Bonhams' $1.6m sale of unique snuff boxes is nothing to be sniffed at



The most important collection of porcelain snuff boxes assembled in the 20th century is to be sold at Bonhams in London on Tuesday July 5. 

A very rare and unique Schrezheim porcelain snuff box in the form of a pug dog is expected to attract much interest, and has been given a strong estimated value of between £12,000-18,000 ($19,000-28,800).

Produced in about 1740, a series of pug-related items have an incredible history attached to them, as they were designed as secret emblems for a German underground Masonic-styled lodge known as the Order of the Pugs.

It is thought the Order of the Pugs was created as a fraternal group for Roman Catholics who had been forbidden to join the Masons by Pope Clement XII. Members were required to wear dog collars and had to scratch the door of the lodge to gain entrance. 


Charming and detailed, this unique box should make $28,800

Initiates were even said to have been blindfolded and led around a symbol-filled carpet nine times while the assembled 'Pugs' of the Order barked loudly and yelled "Memento mori" ('Remember you shall die').

The jewel-like objects are immensely tactile and widely varied in design and style. The most expensive in the collection has an intricately detailed depiction of a Dresden landscape on the inside of the cover, which was painted after an engraving by Bernardo Bellotto, valued at between £100,000-150,000 ($160,000-240,000). 

The price ranges do differ though, meaning new collectors or those looking for a long-term investment can consider more affordable options, like a small St. Cloud box dating to the 1730s in the shape of a horse with diamond eyes, estimated at £3,000-5,000 ($4,800-8,000).

The collection contains a large variety of boxes made as diplomatic gifts between nobility, as well as intimate family gifts, such as a magnificent Meissen box with the portrait of Maria Josepha, wife of Augustus III. This extremely rare, delicate box, painted by Heinrici was most likely a gift to one of her daughters, and has been given an expected value of £30,000-50,000 ($48,000-80,000).


This incredible piece will be the highlight, valued at $240,000

These exceptional and exquisite objects were considered the pinnacle of refined 18th-century court culture at its most luxurious, and the collection has been exhibited in the world-renowned institutions of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, alongside the Gilbert Collection in Somerset House and most recently at the Bowes Museum, Co. Durham. 

The entire collection is estimated to fetch £800,000-1,000,000 ($1.28m-1.6m). Rich in detail and made from precious materials, these gem-like pieces were among the most precious and intimate gifts bestowed by princes and monarchs.

Comprising 80 boxes, the Helmut Joseph Collection gives a comprehensive overview of the history of European ceramics in snuff boxes, with examples from all major factories including Capodimonte, Meissen, Fulda and Sèvres.


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