An Overview of Qing Glass

13 AN OVERVIEW OF QING GLASS SNUFF-BOTTLE PRODUCTION Hugh M. Moss Shizhen, a high-ranking minister under the Kangxi Emperor and probably the most famous poet and literary critic of his day. 1 Parts of the passage on snuff and snuff bottles have been published in many sources over the past few decades, with slight variations in translation, and it is worth quoting in full here since not only is it our earliest reference to snuff bottles, it provides, for so short a passage, a wealth of useful information. Wang wrote: Recently in the capital snuff has been produced. It is said to be able to improve one ’ s sight, especially to exorcise epidemic diseases. The snuff is put into glass bottles, which are of varying shapes, in colors of red, purple, yellow, white, black, green and brown. The white is as clear as crystal, the red like fire. What lovely things they are! The spoon is made of ivory, used to extract the snuff out of the bottle to be inhaled, and then put back into the bottle. The snuff bottles are manufactured by the Imperial court. Snuff bottles are also imitated among the people but are far inferior in quality and design. Here, in one brief account, we are informed that snuff was being produced at the capital; of its supposed medicinal benefits; that glass bottles were a standard container at the time, with a range of colors being produced; that the ivory spoon was standard from very early in the development of the art form; and that although snuff-bottle manufacture was Introduction The early history of the snuff bottle is currently obscured by the controversy over a group of bottles signed with the name Cheng Rongzhang and dated to the years 1644 to 1653 of the Shunzhi reign. They seem equally unlikely whether one accepts them as genuine or as the works of a singularly imaginative late-Qing forger. The jury has not yet returned a verdict in this intriguing case so, for the time being, we will set them aside and see how the overall picture looks without them. The earliest firm evidence so far of the use of either snuff or snuff bottles is from the latter part of the Kangxi period. In 1684 while visiting Nanjing on a southern tour, the Kangxi Emperor was presented with various gifts from the missionaries Gabiani and Valat. Among them was imported snuff. The Emperor returned all the other gifts but kept the snuff. Born in May 1654, he ascended the throne in 1662, not yet ten years old. By 1684, about to enter his thirties, the Emperor was probably already addicted to snuff. If we exclude the Shunzhi bronze bottles from consideration, there is no firm historical evidence of the existence of snuff bottles at so early a date, but it would be sensible to assume that if snuff was already fashionable at court by the early 1680s, it was already being kept in small, bespoke containers. The earliest reference to a snuff bottle is from a work published in 1702, referring to the writer ’ s experience at court immediately prior to that date. The writer was Wang Imperial, the common people were also beginning to see the potential for exotic containers for the new and highly addictive substance. The reference to snuff being produced in the capital may refer only to the process of blending snuff produced elsewhere, but it may also indicate that tobacco leaves were imported and the snuff was actually manufactured at the capital and, therefore, for the court. That Imperial glass bottles were made to contain the snuff is unambiguous here, but it need not follow that no other materials were used. Imperial glass is highly unlikely to have pre-dated 1696 when the glassworks was first set up and yet, if the Emperor was already interested in snuff in 1684, we may assume the production of small bottles to contain it. Certainly the large glass storage jars in which it was imported would not have been at all convenient for every-day usage ( fig. 1 ). Editor ’ s Note: Part I of this essay is an expanded version of a lecture presented to the Society in Houston in October 2001, by Hugh Moss, derived from the research undertaken for the fifth volume of the Bloch Collection (Moss, Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, Vol. 5, Glass ), where the reader will find a great deal more information on the subject. Part II will appear in the next isuue of the Journal , Autumn 2004. Fig. 1. Large glass storage jar where imported snuff was stored.