Collecting Snuff Bottles

Collecting Snuff Bottles - the Beginning

 Impressions from my childhood often led to fascinations as an adult.  My grandmother Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of one of the rich and powerful men of Hong Kong at the turn of the 20 century.  His reputation as a collector was a legend in Hong Kong's antique row.  How much of his enthusiasm of collecting was transferred to his beloved daughter, I would not know.  I would like to think selling pieces of her collection and my grandfather's sustained them through the dark years of World War II.  When the war was over and I was old enough to remember, not much was left. But two snuff bottles, both carved, one rose quartz and the other amethyst were kept in a beautifully carved Black Wood cabinet (highly prized by Cantonese) along with the crystal and silver. Young children were not allowed to touch antiques, and  I never held the bottles in my hands. But I confess I used to hang out around the Black Wood cabinet, hoping to steal glances of the bottles when the amahs needed to retrieve pieces to set the dinner table. The images were etched in my memory. 

In my active years as an antique dealer, I have sold many beautiful and valuable bottles, some have appeared in Christi's and Sotheby's snuff bottle auctions.  The best I could say was they were my finds, but I have no regrets that they were no longer mine.  After all, we had to make a living  and I want my children to be college educated.

For many years I did not actively collect snuff bottles for myself.  It was not until my late husband Michael was diagnosed with dementia.  Despite his handicap, his appreciation for beautiful things remained.  I cannot describe this in medical terms, but it seems like the part of his brain that controlled aesthetics still functioned.  To create some excitement for Michael, we started bidding on snuff bottles in online auctions.  It was a lot of fun for us both.  We agreed on some choices and other times Michael would explain why he found some pieces objectionable.  That was the time when many stone bottles came into the market.  Many were exotic stones like malachite, recently discovered in Africa and brought back to carvers in China to be made into snuff bottles.  Once the taste of owning bottles began, there was no stopping the thirst. And so it began.