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Modern Art of Snuff Bottle

Does the Chinese glass bottle of snuff worth collecting?

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Glass is an artificial material that can be seen everywhere in modern times. However, in the Qing Dynasty, glass was considered to be valuable. The reason is not the cost of the raw materials but the problematic level of manufacturing that determines the value of the glass.

Many collectors have sent emails to us regarding “whether the glass inside painted snuff bottle is collectible?” Compared to rock crystals, glass is nothing special. After all, it is an artificial product. However, we hold a different view. If it is a glass snuff bottle dated from the Qing Dynasty to the early Republic of China, it is a valuable collection of small art objects. Of course, this glass needs to be qualified. The following are the reasons why we argue that ancient glass snuff bottles are pretty valuable and deserve their place in your collection.

Glass inside painted snuff bottle, by Ye Zhangsan. D.D Art
Glass inside painted snuff bottle, by Ye Zhangsan

A brief history on Glass

The technology of glass production in China has a history of about 2000 years.

However, regardless of technology or form, China had not developed a glass culture as exquisite and splendid as ceramic culture until the Qing Dynasty. Under the reign of Emperor Kangxi, the German missionary Kilian Stumpf pay to the Kangxi emperor the European enamel glass art as a tribute. Emperor Kangxi had obsessed with this beautiful artwork, making the Qing royal family crazy and scrambling to collect this art. In 1696, Emperor Kangxi ordered the construction of glass workshops. It had gave the glass industry a breakthrough in the Qing Dynasty.

The glass began to develop color diversity and enjoyment for pleasure. Before its popular, the flat monochromatic glass, which was originally only used in daily life. During the Yongzheng period, the improvement of manufacturing technology led to a substantial increase in glass output, and the glass color became more diversified. From small to large-scale entertainment products began to be self-produced in China. During the Qianlong period, most missionaries found that the Chinese royal family loved enamel glass art. Since then, the enamel art was imported more frequently than before from Europe. Among the enamel glass art, the snuff bottle is anther expression of art. See more details, click here.

Enameled glass snuff bottles made in Qing Dynasty. Bottles from Taipei National Palace
Enameled glass snuff bottles made in Qing Dynasty. Pictures from Taipei National Palace

The decline in glass production

However, after the death of foreign missionaries in 1758, the glass production of the royal workshop gradually declined. With the isolationism held since Yongzheng's reign, there are no longer any missionaries with matured glass manufacturing skills in the palace. Therefore, the high cost from the high defect rate caused Emperor Jiaqing to order the closure of the royal workshop in the palace in face of the economic weakness and of insufficient artistic talents craftsman. Since then, the artistic standard of glass has deteriorated, and the decline in number until the late Qing Dynasty. From then to the early Republic of China and private manufacturing, such as Ye Zhongsan from the four great masters in the late Qing Dynasty, the glass products are obtained through trade. It is worth noting that the number of high end glass snuff bottles are produced in limited number glass during this period. It determines the collection value of the old glass snuff bottles.

Glass inside painted snuff bottle, by Ye Zhangsan. D.D Art
Glass inside painted snuff bottle, by Ye Zhangsan

In conclusion

For inside painted snuff bottle glass, it’s impossible to judge the value of inside painted snuff bottle from the current view of glass. Furthermore, it is necessary to distinguish the old glass snuff bottle from contemporary glass snuff bottles. Because the production time is different, these should be treated from a historical art of view respectively.

We argue that for a collectible glass inside painted snuff bottle, it must refer to whether the painting skills interact well with the carrier or not. The artist's role in the history should also be noted. If we only use the cost to evaluate the snuff bottle, it will distort the inner artistic value. You would not use the current production cost of Picasso’s painting to assess the current value. All in all, the "old" glass snuff bottle is still worth collecting nowadays.

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