Exhibited: British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
We know that fruit-form bottles in ivory were made as early as 1724 at the palace (Yongzheng Records, p. 33), but the whiteness of the ivory in this case would seem to rule out so early a date here. Had it been made, little used, and then stored at the palace for a century or more, it could have remained this colour, but under high magnification it is easy to read the surface wear as rendering such a scenario implausible. It probably dates from the mid-Qing, perhaps from the late Qianlong into the early nineteenth century.
Whenever it was made, it is an extremely rare ivory snuff bottle formally, with a lovely satiny surface through use. Among peach-shaped snuff bottles in general it stands out strikingly. One of the reasons for this is that it is pure; there has been no attempt to set it in context with branches and leaves.
The coral stopper is ideally suited here, although, unusually, mounted sideways rather than as a twig sticking up. Natural branches of coral of this colour were the common form in which the material was delivered to the lapidary, and once the thicker parts of the 'trunk' and main 'branches' had been used for larger objects, including snuff bottles, the tiny little outer 'twigs' were ideal for snuff-bottle stoppers and not much good for anything other than small pieces of jewellery. To transform these offcuts into stoppers, all they needed was a little polishing to the natural shape.
For a useful article by William R. Mann on the various sources of ivory and ivory-like materials, see 'Ivory: Sources, Identification, and Uses', JICSBS, Autumn 2001, pp. 1234.