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A rare gourd snuff bottle. Jiaqing mark and period 1796-1821. Imperial, Attributed to the Palace workshops, Beijing. photo courtesy Sotheby's

of pear shape with a rounded base and culminating in a narrow pointed mouth, the body finely carved with four quatrefoil cartouches, each enclosing a character together comprising the reign mark Jiaqing nianzhi ('Made during the Jiaqing period'), reserved on a ground of prunus flowers borne on foliate scrolls, the foot and the neck with well articulated plantain lappets, of warm honey brown color, embellished with an ivory fitting at the mouth, coral twig-form stopper, both probably original, wood stand; height 2 3/8 in., 6 cm - Estimate 30,000 - 50,000 USD

PROVENANCE: Robert Hall.

NOTE: Snuff bottles made from gourd are found in several major collections, including the National Palace Museum in Taipei, the Palace Museum in Beijing, and one with a Kangxi mark is in The Rachelle R. Holden Collection.Taipei, the Palace Museum.  However, the aforementioned bottles differ from the present example in that they were fashioned from the traditional method of molding the gourd. A young gourd would be placed in a wooden mold already carved with the decoration and the reign mark. In contrast, this bottle is unusual for its finely carved decoration and lack of molded design.

The Jiaqing reign mark incised on the surface is rare, as the majority of Imperial and marked gourd snuff bottles bear Daoguang marks.

Another pear-shaped gourd bottle, incised with inscription and dated 1780-1900, is illustrated in Hugh Moss, Victor Graham and Ka Bo Tsang, The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle: The J &J Collection, New York, 1993, Volume II, p.460, pl. 275.

The ivory fitting at the mouth and the twig-like coral stopper are delightful accents that elevate the artistic merits of this bottle. As discussed by Moss, et.al., op.cit., p. 274, 'Many gourds exist which simply have cut necks to which a stopper has been added...Earlier examples, however, tend to have the neck of the gourd, a fragile area, mounted in  some stronger material, often ivory, to lend a less casual appearance and greater strength.'

Sotheby's. The Joe Grimberg Collection of Chinese Snuff Bottles, New York, 14 Sep 2010