An inscribed coconut-shell and green lacquer 'eggplant' snuff bottle. Deng Erpi, 1900-1954. photo Bonhams
(the bottle probably Imperial, attributed to the palace workshops, Beijing, 1723–1800), 7cm high (including original stopper). Sold for HK$72,000
Treasury 7, no. 1651
A Request from Fenfu
Dwarf coconut, stained ivory, and green lacquer; made in the form of an eggplant, the fruit of coconut, the calyx of green-stained ivory covered in green lacquer; inscribed in angular, regular script 'Wood for drinking; fragrance for eating. Inscribed by Erpi at the request of Fenfu.'
Bottle: Probably imperial, attributed to the palace workshops, Beijing, 1723–1800
Engraving: Deng Erpi, 1900–1954
Height: 7 cm (including original stopper)
Mouth: 0.89 cm
Stopper: stained ivory and green lacquer, carved as a stalk; lacquer collar
Associated paraphernalia: fitted case containing this bottle and Treasury 7, no. 1516 (lot 8 in this sale) as a pair
Condition: some of the upper layer of green lacquer on the calyx and twig–stopper abraded or chipped off. General relative condition: very good
Provenance: Christie's, Hong Kong, 22 March 1993, lot 520
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1993)
Published: Zhao Ruzhen 1994, no. 153
Kleiner 1995, no. 327
Zhao Lihong 1996, p. 116
Treasury 7, no. 1651
Exhibited: British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997
Commentary: Deng Erpi (1883–1954), a native of Dongguan in Guangdong province, was well known as a calligrapher, seal engraver, epigrapher, painter, poet, and collector. Because he came from Guangdong, the southern coastal province in which Guangzhou (Canton) is situated, and because this bottle is made from a dwarf coconut that would have been more likely to have been produced in the south, Kleiner concluded that the bottle dated from the time of Deng Erpi, noting this as evidence that both snuffing and the literati tradition survived the fall of the Qing dynasty. Both did—of that there is no doubt—but the evidence of the bottle indicates that it is far older than the inscription. The coconut itself, though well patinated and smoothed, offers no pressing evidence of considerable age, but the matching stopper and the shoulder mantle of the calyx do. Both are of olive green-stained ivory covered with a layer of green lacquer. The lacquer is convincingly worn through in a number of places on both calyx and stopper, and beneath the wear the ivory is weathered and stained; it has been well used for a considerable period of time. Despite the wear on the lacquer, we may assume it was added to this bottle after the original ivory was already well worn, and probably after the stopper was broken and in need of retrofitting with the addition of the extra collar. There would seem to have been little point in staining the ivory and then covering it with lacquer of a similar colour at the time of original manufacture; and it is clear that the stain in the ivory did not result from the addition of the lacquer, for it is of a distinctly different green and runs evenly through the material. The fact that the only other example known, discussed below, lacks the lacquer is further evidence that lacquer was not part of the original concept.
The inscription is obviously younger than both the ivory and its lacquer overlay. Microscopic examination of the inscriptions on bottles from the late Qing that were actually used reveals deposits of dirt, snuff, and dust worked into the engraving by the natural oils from the hand. This distinctive incrustation is absent from the engraving on this example, which seems barely used since it was added. It seems that the bottle came into the hands of someone named Fenfu in the first half of the twentieth century, and Fenfu asked Deng Erpi to engrave something on it for him. It is perhaps less likely that Deng inscribed it after 1949; he lived his last few years in difficult times.
What do we make of the fact that this bottle came in an ancient fitted case paired with no. 1516? The two are alike insofar as they share a natural material transformed into another natural fruit by the addition of a stalk and calyx, in this case separate, in the other case joined as the original stopper. Both these bottles may be from the palace. This belief is strengthened by the fact that the only other known bottle that is like the present example was in the imperial collection (and remains there, in Beijing: Li Jiufang 2002, no. 387). It too is a dwarf coconut, although misleadingly catalogued as wood, with what appears to be a stained ivory calyx and original stalk-shaped stopper. (The absence of lacquer bolsters our conviction that the lacquer on the present bottle is a later addition.) On this and no. 1516, we are willing to stick our necks out and suggest a tentative attribution to the palace workshops of the Qianlong period, perhaps even of the Yongzheng reign.
