Chinese snuff bottles: the “Five Roosters Collection”

This collection is mainly focused on snuff bottles made for use. Therefore, bottles meant for display are excluded, except for the inside painted glass ones, which are a few. This means that those fancy bottles which use is practically impossible, made for attracting uneducated tourists, are banned. Real snuff bottles were meant to be carried in the pouch, and handled. Thus, the right shapes are simple. Their fascination resides in shapes’ elegance. A good bottle fits perfectly in your hand; the tactile feeling is of great importance and a surprisingly pleasant experience to whom are not used to handle them. Many of the best bottles are excellent examples of what is meant by the Japanese word “shibui”: the elegance of simplicity, of the pure forms. As said in the main page, this collection is the result of research, passion, documentation, and attention spent mainly in the local area, either at antique markets, local auction houses, street markets and private collections; always, as mentioned, without investing relevant sums.

Not everything that has been found is still in the collection; a few bottles of relevant economic value were sold, especially in the first years of collecting.

Since we mentioned selling, let us strongly recommend to anyone who is about to start collecting Chinese snuff bottles in view of investment or, even worse, as a source of income, to forget it. In our personal experience, the market of Chinese snuff bottles has nothing to do with the common practices, both commercial and scientific, of the Antiques and Art markets.

The same bottle can in fact be sold at a very high price at an auction, and one year later at a much lower price even by the same auction house. It is a strange market where, in many cases, it seems that provenance is more important than the object itself.

It should also be kept in mind that the historical documentation about these objects is very scarce. This could mean that, consequently, scarce too are the real knowledge and competence within this market.

As a consequence of that, it is worth spending a few words about the dating of these objects. If you look at the sales of the major auction houses, you will see that many snuff bottles are simply dated as Qing dynasty. Only a few are dated to 18th or 19th century, while the imperial attribution is a bit abused in our view. This is because, in this field, we do not have sure ways of dating, like archaeological excavations, shipwreck recoveries, tomb finds, and so on, as it happens for Chinese ceramics, where written documentation, export reports etc. are abundant. It should be borne in mind that real snuff bottles have occupied a relatively short time frame within the long Chinese history, i.e. a span of only about two hundred years, from the beginning of the 18th century to the end of the Imperial era, at the beginning of the 20th century.

Hence, the dating mostly relies on style and quality. Apparently subtle differences in overall shape, form and finish of the foot, base, neck, hollowing, material and working methods, all these are contributing to a probably reliable dating. Just these subtle details, such like a particular curving of the foot or its finishing, are source of great satisfaction when they are found in our new acquisition.

The world of Chinese snuff bottles is beautiful, it is a source of continuous wonders, but in our opinion, it must be faced only for one’s own personal pleasure. Do not think about profit. Enjoy each find. It is a rewarding area of interest which will grant you pleasures, stories, unexpected achievements, and meeting nice people. It will be an endless discover of techniques, materials, and wonders about the surprising creativity of unknown artisans.

The Mangialupo Collection.

Note about the images: All the photographs were taken with the same set-up, in order to provide the correct display of the real dimensional ratio among the various bottles. Thanks to this, by looking at the index pages of each category, the observer has the same view as those who are observing the collection live.

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