Bonhams will sell 140 snuff bottles from the unique Bloch Collection in Hong Kong on May 28.
This Collection is the World's largest and finest in private hands, comprising 1,720 exceptional examples of these Chinese 'miniature masterworks'.
The auction includes an Imperial enamel-on-copper snuff bottle, personally commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor for his own use in the Forbidden City in Beijing.
This stunning object is estimated to sell for £250,000 and is one of the finest and rarest examples of this highly regarded Chinese art form ever to be offered at auction.
The habit of using ground tobacco (snuff) was introduced to Asia by 17th century Western travelers from Europe, where it was an exotic import from the Americas.
Chinese snuff takers found that traditional Western snuffboxes did not work well in the humid climates of Asia, and from the later 17th century Chinese craftsmen created small airtight bottles to keep the ground tobacco in perfectly dry condition.
These bottles became expensive luxury goods in their own right, not just for their contents.
Produced by some of the country's leading artists, they were given as gifts and tributes to the Emperor and others of the ruling classes.
These snuff bottles soon assumed a value as status objects, and were produced from a variety of traditional Chinese artistic media; lacquer, porcelain, agate, jade, glass, ivory, and enamel-on-copper.
A certain number were superbly crafted for a demanding audience familiar with outstanding works of art. The Bloch collection contains a remarkably wide range of these top-quality bottles.
As a growing number of collectors vie for the best snuff bottles their value has been growing.
Over the past decade prices have increased fourfold making them a highly portable alternative investment. One bottle recently sold at auction for over US$800,000, reflecting a remarkable surge in prices at the top end of the market.
Bonhams have arranged international previews of the Bloch Collection in New York, London, Taipei, Singapore and Hong Kong. The New York exhibition takes place between March 21-25.
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