Inner Painted Snuff Bottles（内画鼻烟壶）
Snuff bottles were used by the Chinese during the Qing Dynasty to contain powdered tobacco. Smoking tobacco was illegal during the Dynasty, but the use of snuff was allowed because the Chinese considered snuff to be a remedy for common illnesses such as colds, headaches and stomach disorders. Therefore, snuff was carried in a small bottle like other medicines. The snuff bottle is comparable to the snuff box used by Europeans.
Tobacco was introduced to the court at Beijing some time during the mid- to late-16th century. It was originally smoked in pipes before the establishment of the Qing Dynasty. The use of snuff and snuff bottles spread through the upper class, and by the end of the 17th century it had become a part of social ritual to use snuff. This lasted through most of the 18th century. Eventually, the trend spread into the rest of the country and into every social class. It was common to offer a pinch of snuff as a way to greet friends and relatives. Snuff bottles soon became an object of beauty and a way to represent status. The highest status went to whoever had the rarest and finest snuff bottle. The peak of snuff bottle manufacture was during the 18th century.
The use of snuff increased and decreased with the rise and fall of the Qing Dynasty and died away soon after the establishment of the Republic of China. However, replica snuff bottles are still being made, and can be purchased in souvenir shops, flea markets and museum gift shops. Original snuff bottles from the Qing period are a desirable target for serious collectors and museums. A good bottle has an extra quality over and above its exquisite beauty and value - it’s touch and feel. Snuff bottles were made to be held and so, as a rule, they have a pleasant tactile quality.
Without doubt, the class of bottle that arouses most interest in the non-collector is that known as inside painted, like those pictured here. These are glass bottles which have pictures and often calligraphy painted on the inside surface of the glass.
These delightful scenes are only an inch or two high and are painted while manipulating the brush through the neck of the bottle maybe only a quarter inch across, and also painted in reverse.
The earliest inside painted bottles are thought to have been made in the period between 1820 and 1830 as, by then, the beauty of a snuff bottle was probably more important than utilitarian considerations - and considering this - few would have been used for holding snuff.