Chinese Snuff Bottle

Inside painted Qing Dynasty glassware

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.


This small bottle is a snuff bottle, from the Qing Dynasty, China. Snuff is a form of tobacco that is inhaled rather than smoked. The Chinese believed that snuff was a remedy for illnesses such as coughs, colds and stomach upsets. It was carried around in little bottles such as the one on the right.


It is made from clear moulded glass, and shows two horsemen, one in red, one in blue, charging as if in battle. So what’s special about it? The illustrations have been painstakingly painted from the inside! Imagine how delicate a process that would be for the painter. The images on snuff bottles such as this might only have been a couple of inches high so it took a highly skilled craftsman to paint a bottle in this way, and some elaborate designs would have taken days or even weeks to complete.


The bottle is an example of ‘Beijing glass’, developed in the Chinese capital in the late 19th Century. An inscription in Chinese, probably a poem has been written on the bottle as well. This had to be written backwards so that it was the right way round on the outside of the bottle. This bottle was purchased by Major Stewart, on a visit to China between 1906 and 1914.  (Major Percy Marlborough Stewart was and adventurer, traveller, scholar, soldier and collector who purchased the Burnby Hall estate in Yorkshire in 1901).



Qing Dynasty -  In China, a  rule by one family from 1614 until 1912.
Georgian - period in British history during the reign of Kings George I, II, III and IV (1714 to 1830).

Discussion Ideas:

  • Why do you think the snuff bottle has been painted in this extravagant way?
  • Snuff boxes were popular in Europe at around the same time as these bottles were used in China. What section of society do you think would have had a snuff box? Take a look at this Georgian snuff box for a clue!
  • Tobacco products such as cigarettes are now known to be bad for the health. What other remedies from other cultures or periods in history can you think of, that we now know are not good for us?

Document icon Learning article provided by: Stewart's Burnby Hall Gardens and Museum | 
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