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Snuff bottle

  • Place of origin:

    Portsea (made)
    Tibet (perhaps, made)

  • Date:

    1966-1974 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Rock crystal, painted on the inside and coral stopper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Ceramics Study Galleries, Asia & Europe, room 137, case 15, shelf 3

Snuff is powdered tobacco, usually blended with aromatic herbs or spices. The habit of snuff-taking spread to China from the West during the 17th century and became established in the 18th century. People generally carried snuff in a small bottle. By the 20th century these bottles had become collectors' items, owing to the great variety of materials and decorative techniques used in their production.

Physical description

Snuff bottle of rock crystal, painted on the inside. Coral stopper.
[Snuff bottle] Snuff bottle, squarish flattened flask form with a short, wide cylindrical neck and a dome-shaped stopper. Made of rock crystal, painted on the inside in blue, red, white and black. Decoration depicts a scene from the ballet The White Haired Girl' and an inscription describing the scene. On the reverse there is another scene from the ballet. The foot has an angular indentation underneath.
[Stopper] Dome-shaped stopper. Made of coral set in a metal mount which has a twisted rope decoration.

Place of Origin

Portsea (made)
Tibet (perhaps, made)


1966-1974 (made)


Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Rock crystal, painted on the inside and coral stopper


Height: 6.4 cm

Object history note

Decoration is derived from one of the few ballets officially sanctioned by the Cultural Revolution. It is an example of the way some traditional crafts were fostered as patriotic activities and allowed to continue within the prevailing ideology. The continued production of snuff bottles in a Communist ideological context is particularly interesting, since they might have been expected to stand as a cipher for the luxury and decadence of the Qing dynasty, or for the subjection of Chinese crafts to Western imperialist influences. The stopper may have come from inner-Asia, perhaps Tibet.

'Fine Chinese Snuffbottles' Sotheby's 11th October 1974, lot 83: 'Fine Chinese Snuff Bottles including the Collection of Eric Young III'Sotheby's 24th April 1989, lot 146

Descriptive line

Snuff bottle, rock crystal, the decoration depicts a scene from the ballet The White Haired Girl', China, ca.1970

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

White, Helen. Snuff Bottles from China. London: Bamboo Publishing Ltd in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1992. 291p., ill. ISBN 1870076109.

Production Note

Peking or Shandong, CHINA


Metal; Coral; Rock crystal


Painted; Painting (image making)

Subjects depicted

Men; Women; Costume; Figures (representations); Ballet; Dancers; Communism; Uniforms; Scripts (writing)


20thC_load; Glass; Containers; Personal accessories; Politics; Clothing; Ceramics

Collection code


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