When we mentioned to friends that we’d recently been hard at work creating a pair of greeting cards for the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society — which this week celebrated its 43rd annual convention here in Palm Beach — more often than not the response was: exactly what is a Chinese snuff bottle?
In the hope you enjoy learning new things as much as we do, we wanted to share this account. Tobacco arrived in China in the mid-16th century, but a century later the smoking of it was banned. However, sniffing tobacco was still allowed since the Chinese believed it to have medicinal purposes. Go figure. But the unintended and rather fabulous result was the development of lovely, tiny (rarely taller than 2.5”) bottles to carry the snuff itself.
As the vogue for these bottles reached its peak in the 18th century at the height of the Qing Dynasty, there were increasingly intricate examples of the craft emerging from the Emperor’s workshops. The use of snuff fell out of favour after the establishment of the Republic of China in 1914, but the bottles themselves became increasingly collectible. Today they are a hot market among collectors: last year, one bottle from the Qing dynasty fetched a record $1.17M. Not bad for something barely 2 inches tall.
So that’s your history, but what really attracts us to the bottles is their simple beauty. Yes, they can be intricately carved and decorated, but we prefer the ones that are less adorned and instead celebrate their materials — whether it be white jade, which is notoriously difficult to carve (up top), or a luminescent green glass blown into perfect symmetry (above). And what super-chic color combinations: jade, black and coral looks just as modern today.
With this pair of cards (below), created as a limited edition for the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, we wanted to celebrate the vivid color palette — a Chinese lacquer red, a deep jade — and the intimate charm of delighting the eye with something so small and fine.