Fossiliferous limestone; reasonably well hollowed, with a slightly convex lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim 17301880 Height: 6.24 cm Mouth/lip: 0.81/1.88 cm Stopper: tourmaline; silver collar
Condition: natural flaw in the stone appears to be a crack at the footrim and into the body, but is not, as demonstrated by the nature of the marking as it continues and widens into the body and by other similar line-flaws in the rest of the material; small half-polished chip on inner footrim; miniscule chip, almost invisible, on outer footrim; lip and footrim worn through use, and surface covered with a network of fine scratches and abrasions, also from use, but visible only under magnification
Provenance: Trojan Collection Robert Hall (1993)
Published: Hall 1992, no. 58 Treasury 3, no. 401
Commentary: Because a number of these fossiliferous limestone bottles are not particularly well hollowed, they have generally been considered a mainly nineteenth-century group. The lack of extensive hollowing, however, is dictated not by period but by practicality. The customary hollowing on this group of bottles is perfectly adequate and matches many other softer stones from the earlier or mid-Qing periods. If the lesser hollowing were in response to a non-functional demand and the group generally late, there would be more examples that were simply drilled for a spoon without any attempt at serious, functional hollowing, whereas this is not the case. Assuming that the type might have been made at any time during the snuff-bottle period, we have one or two clues to dating, and one possible indication of the source of the material.
One clue comes from the collection of Sir William Bragge. In 1872 Bragge exhibited over one hundred of his snuff bottles in the Oriental Exhibition of the Liverpool Arts Club, with a later catalogue published by the Arts Club that is dated to 1878. His massive work, Bibliotheca Nicotiana, a first edition of which was published in 1874 and a second in 1880, contains listings of his large collection of snuff bottles. Among these are three obvious fossiliferous limestones:
 Pear-shape, flattened, narrow neck; fossil coralline, black and white; green jade stopper.  Oblong, flattened, brown coralline; plain.
For these to have been in Bragge's Collection by the 1870s, we may assume that they represent, at the very latest, a mid-nineteenth century group. If they existed in the mid-nineteenth century, there is no reason why they should not have been a standard part of mid-Qing snuff-bottle production.
There is one further clue as to dating. There is one (Hugh Moss records) of the standard black material with tiny white cylindrical fossils that appear as a mass of small, white circles when cut through. It has the typical mask-and-ring handles of the Master of the Rocks school of nephrite carving, which we have dated to the mid-Qing period and which may have begun during the first half of the eighteenth century. There is no reason why a jade-carving workshop should not carve other stones, and the form and obvious age of this bottle demonstrate that the material was available to this school during the mid-Qing period.
Nothing about the form or workmanship would preclude the eighteenth or early nineteenth century, or even the first half of the eighteenth century, and this bottle is one of the best hollowed of any in the material. The detailing of the foot, with its neat, flat recession surrounded by a protruding footrim of perfect formal integrity, would qualify as Qianlong or even earlier on a glass or hardstone bottle.
The material is unusual and striking because the black markings are in a white matrix, whereas a more common form is found with white markings in a dark ground. The darker markings are also confined to one side, somewhat resembling a close-up of a peacock's tail, which provides a fascinating contrast as the bottle is turned in the hand. In the light of this and the other three bottles in this fascinating range of materials (Treasury 3, nos. 400, 402, and 403), one can see why it was so popular among the Chinese, with their long established love of strange and intriguing stones. For the number that we see today in this relatively fragile material to have survived, many more must have been made, and we believe that it was probably a standard type from the mid- to late Qing period; it may well have entered the pantheon of snuff-bottle materials even earlier, during the first phase of manufacture in the early Qing.