hinese snuff bottles weremade during the entire Qingdynasty (1644-1912). The production was interrupted after the year 1912 but started again,
as is ofcially acknowledged,
in mainland China after the year
1949. It is also possible to nd
bottles dated from the 1920s andthe 1930s, indicating that theywere being made throughout the20th century.Tobacco was brought to China by the Europeans (who hadthemselves found it after thediscovery of America) at theend of the Ming dynasty (16th
century/rst part of the 17th
century). The use of tobacco
spread sufciently in China
because the last Ming emperor,
Chongzhen (1627-1644), issuedve edicts from 1638 through
1642 forbidding its use. Despitethe very stiff punishment of decapitation for the sellers, thoseedicts do not seem to have beenvery effective.Snuff, tobacco ground into a
very ne powder and eventuallyenhanced with owers, spices or
herbs (mint, jasmine, camphor,roses, etc.), was sniffed into thenostrils. Its use seems to havespread slowly during the last
part of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century
but developed tremendously
after Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795) declared it fashionable for
himself and for his court. TheChinese, even more than theEuropeans, believed that tobaccoinhaled in the form of snuff hadmedicinal qualities and couldcure colds, indigestion or other illnesses. Emperor Qianlong
took snuff for his headaches.
It is therefore normal that the
Chinese rst used medicinal
bottles to store the snuff. The
European snuffboxes were unt
because the warm and humidclimate in China caused the snuff
to cake and lose its ne texture.
Those medicinal bottles were
rst adapted by adding a smallspoon attached to the cork and
the top for measuring a smallamount of snuff.Progressively the shape of
the bottles (cylindrical at rst)
evolved into many differenttypes, as their size was adaptedto their uses. Men would carryregular bottles (mostly 2 ½” to3 ¼”), ladies would have small bottles (1 ¼” to 2 ¼”) and table
bottles would reach up to 5” or 6”. Some people liked to carry
twin bottles and, but rarely,multiple bottles in order to enjoyvarious aromas.
The rst users of tobacco
were the people who were incontact with the Europeans inthe sea harbors. But it soondeveloped into a habit mainlyappreciated by the emperor andhis courtesans. Therefore, thesnuff bottles soon became small, precious objects and their usegave way to the developmentof a very precise “etiquette” for
taking and snifng the tobacco,
as well as which type of bottleto use at what precise time.Jade and porcelain were used inwinter, glass and agate in spring, bamboo in summer and so on.The snuff bottles were used as
gifts or to buy favors of ofcials.
The production of snuff bottles
was done by workshops, someof which, using the most skilledworkers, were established
in the imperial palace by
Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722)
and his successors, Emperors
Yongzheng (1723-1735) andQianlong (1736-1795). Severalworkers were involved in the
production of a snuff bottle. Theapprentices would cut the stoneand start to shape the bottle;specialists would hollow the
cavity (a very important task),
then others would polish it.
The most skilled workers were
the ones who would createthe decoration. Almost anymaterial was used, from the most
precious, like jade, to the mostmodest, like bamboo.
Glass was a prime material for the manufacture of snuff bottles.It was either molded, blown or carved. It was appreciated bothfor itself and for its capacity toimitate other materials, such as precious or semi-precious stones.
At rst the Chinese were verysatised with glass and stone
bottles and it is only during the
Jiaqing reign (1796-1820) at the
beginning of the 19th centurythat the production of porcelain bottles developed and probably
reached its peak.