Tongzhi mark and of the period, 18621873 6.73cm high.
Treasury 7, no. 1479
A bamboo snuff bottle
Bamboo; well hollowed, with a concave lip and convex foot, inscribed in regular script within an oval cartouche, Tongzhi nian (Tongzhi period) 18621873 Height: 6.73 cm Mouth/lip: 0.63/1.85 cm Stopper: jadeite; silver collar
Condition: One natural crack at the top of one small side; some surface wear from use; otherwise, workshop condition
Provenance: Harry Ross Christie's, London, 19 June 1978, lot 179
Published: Treasury 7, no. 1479
The common form for a snuff bottle made from a short internodal segment of bamboo close to ground level is a fat disc with irregular, sometimes concave diaphragms making up each main side. This is a classic example, with the plain, unspeckled diaphragm clearly differentiated from the speckled culm cut at right angles to the grain, and the two irregular diaphragms serving as integral snuff dishes. It also has the lovely dark patina that speaks of both original staining and years of further natural polishing as the oils from the hand are rubbed into the surface of the bamboo. One of the great joys of patina, particularly apparent on snuff bottles of organic materials, is that it is an unpredictable, natural process that over time makes every patination unique.
The surface would suggest that this is among the earlier range of bamboo bottles, and yet the mark clearly dates it to the second half of the nineteenth century. Organic substances in constant use can patinate quickly, and if they are stained to a relatively dark colour to begin with, as some bamboo carvings were, a century of use can impart to the surface a patination that makes it look much older. On many an organic snuff bottle, the state of patination is likely to give an exaggerated impression of its age, which is what we see here.
We postulate, on the basis of surviving examples, that separate snuff dishes, as opposed to integral ones, had become standard by the nineteenth century. To whatever extent new fashions prevailed in the snuff-bottle world, however, older fashions maintained a place; and there can be little doubt that bamboo snuff bottles of this sort were appreciated in part for their natural, integral snuff dishes.
Harry Ross collected mainly in the 1960s. He lived about one mile from Moss's family home in Wimbledon, in southwest London, and the two frequently got together. His collection was on the small side and his funds were limited, but he was a keen collector at a time when limited funds allowed for the acquisition of some fine examples if enthusiasm for the chase was linked to good taste. In those days a trip to the Portobello Road on a Saturday would uncover a number of fine snuff bottles from perhaps half a dozen different dealers.