Nephrite of pebble material; very well hollowed 1700-1880 Length: 6.7 cm (measured at right angles to the lip), 6.9 cm (greatest length) Mouth: 0.41 cm Stopper: coral; gilt-silver collar
Condition: small chips in and around the mouth; some natural flaws in material; collar of stopper damaged
Provenance: Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (Hong Kong, 1992)
Published: Kleiner 1995, no. 73 Treasury 1, no. 3
Exhibited: British Museum, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1997
This bottle represents the purest of all pebble snuff bottles. It is both from pebble material and of pebble form, with no apparent adjustment to the shape. It is simply a natural pebble that has been hollowed out, very well in this case, and polished to reveal the colour and texture of the overall skin. Pebbles of this sort, just smoothed and left in their natural shape, represent the epitome of the tactile appeal of the material, which was a standard part of jade appreciation over the millennia.
This devotion to the tactile qualities of jade meant, of course, that bottles were handled a great deal more than was necessary for the taking of snuff. Every snuff bottle that fits in the hand ideally would have been fondled as an exercise in sensuous tactility quite independent of the desire to snort its narcotic content. This resulted in often extensive and nearly always positive patination and wear on many materials. Nephrite, while hard, is not impervious to such wear, and the oils from the hand would sink into the surface, particularly of the softer skin material, creating a delightful effect discernible both by feel and by sight, imbuing the work of art with an added dimension which was impossible for the artist to produce originally, although it could be foreseen.
Apart from its delightful softness in the hand, this bottle is extremely exciting visually because of its unusual texture and its rich and varied colouring, created by the natural markings in the stone, the blacker areas of which are unusual in pebble material of this type, which is essentially characterized by a white interior and a rich, russet-brown skin. These ink-like markings allow for the surface to be interpreted in a variety of different ways as representational subject matter, albeit of an abstract nature.