Snuff and snuff bottles

The practice of taking snuff (powdered tobacco) was introduced to China from Europe. It was fashionable in the Chinese court by the 1680s.

In Europe people kept snuff in small hinged boxes, from which they took pinches of the substance between thumb and forefinger before sniffing it. In China, on the other hand, people kept snuff in small bottles, extracting it with a small spoon attached to the stopper.

Artists in Beijing and Boshan, Shandong Province specialised in making snuff bottles. They made them in a variety of materials, although most were made in glass. Snuff bottles come in many shapes and were often carved or painted with designs based on religion, literature, philosophy and folklore.

Chinese emperors regularly ordered batches of snuff bottles to be made by the Imperial workshops. They gave them out as gifts to members of the court and diplomatic missions from foreign countries.

Glass snuff bottles are still being made in China today. They are popular items for the tourist market.

Click on the images to find out more about them.