Stones that Really Float! Chinese Snuff Bottles
personal view by John Neville Cohen
There are a variety of heavy stones that
will float in water such as jade, quartz, chalcedony and hair crystal.
If you find this comment hard to believe, then you obviously have not
learned about collecting fine antique Chinese snuff bottles!
When collecting Chinese snuff bottles,
one can choose to collect glass, porcelain, bottles made from organic
materials (such as amber or coral), or perhaps the inside painted
bottles, but there is sure to be a time when one will decide to collect,
or at least add some fine hard stone bottles.
Hard stone bottles can be found in a
variety of materials such as jade, quartz, chalcedony, hair crystal,
tourmaline and many more. There are some wonderful shapes and colours to
be found and even some stone bottles have images, or pictures, formed
from the natural inclusions found in the rock.
When studying auction catalogues one will
now and then come across, within the description of antique stone
bottles, the comment 'well hollowed' just as when discussing bottles
with a dealer this term will also be used. When this comment is missed
beware, as all good antique stone bottles should be 'well hollowed' and
if they are not then suspect they are fakes!
Antique Chinese snuff bottles were made
to be used and had to be well hollowed, to hold sufficient snuff, this
raises the question how well hollowed is 'well hollowed'? Most good
antique bottles are considered well hollowed if the bottle will hold a
good portion of snuff and does not feel too heavy. Remember, as a guide,
they were often worn in the sleeve. But the most valuable finest stone
snuff bottles are exceptionally hollowed out, so much so, that they
often look like they have been blown (like glass). These are referred to
as 'eggshell thin' or 'floaters' because although they were carved out
of a rock they are so well hollowed, that they will trap enough air to
float in water!
These stone bottles are examples of
amazing skill, because all the hollowing out has been performed through
a very small hole in the neck of the bottle. Even the areas we refer to
as the shoulders of the bottle (these are most difficult areas to hollow
out), have to be very thin, for the bottle to trap enough air to make it
There are some wonderful jade bottles
that float, yet jade is one of the hardest stone to carve, not only is
it an exceptionally hard material but it also has certain weaker points
where it can easily fracture.
Having shown a couple of bottles
well hollowed the other not) to lapidary workers, equipped with all the
most modern cutting and drilling tools, to find out if they could change
the poorly hollowed out bottle, into a well hollowed one and what it
would cost. Not one would take on the task and the general view was,
that even if they tried, the cost would be considerable, due to the time
it would take them, but in addition no one would accept the risk
involved, of possibly ruining the bottle in the process!
The explanation of how these antique
stone bottles were originally carved and so well hollowed out, were all
down to years of experience and the slow labour of love, where the
carver did everything by hand, without any concern about how much time
the work might take.
This gray Jade bulbous bottle above,
looks more like a blown piece of glass, amazing skill is required to
hollow out a hard stone bottle this well, referred to as 'eggshell thin'
and that really is no exaggeration!
Neville Cohen: An International award winning photographer
who also became a well known Asian antiques collector and an
enthusiast of Jensen British classic cars.
Other interests are skiing and Salsa dancing.
The author has been a very keen
collector for many years in helping to create 'The Cohen
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