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Large (Rare) Tibetan Snuff Flask/Bottle

Large (Rare) Tibetan Snuff Flask/Bottle

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Chinese: Snuff Bottles: Pre 1900: Item # 1432777
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Object: Snuff Bottle
Date: 18th – 19th century
Medium: Metal; semi-precious stones
Dimensions: Height x Width x Depth; (12.5 cm x 11.0 cm x 5.3 cm)
Description: This unusual, large oblate bottle seems to be of a type with origins in Tibet, or Mongolia as evidenced by the style of metal work found atop the thin, tarnished “underbody”. In addition to the chased-silver scrolling florals that are of the same type found on metal Tibetan seals of the period, the use of coral and turquoise also lend credence to this idea since they are two of the three “stones” of major importance found in works from this region. The third of course is amber. The front of this bottle features a dragon among clouds with a red coral accent in the center. This coral piece appears to be the finial for what is likely a removeable cap. Other examples of this type of bottle with a removeable center are known, however due to the age and wear of this example the center “lid” has been left undisturbed. This type of cover would allow the user to access the interior of the bottle which would be highly beneficial when filling, as well as “breaking-up” any chunks of snuff that may have accumulated in areas of the bottle that are not easily accessible through the neck.

The bottom of the bottle also features a piece of coral, this time in the shape of a cabochon atop floral metal work. There are also turquoise cabochons found on each side of the bottle set atop the same floral pattern found on the base, but with the addition of small round metal handles above each stone which would have functioned as cord holes so the bottle could be worn around the body. Ornate metal work featuring mythical animals run connected between these three areas, as well as with the neck of the bottle which features similar floral scrolling where it meets the body. The necks form is reflective of certain ceramic pieces, not only in shape but also in that the lip solely consists of a thin rolled rim. The bottles reverse features a prominent design of four interlocking, open-rings in the form of floral tendrils in the center of the body.

The stopper is comprised of a piece of turquoise, cut to the same shape and size as the coral finial on the front cover, with a very long metal spoon attached directly to the metal setting that holds the turquoise in place. The spoon has been partially bent with use, and although the cork which seals the bottle is lodged in the neck, the spoon can still be retracted.

A similar example may be found in the Mullins’ collection; bottle (no. 275) and it is mentioned that bottles of this design were found in use among Mongolians (Moss, 2012). Mullins indicates that among all of the Mongolian style bottles in his collection this one featuring chased silver details, and a circular horn body with a central plug which could be removed to access the interior of the bottle was the most interesting to him. In addition, this bottle “is one of the few known examples of a snuff bottle with this functional form of access for filling the bottle, thus eliminating the funnel and long spoon required to fill more conventional bottles.” (Moss, pg. 264, 2012) Interestingly, a similar example was sold at Christie’s (New York, sale 17347,lot 619), property from the estate of Baroness Eva Bessenyey. This central body of this bottle is crafted from wood, but exhibits the same type of decorative metal work, however it is missing a spoon. The lack of a spoon which could be used for snuff may explain why this bottle (lot 619) is described simply as “A Metal Mounted Flask”. Although it is not described as having a central removeable plug, the Christie’s lot is attributed to 19th century Tibet.