Now comes the time for the monthly antique highlight! This week? Snuff bottles. Yes, you read that right. “Snuff” is ground tobacco leaves that have been mixed with herbs for the purpose of healing colds, aches, and pains. The use of Snuff, and the origin of Snuff bottles, derive from the Qing dynasty in China.
Snuff bottles have a short history, as they were only in use for about 300 years. They began in China when the price of tobacco was relatively expensive. The Imperial Court began to use Snuff in place of tobacco and soon, the popularity spread throughout the minority first class during the first 100 years.
Snuff didn’t reach the general population until the 19th century. This is when Snuff bottles began to circulate at a rapid pace. They were given as gifts and kept as a personal cachet. They were decorated with more care as time went on, and soon became something to take pride in. It is reported that, while they weren’t seen as fine art just yet, businessmen in China would often offer Snuff to companions in order to show off their bottles.
Snuff bottles were crafted by both Chinese and Mongolian artisans from glass, agate, and jade. Each bottle often represented a message of good wishes to the receiver. Whether it was blessings, wealth, a family, or passing civil exams.
During the 1920s, Snuff bottles had begun to make the transition from personal possessions to what we know them as today–fine art. The artisans continued to make these bottles even after China had stopped using Snuff. They sold them to collectors throughout the world who were begging to get their hands on them.
And that has brought us to the modern day. Snuff bottles from the original time period (the ones actually meant to hold Snuff) are worth thousands of dollars and are highly sought after by collectors. The one pictured at the beginning of the article is a recreation piece from the 1940s. But no worries–it is still considered to be a piece of art.