Coconut shell; with a flat lip and recessed foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; made of eight segments joined together, four for the main body, one for the shoulders, one for the neck, and one each for the base and footrim 18001900 Height: 5 cm Mouth/lip: 0.67/1.15 cm Stopper: nephrite; ivory collar
Condition: Surface with minor abrasions from use; two fine cracks rising from foot rim, one on either side; otherwise, workshop condition
Provenance: Sotheby's, New York, 23 April 1981, lot 142 Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1993)
Published: Treasury 7, no. 1486
Although a snuff bottle could be made from a whole dwarf coconut, which is characteristically of an elongated form resembling an eggplant (see, for instance, Sale 2, lot 9), the majority were made in sections from the larger, ubiquitous tropical coconut. No coconut had a thick enough wall to allow a bottle to be hollowed from it, dictating segmented construction to a greater or lesser extent. The most common method was to take two curving sections of the shell and join them with pins and glue to create a bottle of the shape of no. Sale 1, lot 16, although the two segments might be turned into compressed spherical, ovoid, or asymmetrical forms. A stage more complex than this involved the use of these same convex panels but with separate pieces inserted to broaden the shoulders and a separate neck added (such as on Sale 3, lot 6; or Sale 1, lot 66where the neck is made of more than one piece in order to achieve the necessary thickness). An extension of this is represented by Sale 2, lot 80, where the two convex segments of shell are separated all the way around the narrow sides with extra segments to give the bottle similar depth all through, instead of the tapering effect that comes with expanding the bottle only at the shoulders. The final and most complex phase is when the entire bottle is made from numerous segments to create a form that owes less to the coconut shell itself and more to the formal conception of the artist, such as here and, from the J & J Collection, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 279. This bottle seems to be made up of eight separate sections, although it is difficult to judge whether the base plate and footrim are truly separate pieces, so it may be seven sections.
Another very similar bottle, but slightly narrower, was in the Alexander Brody Collection (Lawrence 1995, no. 57; formerly Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 5 May, 1994, lot 1349). There was also one of similar construction but narrower form in the Ko Collection, Christie's, London, 18 June 1973, lot 175, which was bought in Tianjin in 1942.