Flawless crystal; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and flat foot; carved with formalized, petal-shaped, scalloped faceting surrounding an incised, formalized shou ('longevity') character on each side Probably imperial, possibly palace workshops, 17501850 Height: 5.28 cm Mouth/lip: 0.59/1.75 cm Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar
Condition: Original material: a few small, icy flaws, not obtrusive; minor nibbling to some of the sharp edges of the facets, also not obtrusive. General relative condition: excellent
Provenance: Marian Mayer Richard Bourne, Hyannis, Maine, 14 December 1988, lot 14 Robert Hall (1989)
Exhibited: J. J. Lally & Co, New York, October 1989 British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
Commentary Although at first sight this snuff bottle seems quite different from Treasury 2, nos. 335 and 336, this is mainly because of the distinctive form and decoration. In fact, it has several features in common with them. It is similarly pure crystal (no. 335 only missed the designation 'flawless' because of a tiny flaw at the neck), similarly well carved, and formally impeccable, the central design of the shou character being made up of wheel-cut incisions that occur on both of those two examples, and the hollowing is equally well done and extensive. There is an impression that it is not quite so thinly hollowed, but this is due to the faceting. The hollowing at the points of the facets is thicker, but is about as thin as the other examples at the center of the panels.
The formal group this bottle represents consists of similar bottles in a range of different materials. There are a number of crystal bottles known, many of which do not have the shou character at the centre of the formalized flower. They also occur in nephrite, jadeite (often of a pale grey-blue colour), and chalcedony. We have been unable to locate an undoubtedly genuine precise equivalent in glass, but there is a transparent sapphire blue bottle from the Marion Mayer Collection that is related in being, although more rounded, defined as a decagon by the faceting, and has similarly scalloped, or scooped out, facets, which are an unusual and distinctive feature of this group.
Faceting was one of the standard forms of decoration at court, occurring in a wide range of glass bottles made at the palace workshops from the Kangxi period onwards, and on enamels on metal and glass, many of which have imperial reign marks. It seems likely that a reasonably large group of faceted bottles made in a variety of different materials, with wheel-cut decoration in some cases, was an imperial group probably made at the palace workshops rather than at a distant facility, although that remains a possibility. The existence of the jadeite examples in the group suggests that the design was still current after the 1770s, when jadeite became a popular alternative to nephrite and began to be valued similarly, and we are probably looking at a mid-Qing group, perhaps made of relatively flawless crystal imported from Turkestan after the occupation of 1759. Another imperial connection may be made through a bottle from the Monimar Collection (Lawrence 1996, no. 44) that has an identical shou medallion at its centre, but is otherwise of typical palace form and covered with imperial-looking chi dragons.