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The History and Art of Snuff Bottles

Aug 15, 2008
During the reign of the Qing dynasty of China smoking tobacco was prohibited and considered illegal. However the Chinese used the powdered form as a snuff for curing common ailments like cough, cold, headaches and stomach problems. Snuff was carried in small bottles as a medicine and is the same as the snuff box that was used by the Europeans. Later the use of snuff and snuff bottles was popularized by the elite class and it became a social norm to use snuff. Gradually the use of snuff spread to the remaining classes as well and greeting relatives and friends with a pinch of snuff became a common practice.

Snuff Bottles as a Status Symbol

The snuff bottles started becoming prominent as a means of displaying the class a person belonged to. The most rare and finest snuff bottles classified your status as the highest. The snuff bottles were looked upon as objects of beauty. They were of the size that could fit inside your palm and made of materials such as porcelain, wood, ivory, jade, ceramic, metal and even tortoiseshells. The most common material that was used was glass. The snuff bottles came with little spoons to extract the snuff. The European women used snuff bottles made of cut glass.

Snuff Bottles as Decorative Pieces

The Chinese snuff bottles were beautifully decorated with paintings and carvings that helped to distinguish their value and quality. These decorative bottles were and still require long durations to be completed and are in demand as collections of art. The period between 1820 and 1830 was one when snuff bottles were known for their beauty rather than for their utility.

Snuff Bottles with Inside Painted

The most interesting among the snuff bottles are those which have their insides painted. These glass bottles have pictures and calligraphy on the inside of the glass. These marvelous paintings are about an inch or two in height and required excellent craftsmanship to manipulate the brush through the narrow neck of the bottle. Inside painted snuff bottles are still available and those made for collectors are expensive pieces while those made as souvenirs are inexpensive.

Antique Snuff Bottles

Some of the antique snuff bottles have portraits on one side and calligraphy on the other which are painted inside. The skill used in creating finer details to these portraits to give them photograph like images is probably the reason for its expensive price tag.

Symbols Used for Decorating Snuff Bottles

Most of the symbols used on these snuff bottles are those that are meant to bring in luck, wealth, health and even immortality to its owner. There are representations such as the personal disciples of Buddha who are immortal. The use of animals are also prevalent, the most common being that of a dragon. The horse is perceived by the Chinese as a symbol of power, speed, rank, wealth and perseverance and is used commonly on the snuff bottles as well. The hare is believed to represent long life and immortality. Other common symbols are the three legged toad which represents wealth and fish that represents prosperity, harmony and marital bliss.
About the Author
April Kerr owns website Snuff Bottle Collection which has details of where to buy old and new Chinese snuff bottles and glass snuff bottles .
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