Hung Chong, Guangzhou or Shanghai, 1890-1920 5.51cm high.
Treasury 7, no. 1629
銀鑄錢幣形鼻煙壺 恒昌號, 廣州或上海，1890～1920
A silver 'Guangxu coin' snuff bottle
Silver; with a flat lip and recessed, bowed, flat foot surrounded by a protruding, rectangular footrim; the two main sides simulating the obverse and reverse of a coin inscribed in Chinese on one side Guangxu tongbao (Guangxu currency), and in Manchu on the other designating the Guangdong mint; the foot chased with a formalised floral design that dictates the form, the foot stamped with two seals, one in Chinese Xingfa (Prosperity), the other in Roman letters, HC Hung Chong, Guangzhou or Shanghai, 18901920 Height: 5.51 cm Mouth/lip: 0.99/1.42 cm Stopper: transparent sapphire-blue glass; with integral copper finial, collar, and cork, and integral brass spoon
Condition: a couple of miniscule dents on the edges of both faces; one tiny dent on the outer lip
Provenance: Sotheby's, London, 5 December 1983, lot 141 Sotheby's, London, 6 December 1994, lot 188 Robert Hall (circa 1995)
Published: JICSBS, Spring 1998, p. 9 Treasury 7, no. 1629
The identification of the Guangdong mint in Manchu script is provided by Graham 1998, p. 9. It is confirmed by Su Ye 2008, p. 708, where we learn that this particular coin was minted in 1890 in a mint established by Zhang Zhidong (1837 1909). This tells us that the snuff bottle based on the coin could not have been made before 1890.
The true intent of this bottle is suggested by the Roman-letter seal, HC, on the foot, which suggests that it was made for an export market as a curiosity. In this role it would have worked well, because in a single precious object of silver are combined a typically Chinese snuff bottle and a simulacrum of the local currency. The use of Roman-character trademarks identifying the manufacturer was common practice among export silversmiths from the eighteenth century onwards, and the trend was spread to other centres after the expansion of the silver trade following the opening of more treaty ports after the Opium War. HC stands for Hung Chong. (Export silversmiths are better known by their traditional transliterations, so we have not rendered them into pinyin. The name Hung Chong, actually only one of several marks used by the company, would be read Hengchang in Mandarin pronunciation and pinyin spelling.) Hung Chong was a company active at the end of the Qing dynasty and into the Republican period in two locations: Club Street, Honam Island, Guangzhou; and 11b Nanking Road, Shanghai. (See Forbes, Kernan, and Wilkins, Chinese Export Silver, 1785 to 1885, pp. 110112, with examples pp. 185, 215, 231, and 232, and information regarding marks on pp. 244 and 245). Given that the coin copied here is from the Guangzhou mint, we might be inclined to favour Guangzhou as a place of origin, but in fact we have no real way of knowing.
The stopper, while looking rather grand, is not the original, since it is probably a good deal earlier. It is a typical palace style of stopper, where a cabochon, drilled through, is held in place by a metal finial fixed through the hole to the collar. It probably dates from the eighteenth century. It is of copper, not silver, so would be an unlikely original in any case.
A closely related bottle is in Deng 1993, no. 8.11, with the same inscription in Chinese, but not in Manchu. It also has an extremely long neck for a snuff bottle, almost as tall again as the body of the bottle. Another, set on what appear to be small ball feet, was in Old Chinese Snuff Bottles Catalogue No. 1, no. 105, but only the side with the Chinese inscription was illustrated.