Crowning Glory

Fig. 3. Early bronze bottle. Fig. 4. Left: Yongzheng-marked enamel on metal, Palace Museum Collection, Beijing. Right: Imperial metal bottle, Palace Museum Collection, Beijing. Fig. 5. Top row: Three nephrites. Bottom row: Metal finial screws into collar unit; two bamboo veneers. 5 original, snuff-taking patrons and those of the modern collector. Very few stoppers fitted as we fit them today for our collections would survive daily use without coming apart. There is considerable aesthetic overlap but the modern collector is largely indifferent to the functional concerns that would have been important to the snuff-taker. A modern collector would not think to use the stopper on the early bronze bottle in figure 3 even though it is the original. The strange shape is unexpected aesthetically, but it is extremely practical. The handle-like finial provides an excellent grip as does the slightly overlapping collar. Even though tightly corked, this stopper is relatively easily removed. Several early bottles, where we can be certain of an original stopper, show that this prominent finial continued well into the Qianlong reign as did the overlapping size of the stopper, even alongside more conventional types. Although original stoppers on Qianlong enamels on metal tended to match the neck diameter, a Yongzheng-marked example still in the imperial collection in Beijing ( fig. 4, left ) noticeably overlaps it. The bottle also has an integral ring as a finial, probably to attach the stopper by a cord to the waist of the bottle to avoid either dropping or losing it. A black-ground bottle from the same collection and period ( fig. 4, right ) also has an overlapping stopper. This kind of matching enamel stopper is found elsewhere as an original type for enameled metal bottles, although the modern collector would probably prefer a gilt-metal alternative. Three nephrite bottles from the palace workshops in figure 5, top , have functional, relatively prominent finials; the first unmarked and possibly pre-Qianlong, the second two with authentic Qianlong marks. The third ( fig. 5, top right ) has a stopper in a different material, of typical palace form and manufacture, that fits the bottle perfectly and has an original metal spoon of the correct length, reaching close to within a few millimeters of the base of the hollowing. Since the stopper is certainly as early as the bottle, it is probably the original and both may once have come from a tomb outside Beijing where many original stoppers have been discovered. The construction here has the metal spoon going through the cabochon of the stopper to attach to the finial in a common, early Qing option, again a very practical one, making the entire stopper an integral unit which cannot come unglued in use. We know this method of strengthening the bond between finial, stopper, cork and spoon continued on some molded porcelain bottles with matching stoppers into the Jiaqing reign. Another of the type is shown in figure 5, bottom , where the metal finial screws into the collar/ cork/spoon unit to hold the cabochon in place. The two bamboo veneer bottles in figure 5, bottom , also have prominent finials, as do