Historical Background and Valuation of Asian Snuff Bottles


Asian Snuff Bottles

Where did snuff bottles come from?

Before the exploration of the Americas in the early 1400’s tobacco was unknown to Europeans, however after the discovery of this product in the late 15th century, tobacco usage caught on quickly, and people created simple boxes to keep the valuable powder dry.

Portuguese sailors brought tobacco to the court at Beijing amid the mid-to-late 16th century. By then, European artisans began designing more decorative boxes. At this time in China craftsmen were making snuff bottles in a wide range of materials from cut glass or jade to porcelain. These bottles, created in various forms and colors, showcased levels of decorative Asian art. Later, skilled artists painted on the interior of glass containers with very thin bristled, delicate brushes. A popular embellishment, cloisonné was often combined with copper and gold to further visual appeal.

Though initially pipe-smoked, by the Qing Dynasty, smoking tobacco had became illegal. However, the utilization of snuff was permitted because the Chinese considered snuff to be a medical solution for many maladies. The snuff bottles and snuff jugs were similar to the traditional medication containers, and designed to be kept close at hand.

How much are snuff bottles worth?

The utilization of snuff and snuff containers continued spreading, especially throughout high society. By the end of the 17th century it was the social custom to partake of inhaling snuff. This practice endured throughout the 18th century, and by the early 19th century had spread into most social classes. A bit of snuff was often offered to welcome companions and relatives in Asian countries, especially China. Later, even after the custom of using snuff diminished, snuff bottles remained sought-after for their rare materials and beautiful embellishments.

Today, antique Asian snuff bottles are still highly collectible and appreciated for their artisan handwork, and the most rare can fetch upwards of $20,000- 30,000. Cloisonne/ enamel bottles, and jade bottles are especially popular. For new collectors, identifying these antique bottles can prove difficult as modern reproductions are widespread. Consulting a professional antique dealer is the best way to appraise the specialty items- because as The International Chinese Snuff Bottles Society website says, even long time Asian snuff bottle collectors can be fooled by some modern reproductions.

An evaluation by a knowledgeable antiques expert involves looking at the materials used, design, craftsmanship and condition. Due to the high quality of many reproductions, and the amount of pieces being created as art forms today, having an appraisal done by a local antiques dealer is the wisest choice. At Sarasota Antique Buyers, we evaluate antiques against many factors, just call to make an appointment.

If you possess Asian snuff bottles as shown in the picture above and you are willing to sell them, please contact us.

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