壺﹕ 大概為御製品， 推定為宮廷作坊所作， 北京， 1723～1800 年
高：7 厘米 (包括原蓋)
狀態敘述： 萼、枝上的綠漆有所破掉。總體的相對狀況： 相當好
佳士得， 香港，1993年3月22日, 拍賣品號520
Hugh Moss （香港） Ltd (1993)
文獻： 趙洳珍 1994, 編號153
Kleiner 1995, 編號327
趙麗紅 1996, 頁 116
Treasury 7, 編號1651
展覽： 大英博物館, 倫敦, 1995年6月～10月
Israel Museum, 耶路撒冷, 1997年7月～11月
A stained walrus-ivory snuff bottle, 1720–1850. photo Bonhams
3.48cm high (including original stopper). Sold for HK$72,000
Treasury 7, no. 1561
Walrus ivory and green stain; well hollowed, with a natural foot; carved in the form of a melon with twelve lobes
Mouth: 0.49 cm
Height: 3.48 cm (including original stopper)
Stopper: ivory, carved as a stalk, the end drilled through to a small hole in the top of the stopper for a cord, with integral cork; original
Condition: apparent chip in the inner lip is in fact the point where the screw thread surfaces at the lip; usual wear from use, but otherwise in workshop condition
Provenance: Robert Hall (1995)
Published: Treasury 7, no. 1561
Commentary: The small size, rare form, and lovely, unusually pale staining combine in this example with a well-handled surface patina to create one of the most delightful and rarest of all walrus-ivory snuff bottles. As an additional treat, it has retained its original stopper. The stopper matches the bottle perfectly. The inside of the neck is threaded for a screw; the original, integral ivory 'cork' has lost its threads through wear, however, and a very thin veneer of real cork has been added to compensate and create a secure fit. Another extraordinary departure from the norm is a tiny hole drilled into the first few millimetres of the end of the stopper and emerging through a small hole at the top to allow a cord to pass through. This may have been for no better reason than that it allowed a decorative cord or some other fitting to be added to the stopper.
A tiny, elegant, and delicate bottle of this sort could have been made anywhere and almost at any time during snuff-bottle history, and if we were to find a reference to such a bottle in the Yongzheng records, it would be believable as from so early a period. There is evidence that this stained material was a northern and, therefore, almost certainly a Beijing speciality, and that it was produced at or for the court as early as the eighteenth century, so an imperial origin is not unlikely. Unfortunately, there is no specific connection with the court that would outweigh the chances of production anywhere else. If non-imperial, this bottle might have been made during the middle to the later part of the Qing dynasty. All of which is a long-winded way of saying we are not at all sure where this was made or when, but we are quite certain that it is irresistible.
As with other fruits that grow in abundance from a single vine or contain multiple seeds, the melon is a symbol of fertility.
高：3.48 厘米 (包括原蓋)
狀態敘述： 唇內綠似有一缺口 ，其實是螺紋從裏頭出現；因積年的使用，表面呈一般性的磨損。此外， 出坊狀態
文獻：Treasury 7, 編號1561
A gilt-bronze 'pumpkin' snuff bottle. Probably Imperial, attributed to the palace workshops, 1720–1800. photo Bonhams
2.64cm high. Sold for HK$66,000
Treasury 7, no. 1641
Copper, oxidized copper, and gold; with a concave lip and concave circular foot; in the form of a formalized pumpkin or gourd of gilt copper, with a severed branch terminating in two buds, also in gilt copper, and a leaf in oxidized copper detailed with gold, the inner neck with a clockwise screw thread
Probably imperial, attributed to the palace workshops, 1720–1800
Height: 2.64 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.47/1.20 cm
Stopper: jadeite, carved as a stalk
Condition: usual wear and softening of surface relief and loss of gilding from use; otherwise, perfect
Provenance: Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1996)
Published: Treasury 7, no. 1641
Commentary: This is perhaps the most impressive of the three miniature fruit- or vegetable-shaped metal bottles in this sale. The pumpkin or gourd has been formalized with many more lobes than it is likely to have had in real life, each very neatly made. The concave lip and matching concave foot turn the vegetable form into an elegant snuff-bottle form as well, and the beautifully detailed leaf and buds complete the design. It is a great shame that of the three, this is the one lacking its original stopper, which we can be certain it had, since the inside of the neck is threaded to take one. The replacement, however, is both ideal and elegant, since it is shaped like the stalk of a gourd or pumpkin and carved from a lovely piece of jadeite that creates a striking and rather regal contrast to the heavily gilt surface.
