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THIS book – which subtitle brings an instantly banned vision of raiders of hotel mini-bars – is the grander of these two new Schiffer titles on some of the most beauteous pieces ever to come from China’s Imperial history and later, and, of course, some of the most copied. As the authors comment in their chapter on Fakes and Forgeries: “It has been common practice for centuries in China to replicate the work of earlier craftsmen and even to replicate their marks and signatures, but this was not done specifically for gain, in the sense of deceiving buyers, but was considered a sign of great respect to a revered predecessor and referred to as a ‘nod to the past’.” Or repro, to be more prosaic.

On the very tricky matter of dating and provenance, reference is made here to the V&A’s famous collection of Chinese snuff bottles; their method of dating bottles is to quote the dates that are an absolute certainty, ie 1767-1910, the first date being when the style or type was first recorded and the second date when the bottle was acquired by the V&A from the collector who bequeathed it.

Trevor Cornforth and Dr Nathan Cheung are both collectors of and dealers in snuff bottles and this very clear and bluntly informative book is intended to take the collecting of snuff bottles away from what the authors seem to see as a plateau of rarefied superiority, as in “many dealers may use such emotive words as ‘Ming’ and phrases such as ‘Reign of Qianlong’, but do not be easily swayed... it is almost impossible to date by eye the age of any snuff bottle... does the seller know where the subject bottle has been for the last 50 years or so? If no, then can a three-, four- or even five-figure price be justified?”

In this history of snuff and its bottles from the 17th century to the present, some of the most exquisite of examples litter the 224 pages, with 657 colour photographs of some 650 bottles, with each bottle given a UK sterling price guide – important this in any Schiffer title – plus the US$ equivalent, with chapters on glass, natural stone, porcelain, enamels including cloisonné, wood, ivory, amber and inside-painted bottles. Some of the loveliest examples are not the most expensive; some of the most charming are made in the 20th century.

The book’s preface, with its advice to buyers and collectors, is a good read, including comments that in China a snuff bottle depicting a five-toed dragon will be rated more highly than one with four toes, with maybe little or no difference in the bottle’s quality; the dragon-toe factor having little credibility with Western collectors who go for provenance and quality full stop.

Handbook of Chinese Snuff Bottles by the same authors and publishers. ISBN 0764315900 £24.95hb

STILL with a price guide based on auction and resale values, the categories here, with text, are reduced to stone, glass, enamelled, porcelain and inside-painted snuff bottles, with a chapter on a Hotchpotch of Other Materials, including fruit stone, bamboo, wood and coral; here there are 340 photographs and 160 pages offering differing examples from the above book, and described as “not a bible of snuff bottle values”, but as a buyer’s and collectors’ guide.

There is an interesting story within the What Are the Prices of Snuff Bottles? about Trevor Cornforth’s attempts to buy one particular bottle by a well-known contemporary inside-bottle painter, whose loss of sight means that this is his last bottle; because of this the price has escalated along with the greed signs in the selling agents’ minds. The bottle remains on the same shelf it has occupied for the past five years.