THE SNUFF BOTTLE

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Just as men today might compare watches or cars, in 17th-century China the object of desire was a snuff bottle. According to dealer Robert Hall, these miniature bottles were not just objects in which to carry powdered tobacco, but intricately embellished masterpieces, created for China’s elite. Snuff bottles only came to popularity in China because of a ban on smoking tobacco by the rulers of the Qing Dynasty. A bottle that was both portable and watertight became the ultimate vanity object, and exquisite models were created by master craftsmen in materials from porcelain, jade, ivory and coral to wood and glass. Today hundreds of the tiny treasures still make their way into collectors’ hands through organizations such as the Baltimore-based International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society. Their value, too, has soared. In 2010, Bonham’s received one of the biggest ever collections, of 1,700 bottles, which it valued at more than $47m, and in 2011, a bottle delicately painted with a Chinese landscape was sold for a record-breaking $4.17m. e-yaji.com; snuffbottle.com