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Chinese Snuff Bottles - Beautiful Miniature Art

Updated on February 10, 2009

Snuff Bottles as Art and Gifts

Snuff bottles have long history for the Chinese. While they began as a practical bottle to carry snuff in, they eventually evolved into complex and beautiful works of art to convey taste, style, and status. This lens will introduce you to Chinese snuff bottles as well as show you a few places where you can buy snuff bottles today.

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First of all, what is snuff? Snuff is a form of powdered tobacco that is typically inhaled through the nose. Tobacco was introduced to China by the Europeans, and the popularity of snuff bottles rose and fell with the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). During this time, snuff was almost considered medicinal, capable of curing many small illnesses, so it was conveniently carried around in these small bottles.

The use of snuff was originally confined to the upper class but eventually became a staple for all social classes. At this point, of course, the upper class had to somehow distinguish themselves and began to seek out the most beautiful, the most elegant, and the most unique snuff bottles.

A variety of snuff bottles exist today from the very affordable, mass-produced souvenir-type to complex, delicately decorated bottles that appeal to collectors. Snuff bottles have been made with porcelain, stone, wood, jade, ivory, and more, though the most popular material is glass. In addition to landscapes, it's possible to find many different motif designs on snuff bottles. Some examples are dragons, animals, women, and Chinese characters.

Learn more about snuff bottles at Wikipedia.

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Books About Snuff Bottles

Chinese Snuff Bottles: A Guide to Addictive Miniatures
Chinese Snuff Bottles: A Guide to Addictive Miniatures

This book clearly explains the history of snuff and its specialized bottles from the 17th century to the present in America, Europe, and China. For the novice, it provides fascinating background and descriptive information, and for the established collector it showcases over 650 diverse snuff bottles to study and admire through excellent color photographs.

Chinese Snuff Bottles (Images of Asia)
Chinese Snuff Bottles (Images of Asia)

Illustrated with twenty-four full-color and sixteen black-and-white plates, this book serves as a useful and entertaining introduction to the collecting of snuff bottles. After tracing the history of snuff in Chinese culture, Robert Kleiner surveys the many styles of snuff bottles, dividing them by materials and methods of decoration used.


Vintage Snuff Bottles on eBay

If you're looking for vintage snuff bottles, eBay is the place to start looking. At any given time, you can find dozens of beautiful snuff bottles made in many different styles and materials at reasonable prices.

Buy this snuff bottle from Good Orient.

Inside painted snuff bottles are quite a feat, especially back in the early 1800s, when the first inside painted snuff bottles were made. Not only was there tremendous skill and patience required to paint intricate designs on the interior of the snuff bottle, there also required a level of materials science and materials processing knowledge to make the glass transparent without impurities!

It has been told often that the origin of the inside painted snuff bottles came about by accident. In the Qing Dynasty, an official stopping at a temple found his snuff bottle empty, and thus, he decided to use a thin stick to scrape off the snuff gathered on the walls of the snuff bottle. This left lines that could be seen through his crystal snuff bottle. Later, a monk found his discarded snuff bottle, and the idea of the inside painted snuff bottle was born.

Today, inside painted snuff bottles are still made and are very popular among collectors. Take a close look at one and you'll notice that eyelashes and black lines must be painted in before the rest of the color is painted. Also, calligraphy must be written in reverse!

Popular Motifs on Snuff Bottles

Intricate designs on snuff bottles

Designs on snuff bottles are limitless, and you can find virtually any design you can think of. However, there are a few more traditional art subjects that adorn many snuff bottles. Below are just a small sampling of snuff bottle designs. Click on any snuff bottle below to purchase from Good Orient.

$30.98 / $40.98

$16.98 / $27.98 / $16.98

$90.98 / $19.98 / $19.98

$40.98 / $19.98 / $19.98

$16.98 / $19.98 / $19.98

Snuff Bottles on Amazon

While the selection is much smaller, it is possible to find snuff bottles on Amazon. I especially like the snuff bottles that come with their own display case. These snuff bottles are great as a classy gift.

Take a look at the picture above, and you'll find snuff bottles made from many different materials. Can you identify jade, wood, porcelain, stone, glass, ivory, lacquer, amber, and more? Image used here under Creative Common licensing. Original Image

What do you think about snuff bottles? Are they not beautiful pieces of miniature art? Leave a message here! Also, you can rate this lens at The Isle of Squid or even submit your own lens there.

Thanks for visiting this page! If you liked it, please take some time give props to this page by giving this lens a star rating at the top of the page. If you aren't a Squidoo member, you'll have to join Squidoo before you can rate. Thanks again and leave me if note, if you'd like.

Are you a fan of snuff bottles?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have just brought a snuff bottle I think it is wooden with round top in the middle of the bottle it has ox bone I think with a picture of a family painted on it and the other side it has symbols on it

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 years ago from Canada

      I had a beautiful ivory snuff bottle years ago but gave it to a friend when I moved to another city. Hope she is enjoying it now. Loved your collection of snuff bottles. They truly are beautiful.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Visti for a wealth of information!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      We see a lot of these Chinese snuff bottles come through our shop. They are really quite lovely. I particularly like the carved ones. Blessed.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      8 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      Thank you for this interesting reading! Bless by a squidoo angel!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice lens.. Rolled ya !

      Hey.. I am searching for a couple from Vancouver Canada that travel to and purchase inside painted bottles for resale in the States.

      I thought they use to have a online club that they sold from.

      Know them ??

    • mich1908 profile image


      8 years ago

      I have seen snuff bottles but only knew now that they are used to contain powdered tobacco. I always like antique items with beautiful paintings.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens...I have only just discovered these beautiful pieces and am now considering collecting them.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Very nice lens. Gave you 5 stars and added you to my group. Keep up the good work!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      These are cool! Great pics too :)


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I had never heard of these snuff bottles before, but they do look beautiful. Quite the unique gift idea.


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