Crowning Glory

Fig. 1. Wood bottle. Fig. 2. Anatomy of a snuff bottle. 4 L et us begin by asking a question: ” Does my bottle look big in this? ” ( fig. 1 ) It sounds dangerously like the question beloved of one half of the gender divide and rightly feared by the other. The correct answer when asked about and outfit is, of course, ” No, you look gorgeous! ” but here, obviously, it is an emphatic ” Yes! ” The difference being, of course, that snuff bottles don ’ t have an opinion about you. You , on the other hand, may have an opinion about snuff bottles. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that in the art of stoppering we are dealing mostly with matters of opinion. There is a Goldilocks zone for stoppers: not too big and not too small, just the right shape, harmonious materials, suitable design or lack of it, and suitable symbolism and psychology. My aim is to reveal the stopper in all its glory on the outside and all its subtlety on the inside — for the psychology of a stopper can be as important as its appearance. If we believe that a certain type of stopper is totally inappropriate, we will find it visually disturbing. While having been involved in all aspects of snuff bottle mania for half a century, I get the greatest pleasure from ” stoppering. ” Stoppering invites us to join the creative process as we do when we reframe a painting or mount a sculpture. It cannot fail to focus our attention more closely on the work of art, indeed it is an integral part of the art of collecting as it encourages us to seek out aspects of the snuff bottle arts we might otherwise not notice. Finally, of course, it is always nice to increase the appeal of what we collect; it is an enjoyable form of asset management. I devote a lot of time to finding the various materials and tools needed. I buy stones from gem dealers, and attend jewelry fairs, I have collars made by metal workers in Indonesia and Thailand, and I buy parts from all sorts of people and places, including our own queen of the stopper, Jill Guo. It is worth looking at some terminology. Figure 2 shows the anatomy of a stopper. Since we tend to call the entire upper area the stopper and often include cork and spoon under that title, it seems sensible to reconsider the names of the individual parts. The upper, optional decorative or symbolic addition is unambiguous enough and we call it the finial. Beneath that is what is usually the main part of the overall stopper, which we have in the past also called the stopper but this is a little misleading. I suggest we refer to it as the cabochon if we need to distinguish it unambiguously — despite the fact that in general terms one expects a cabochon to be at least approximately hemispherical, while this element of the stopper can be a wider variety of shapes. Where no ambiguity would arise, however, it will be convenient to continue to use the term ” stopper ” for this element from time to time. Beneath the cabochon is the collar to which can be fixed, in the case of metal versions, an integral ” cork ” either of a size to precisely fit a particular bottle or, more practically, smaller so it can be bound in cork or, originally, in string or cord to provide a softer seal and grip. Sometimes in place of this integral cork we find a pin or spike which fits into the hole in a cork or a hole in the thick, upper shaft of the spoon. All grant a stronger fixing for the upper stopper to the spoon. The cork is fairly obvious, although it can be in material other than cork, of course, and the spoon fits into it or through it and directly into the collar, which is why so many early collars also have the alternative of a hole drilled through them, providing a firm fixing point. The spoon itself has a shaft and a bowl. To understand stoppers it is first necessary to recognize a distinction between the demands of the Crowning Glory: The Art of the Snuff Bottle Stopper, part I Hugh M. Moss