With a globular form, there is no particular point in joining the parts in the usual way along the narrow sides; after all, there are no narrow sides. The join here is horizontal, around the centre of the pumpkin.
If we are correct in our palace attribution here—and we remind our readers of the tentative nature of so many such attributions, given the limitations of our current knowledge—the pumpkin-form wares would not necessarily have been confined to snuff bottles alone. We would expect to find other wares of similar form, and we do. There is, for instance, a small gilt-bronze box and cover in the shape of a melon with similarly worked, oxidized copper relief and similar relief tendrils in Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 14 November 1990, lot 428. It is reasonably dated to the Qianlong period, although unmarked, but could be a little earlier. Another snuff bottle of the group, shaped like a melon with leaves and vines on its surface, was in Dorotheum, Vienna, 1 December 1993, lot 388.
大概為御製品， 推定為宮廷作坊所作， 1720～1800 年
來源: Hugh Moss （香港） Ltd (1996)
文獻： Treasury 7, 編號1641
A gilt-bronze 'eggplant' snuff bottle. Probably Imperial, attributed to the palace workshops, 1720–1800. photo Bonhams
5.37cm long (including original stopper). Sold for HK$38,400
Treasury 7, no. 1639
Copper, oxidized copper, and gold; with a flat lip and concave, almond-shaped foot; in the form of an eggplant, the body of gilt copper, the calyx and one severed leaf on the surface of oxidized copper with gilt detail, the inner neck with a clockwise screw thread
Probably imperial, attributed to the palace workshops, 1720–1800
Length: 5.37 cm (maximum length including original stopper)
Mouth/lip: 0.47/0.68 cm
Stopper: copper and gold, in the form of a stalk with spoon and integral, clockwise screw-threaded 'cork', all gilded
Condition: usual surface wear, with a fair amount of the underlying copper showing through the gold in places, particularly at edges and exposed relief
Provenance: Hanhai, Beijing, 3 July 2000, lot 1592
Robert Kleiner (2000)
Published: Treasury 7, no. 1639
Commentary: There is a little series of these extremely rare miniature metal fruit- and vegetable-form snuff bottles in the Bloch Collection. They were not acquired because anyone thought they might be imperial and extremely rare, but simply because they were obviously unusual and extremely well made. The others are Treasury 7, nos. 1640 and 1641, (in this sale as lots 137 and 136, respectively). All have screw-threaded inner necks (although one is missing the original matching screw-threaded stopper), and they are obviously related. With their subject matter, their use of different metals—including the oxidized copper (a process that turns the copper black) that appears on two of them—and their size, exquisite quality, and screw-threaded stoppers, they are obviously part of a coherent group related to other fruit- and vegetable-form imperial snuff bottles with matching stoppers that were apparently popular at court during the Yongzheng and Qianlong periods
The present example has a short spoon, which might at first suggest that it does not conform to the known eighteenth-century palace standard, where original spoons reach to within a millimetre or two of the base of the bottle. Here, however, there is a good reason for a reduced length: on a form with a sharp bend in the shape, a longer spoon curved to fit the form would have had no space to rotate without striking the side of the interior, and a stopper with screw threads had to be turned in order to be inserted or removed. Only with a stopper that moved straight in and out could one have even contemplated having a long spoon that curved to reach to the bottom of a bent-form snuff bottle, and only with great care could one insert such a spoon to follow the turn of the interior. It was much simpler to compromise on the length of the spoon.
銅、氧化銅、黃金； 平唇， 屈底；茄子形；壺身為鎏金銅，萼和一折葉為氧化銅，有金細節；頸內有順時針方向的螺紋
大概為御製品， 推定為宮廷作坊所作， 1720～1800 年
長﹕5.37 厘米 (包括原蓋)
Robert Kleiner (2000)
文獻：Treasury 7, 編號1639
說明: 其他例子和詳細論述，請參閱本壺的英文說明。也可參照 Treasury 7, 編號 1640 及 1641, (本場拍賣會的拍賣品號 137 及 136)。
Bonhams. Bloch Collection; Wine and Whisky; Chinese Ceramics, Works of Art & Paintings; Jewellery, Jadeite and Wristwatches and Writing Instruments. Hong Kong, 23 Nov 2010 to 24 Nov 2010 at 10:00 www.bonhams.com