Zanzibar offers MUSEUM QUALITY, MASTER Reverse Painted Glass Snuff bottles by individual Chinese Artisans. 

What we offer are NOT the factory, mass produced simple quality bottles that sell for a few dollars in Chinatown - ours are all unique works of art by established Master painters.  They are of exceptional detail and quality.  They are fairly traded.  Visit our gallery for an ever-changing selection. 

History of Chinese Snuff Bottles

Reverse Painted Glass Snuff Bottles are one of the most famous and collectible types of snuff bottles.  These little masterpieces are painted by reaching down through the neck of the bottle with a tiny curved brush or piece of bamboo. If painting through a quarter inch hole wasn't difficult enough, you also have to paint the object in reverse order since the first drop of paint to touch the glass will be in front of subsequent brush strokes. Thus the details must be painted before the subject. Eyes first, then face, then background. The "reverse" of how typical painters work.

Both Chinese snuff bottles, as well as the tobacco powder contained by the Chinese snuff bottles were at the very core of a fashion whose popularity had never before been experienced in Chinaís extensive history.  Due to itís exceptional versatility of style, technique and material, all in one small object, as well as the fine craftsmanship, these tiny masterpieces quickly became one of the most notable representations of the use of artistic skill throughout the Qing Dynasty. 

There are many different beliefs as to who introduced the use of tobacco to the Chinese. I have read that the Russians, Manchu, Portuguese, and the Jesuit Priests brought tobacco to China. I would venture to say that it is likely that different people, around the same time, introduced it in different regions. That time would be the early to mid 1600's. 

Although legally, the smoking of tobacco was not permitted, its use as snuff was considered perfectly acceptable, as it was thought to have valuable medicinal applications.  Tobacco was thought to be a great way to treat colds, headaches, stomach disorders and many other symptoms and illnesses.  Powdered tobacco, as well as the majority of other Chinese medications, was dispensed in bottles, as opposed to the boxes that were used in Europe. 

Though snuff was originally only a luxury experienced by the elite of the new Qing Dynasty house, its popularity, along with the popularity of the snuff bottle, became much more available in and around the Beijing court by the close of the seventeenth century. The heart of the recognition of snuff and snuff bottles remained in and around Beijingís court until the end of the eighteenth century, developing the use of snuff into a common social ritual for the upper classes.  The snuff therefore had to be contained in something that would contribute to this newfound fashion, and therefore, large amounts of art, taste and money were spent on the acquisition of attractive snuff bottles.  Snuff bottles also started being used for the attainment of favors, positions, status as well as advancement in government. 

During the 1700's snuff increased in popularity among the Chinese, which created a great demand for Snuff Bottles. They became conversation pieces and collectable items almost immediately. Collecting snuff bottles became the newest nationwide habit, and it spread to all of the social classes with the actual snuff-taking, at the very end of the eighteenth century. The finer the snuff bottle, the more respected was its owner. 

Snuff bottles were made out of every material of which the Chinese knew.  This included glass, porcelain, jade and other hardstones, ivory, coral, lacquer, amber, wood, etc.

Zanzibar Trading Company - Sacramento's Fair Trade Store & Gallery