The Speelman Collection of Chinese 'Imperial Tribute' Snuff Boxes

The Speelman Collection of Chinese 'Imperial Tribute' Snuff Boxes
24 Nov 2013
Hong Kong, Admiralty

Elaborate snuff boxes will be offered at The Speelman Collection of Chinese 'Imperial Tribute' Snuff Boxes sale to be held at 1pm on 24 November at the Island Ballroom of the Island Shangri-La Hotel.

In 18th century Europe, every socially prominent gentleman (and many ladies) enjoyed the occasional pinch of snuff, the ground tobacco providing an exotic stimulus during a dinner or a long conversation. This imported luxury was stored in a 'snuff box', a small hinged box and cover often created in expensive materials like gold and silver, and sometimes enriched with precious stones.

When aristocratic Chinese discovered 'snuff', they also stored it in small containers. However, China's damp climate meant that airtight snuff bottles were more suitable than boxes which could be sealed tightly to stop the tobacco powder getting damp.

Nevertheless, since court officials were fascinated by many Western accessories, a few snuff boxes were created in China during the 18th century to amuse the top-level court officials. Guangzhou (Canton) was probably the main manufacturing centre, copying European boxes carried by Western visitors to make elaborate and beautiful 'Imperial Tribute' snuff boxes as gifts to senior Beijing court members. These boxes are extremely rare and often equal in fine quality with their European original models.

The Speelman Collection is a unique group of 19 of these elaborate 'Chinese Imperial Tribute' snuff boxes. Commenting on the sale, Colin Sheaf, Chairman of Bonhams Asia said: "Assembled during a lifetime of collecting, these boxes illuminate the colourful cross-cultural social and creative exchanges that the China Trade made possible in the 18th century. They form a fascinating study group, and I am thrilled that we are to offer them in this unique sale".

Highlights of the sale include:

Lot 18
A very fine and rare hardstone-mounted gilt-bronze 'auspicious peaches and bats' oval snuff box and cover

Qianlong, circa 1740-1770

Lot 15
A very fine and rare embellished gilt-bronze oblong octagonal
'European landscape' snuff box and cover
Qianlong, circa 1740-1760

Lot 9
A very rare lac burgaute 'crouching boy' snuff box and cover

Inlaid Qianlong four-character mark and of the period

For more information please contact
Mabel Au-Yeung
+852 9038 8939


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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