Snuff, considered a miracle medicine by 17th and 18th century Chinese, is the reason the exquisite snuff bottle came into being. Originally crafted by Imperial Household artists, these softly rounded bottles were made from a variety of materials including porcelain, ivory, and orange rinds. In the 19th century, skilled artists began painting inside the crystal bottles, creating pictures of animals, natural scenes, portraits, and erotic images. Snuff bottles became status symbols and statements of wealth.
Today snuff bottles are made from extruded strips of man-made crystal that are chopped to size, smoothed into shape by hand, and then individually scored inside with tiny revolving files and a gritty powder. This allows the combined porcelain and acrylic paints to adhere to the crystal. Academy-trained artists begin with the foreground and end with the background, laying the colours down through the narrow opening of the bottle with their specially made brushes.
Every finished snuff bottle is unique, and the prices for the palm-sized creations range from 20 dollars up into the thousands depending on the artist’s name, skill, and years of inside-painting experience. “China’s economy is changing,” says local collector, David Osborne. “Citizens are becoming affluent and rediscovering the antique bottles, impacting the price as the demand rises.” David believes they are a good investment, and the miniature masterpieces not only look lovely, but make great conversation pieces too.
Visit Snuff Bottle Collector for more information.