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Collecting Snuff Bottles - A Guide for Beginners

Updated on November 13, 2014
"Gathering of Scholars", antique snuff bottle
"Gathering of Scholars", antique snuff bottle | Source

Snuff bottles are part of the history of China and come in a variety of kinds, materials and prices. They can be antique and very valuable or just replicas and pretty modern exemplars and come in a variety of prices that fit every income. They are also very nice gifts.

Tobacco was introduced in the Chinese court by the Portuguese in the mid-to-late 16th century. During the 17th century, smoking was forbidden, but snuff was still permitted because of its medicinal values, so people switched to it.

Quing dinasty snuff bottle
Quing dinasty snuff bottle | Source

During the Quing dinasty (spanning fro the late 17th century until the early 20th century) snuff bottles started being produced in workshops, sometimes by very skilled artisans, to supply the rouyal court. Soon its use spread into all the country and into every social class. Offering a pinch of snuff was a way to greet friends and relatives. Snuff bottles became a way of displauing beauty and status. Its use declined as the 17 century went by, and virtually disappeared after the establishment of the Republic of China. But they are still being widely produced, intended for tourists and collectors. They were also produced and used in India and Tibet.
They are very small, and fit inside the palm.

Chinese snuff bottles of various kinds
Chinese snuff bottles of various kinds | Source

Snuff bottles come in a variety of materials including jade, metal, porcelain, wood, tortoiseshell, ivory and ceramic. Some are highly decorated, some are devoid of any decoration. Decoration may include carved images, symbols, gems and paintings. Inside painted glass bottles are very popular and startred being produced in the 1820s. The paintings are made with a brush inserted trough the small opening and can be very complex, taking around one week to many months of work.

Quing dinasty inside painted glass snuff bottles
Quing dinasty inside painted glass snuff bottles | Source


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