Snuff Bottles

snuff bottles
Artifacts on loan courtesy of:
--Brunnier Gallery, Iowa State University-University Museums, Ames, Iowa
--Lou Hoover and Margaret C. Hoover, Portola Valley, California


Tobacco was introduced into China from Europe at the end of the 16th century, when
it was originally smoked in pipes. Smoking was forbidden soon after the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), but its use as snuff was acceptable because tobacco was valued for its medicinal qualities. The Chinese (and Westerners at that time, as well) considered it an effective remedy for colds, headaches, stomach disorders, and other ailments. By the end of the 18th century, the use of snuff was a nationwide habit and became a social ritual of the upper classes.

Snuff bottles were created in every material known to the Chinese - glass, porcelain, jade and other hard stones, ivory, coral, cinnabar lacquer, amber, wood, yak horn, and more. The high point in quality manufacture of snuff bottles came in the late 18th century and into the 19th century when containers began to be collected. They were also used as currency for the purchase of favors, and for positions and advancement in government.

After the 1911 Chinese revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty, the fashion of snuffing died away. Collections, however, linger on.

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clear glass snuff bottle with red designs
Glass snuff bottle - late 19th century. Single overlay of red on clear glass carved at each side with yin-yang symbol (balanced elements of the universe) enclosed in a circle of the eight trigrams (metal, wood, water, fire, earth, wind, thunder, electricity). Stopper of dark green glass with a bone spoon.
--Artifact on loan courtesy of the Brunnier Gallery, Iowa State University-University Museums, Ames, Iowa





orange carved coral snuff bottle
Coral snuff bottle - modern craftsmanship. Carved at one side with peony flowers (prosperity). Stopper in rounded dome with attached spoon.
--Artifact on loan courtesy of the Brunnier Gallery, Iowa State University-University Museums, Ames, Iowa



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