I thought these were antique perfume bottles for the longest time, until...
... a couple Fridays ago when I went to an Asian Art Fair at Fort Mason with a good friend from school. We are both madly in love with these miniature works of art and upon inquiring as to the price range for such exquisite perfume bottles we were immediately informed that in fact these were not perfume bottles.
So what are these fabulous little treasures that I always admire on my trips to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum?
Snuff bottles of course!
From around the 16th to 19th centuries in China, these gorgeous trinkets were used to carry a very valuable substance- powdered tobacco, or snuff.
Smoking tobacco was illegal during these years, yet powdered tobacco was accepted as a common treatment for minor illnesses like colds and headaches, and so continued to be permitted.
People often carried these bottles, which varied in ornament according to status, and shared the contents in social situations as as friendly gestures.
Because of their usage, these objects often have a tactile beauty that matches its visual counterpart. I hope one day to experience this myself.
The other day as my friend and I admired these whimsical objects at the art fair, the idea pounced upon us that we could make our own snuff bottles in a medium with which we are more familiar- clay!
Traditionally, snuff bottles were made of glass, bone, and jade as well as porcelain and stoneware clay, so the concept isn't too far-fetched.
I've already begun working on a few models... I'll show pictures of the works in progress when I have a few more under my belt. :)
(top image via The Crow Collection of Asian Art)