Article about Snuff Bottles in Antique Collecting Magazine

How to Organize Snuff Bottles

So hopefully by now all your bottles are cleaned. The next stage is to organize them so you can have meaningful records of the collection.   It is worth having good records so that at any time you can recall what you have, when you purchased and interesting facts. The number of bottles you have may influence the way you organize them.


Numerical Order

Number bottles in the order you acquire them – this is simple and all you need are numbers to stick on each bottle. Keep invoices and any other information in a file and remember to note the number down against that bottle. Lilla Perry in her book ‘Chinese Snuff Bottles – The Adventures and Studies of a Collector’ suggests the collector keeps notes on small cards, but in these days of computers it may be easier to keep the records on an excel sheet, a word document or even a programme specifically devised for collectors such as Filemaker Pro.

Organize by Category

Lilla Perry talks about The Classification of bottles in her book and I have adapted her list to bring it more in line with current trends, as demonstrated in the Bloch Collection books. So divide your bottles into the following groups :

  1. Jade
  2. Quartz
  3. Stones
  4. Glass
  5. Porcelain
  6. Metal, Enamel and mixed media
  7. Organic
  8. Inside Painted

If you are using this system you can number your bottles individually under the category so you use 1.1     1.2     1.3       et



When writing descriptions for your pieces, include the following information:


Material – what the bottle is made from

Colour (s)


Type of decoration : eg carved, incised, painted

Date bottle made (or subsequent additions)

Meaning of the decoration

Material of stopper, collar and spoon

Height of bottle; measured without stand or stopper (and if you like greatest depth)

Provenance: name of previous owner (s)

Published: name date and author of any book magazine or catalogue in which the bottle appeared

Purchased from : Dealer, Auction House, etc

Date Purchased

Price Paid : make sure to include the currency

You may also wish to add a photograph and possibly an insurance appraisal

Here is an example:


4.1 Glass

[envira-gallery id=”1307″]

Glass, snowflake ground with a deep red overlay superbly carved, each main side with a single squirrel clambering amongst grape clusters and vine leaves, the base formed by the branch of the vine.

Date: 1736 -1795

Height: 6cm

Provenance:  Edmund F.  Dwyer

Katherine Kitchen

Lloyd Noakes

Published:     Christie’s ,London, 12 October 1987, lot 1

Chinese Snuff Bottles from the collection of Lloyd Noakes no 15

Exhibited :     Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October-November 1984

This motif was popular in the decorative arts of the Ming and Qing dynasties.  Squirrels have good reproductive powers and grapes grow in large clusters on vines. Like the bottle gourd, they imply a wish for ceaseless generations of sons and grandsons.

Purchased from : Susan Page, October 2018, CP $…..



Stickers (or not) for Identification


If you choose then to organize your bottles in boxes under the various categories then you may not need to stick numbers on the bottles – you should be able to identify them without stickers. Put all your Glass bottles together in the order of your list.  This also the same if you display your bottles at home – stick to the categories.   But if you choose to jumble up your bottles you may wish to use small paper stickers so it is easy to identify the bottles.

[envira-gallery id=”1299″]

Most bottles survive stickers but be wary of putting them on organic bottles as the glue is not good for the bottle. I would avoid stickers on organic bottles. And never put them on lac burgaute bottles.

In my next Blog I will talk about finding out more information about your bottles.




How to Clean Snuff Bottles

How Clean Snuff Bottles

Most of us have been in lockdown for a few weeks or months even.  If you are lucky enough to have your snuff bottles with you, you might want to think about organising and making records of your collection.  To start this process, I would begin by cleaning your snuff bottles.


Bottles benefit from a clean, there are two ways :

Express Clean

Get a damp clean cloth and wipe bottle over, taking care to do it over a soft towel.  Next take a clean dry cloth and rub all over.  Your bottle will begin to shine.


Deep Clean

If you haven’t washed your bottles for a while or never washed them, you may have to go for a bowl wash.

Remove the stopper and place on one side

Take a large bowl, put a cloth into the bottom so that if you accidentally drop the bottle it will be ok.  Fill the bowl with warm water and a little washing up liquid . Gently place your bottle in the water and using a soft bristled toothbrush gently brush the surface.  You can also clean the inside of a bottle. This is particularly beneficial for clear glass, agate and crystal snuff bottles.  However if you like to see evidence of old snuff in a bottle then do not wash the inside.  For bottles you choose to wash it will show the pattern of the material much better. Use a thin circular brush (the one here is a brush to wash inside metal straws) and you can also use an ear bud.  Then dry with a dry ear bud, and turn your bottle upside down on the mouth on the clean cloth and leave it to dry for 30 minutes.Put the bottle back in its box with the stopper out.  After 4 hours it is safe to put the stopper back in

Inside painted bottles should only ever be cleaned using the express clean method and do not take the stopper off – so you are only ever wiping the outside of the bottle with a damp cloth and drying it with a dry cloth.

Organic materials such as amber, lacquer, mother of pearl, cinnabar lacquer, ivory, gourd  and hornbill should only be cleaned using a dry cloth with a fine weave.  A clean handkerchief is ideal for this – just wipe and rub.

All this cleaning does take time and you may wish to clean 10 bottles at a time or else you end up with too many bottles drying upside down and no room on your surfaces.

Next Post I will give advice as to how to put your bottles in order and possible numbering systems.