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Bonhams presents the right snuff: The Speelman Collection of Chinese 'Imperial Tribute' Snuff Boxes
A very fine and rare hardstone-mounted gilt-bronze 'auspicious peaches and bats' oval snuff box and cover, Qianlong, circa 1740-1770. HK$600,000-800,000. Photo: Courtesy of Bonhams.

HONG KONG.- Elaborate snuff boxes will be offered at The Speelman Collection of Chinese ‘Imperial Tribute’ Snuff Boxes sale to be held at 1pm on 24 November at the Island Ballroom of the Island Shangri-La Hotel.

In 18th century Europe, every socially prominent gentleman (and many ladies) enjoyed the occasional pinch of snuff, the ground tobacco providing an exotic stimulus during a dinner or a long conversation. This imported luxury was stored in a 'snuff box', a small hinged box and cover often created in expensive materials like gold and silver, and sometimes enriched with precious stones.

When aristocratic Chinese discovered 'snuff', they also stored it in small containers. However, China's damp climate meant that airtight snuff bottles were more suitable than boxes which could be sealed tightly to stop the tobacco powder getting damp.

Nevertheless, since court officials were fascinated by many Western accessories, a few snuff boxes were created in China during the 18th century to amuse the top-level court officials. Guangzhou (Canton) was probably the main manufacturing centre, copying European boxes carried by Western visitors to make elaborate and beautiful 'Imperial Tribute' snuff boxes as gifts to senior Beijing court members. These boxes are extremely rare and often equal in fine quality with their European original models.

The Speelman Collection is a unique group of 19 of these elaborate 'Chinese Imperial Tribute' snuff boxes. Commenting on the sale, Colin Sheaf, Chairman of Bonhams Asia said: "Assembled during a lifetime of collecting, these boxes illuminate the colourful cross-cultural social and creative exchanges that the China Trade made possible in the 18th century. They form a fascinating study group, and I am thrilled that we are to offer them in this unique sale".

Highlights of the sale include:

Lot 18
A very fine and rare hardstone-mounted gilt-bronze 'auspicious peaches and bats' oval snuff box and cover
Qianlong, circa 1740-1770

Lot 15
A very fine and rare embellished gilt-bronze oblong octagonal 'European landscape' snuff box and cover
Qianlong, circa 1740-1760

Lot 9
A very rare lac burgaute 'crouching boy' snuff box and cover
Inlaid Qianlong four-character mark and of the period

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