Guangchang and Luen Wo, Shanghai, 18701912 8.31 cm high (including original stopper).
Treasury 7, no. 1666
銀嵌羽毛折枝花卉紋鼻煙壺 Guangchang 及 Luen Wo,上海，1870～1912
A feathers-on-silver snuff bottle
Silver, and feathers of two colours (from the kingfisher and probably from the blue jay); with a very narrow flat lip and protruding flat foot; the silver body divided by raised horizontal ribs into three main registers, each filled with a formalized floral design in flat, shaped segments surrounded by twisted wires and filled with feathers, with some details in silver wire without feathers, a base band of continuous leiwen (thunder pattern) in both turquoise blue and purple feathers below the three main registers, above which a shoulder and neck design in raised wire features formalized flowers with the feathers inlaid to provide a background colour; the foot inscribed in regular script with a stamped seal, Guangchang (Extensive Prosperity), and, in Roman letters, 'LW', also as a stamped seal Guangchang and Luen Wo, Shanghai, 18701912 Height: 8.31 cm (including original stopper) Mouth/lip: 1.56/1.76 cm Stopper: silver and feathers, with a raised-wire formalized floral design on a ground of feathers in two colours; with integral hollow 'cork' and spoon; original
Condition: Inevitable losses of some of the feather inlays and minor surface wear to the protruding silver; the stopper has lost more of the feather inlays than the bottle. General relative condition: unusually good
Provenance: Lydia Tovey Sotheby's, London, 28 April 1987, lot 692
Published: Arts of Asia, SeptemberOctober 1990, p. 90 Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 286 Kleiner 1995, no. 368 Treasury 7, no. 1666
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum of Singapore, November 1994January 1995 British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
The LW stamp stands for Luen Wo, a Shanghai retailing company selling the wares of various silversmiths during the last decades of the Qing dynasty. This piece was made for export, as indicated by its stamp in Roman lettering, and its excellent condition probably reflects the fact that it was taken straight to Europe and spent most of its life displayed among other curios from the East.
The original stopper is of unusual construction. All in silver, the spoon is fixed directly to the underside of the collar, while the 'cork' consists of a thin, hollow cylindrical section soldered around it, making the underside of the stopper a sort of inverted cup. Presumably, this was done to save silver, since making it solid would have required a good deal more metal; it would have also made the bottle top-heavy. The stopper as it stands is functional, but the inverted 'cup' would tend to accumulate snuff when the bottle was tipped and then spill the precious powder when it was removed from the bottle. Had the bottle been made as a functional vessel rather than as a curio for export, surely a little extra labour and silver would have been invested to add a sheet of silver closing off the bottom of the 'cork'.
The construction is the same as for so many bottles, and proves how useful across the arts was this method of two-part construction, whether a mould was used or not. The silver has obviously been beaten into shape (possibly using a mould) as two separate halves that were then soldered together, joining vertically. The cylindrical neck and protruding foot would have been added afterwards.
An obviously related bottle from the same workshop, although of a different form, was in Sotheby's, London, 24 April 1989, lot 68.