Flawless jade (probably nephrite); very well hollowed, with a concave lip and concave, elongated, foot surrounded by a flat footrim 17301860 Height: 6.78 cm Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.51 and 1.57 cm (oval) Stopper: coral; carnelian collar
Condition: Original material: irregular, natural flaw running beneath the foot, not at all obtrusive. Bottle: workshop condition
Provenance: Regency (New York, 1979) Gerd Lester (1986)
Exhibited: British Museum, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1997
Commentary This appears to be the same material as no. 58 in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, p. 120), which defied expert analysis by two laboratories, and is very similar to no. 161 in Treasury 1. It has the hardness of jade, with the surface appearance of nephrite. If it is nephrite, then it is as black as it comes. This sort of pure black was known in pebble-material long before the snuff bottle was invented but usually as a skin, sometimes enhanced by staining (see also Treasury 1, no. 159). It is possible that this piece has also been enhanced by staining, the entire bottle having been immersed in boiling dye until the colour had completely permeated it; however, it has none of the signs of being artificially coloured and it is more likely to be from naturally pure black nephrite. As such, it would presumably have been a highly valued material, black jade having been among the most sought after of colours for more than a thousand years (see Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, p. 120).
The form of this bottle is a variation on the simple mid-Qing form so often found in white nephrite or crystal (see, for instance, Sale 2, lot 83, and in the J & J Collection, no. 97). Apart from the absence of the pronounced, relief footrim, the body is a little wider, the neck narrower, and the front and back panels completely flat over a larger surface with matching flat areas on the narrow sides, which almost give the impression of a faceted bottle. It is also unusual to find the standard mid-Qing form with a concave lip or with a mouth so wide in relation to the lip.