made from the mid-Qing dynasty onwards, and mainly for a non-Imperial market. A bottle such as this, however, could date from mid-Qing and have courtly connections. For that period, we cannot rule out an Imperial product simply because of its common material.
Mouth, neck and lip: Short sprawling neck with flat top and small mouth
Base: Tapered foot rim and flat oval base
Stopper: Matching stopper and spoon
Height of the bottle with stopper: 6,5 cm.
Width of the mouth: 6 mm.
Width of the neck: 17 mm.
Weight: 23 grams
Condition: Excellent with two tiny nicks to foot
Provenance: United Kingdom private collection; old collector’s label to base indicates a purchase date of March 13th, 1969
Literature comparison: For an impressive example, see Au Hang 1993, no. 238, where no. 239 is another, of the more typical later-Qing type having prominent mask handles and a matching stopper. For two other burl-wood snuff bottles, see Geng and Zhao, nos. 429 and 430.
Auction result comparison: SNUFF BOTTLES FROM THE MARY AND GEORGE BLOCH COLLECTION: PART VI. Sotheby’s, 27 MAY 2013, HONG KONG, lot 153. (for a dated example) SNUFF BOTTLES FROM THE MARY AND GEORGE BLOCH COLLECTION Part V. Bonham’s, 27 May 2012, HONG KONG, lot 92. (for a similar example, but lacking the matching stopper)