What’s special about Mammoth ivory snuff bottles?
It was in the 17th century when the Jesuit missionaries looking to access the ‘Forbidden Kingdom’ of China presented the Qing Dynasty ruler with a snuff box. However, the snuff bottles came into vogue as the stuff used to cake in the boxes. That started the trend of snuff bottles which were custom carved and etched with the most delightful patterns and designs. As tobacco was an extremely expensive commodity which was imported from the New World to China, only the upper echelons of the society could afford it.
Snuff bottles became a rage and a symbol of expensive taste. The artists carved these 3-inch bottles out of a variety of different materials such as glass, metal, ivory, amethyst, jade, agate and a host of semi-precious stones. The painted or molded and carved designs included geometrical patterns, floral and animal designs. Some of the more exotic snuff bottles were crafted from tortoise shell, mammoth, and elephant ivory and had tiny spoons.
Collectors pay more for the authentic antique snuff bottles but the modern collectors have an insatiable appetite for mammoth ivory snuff bottles that are close to the antique ones. The real deal is that carved 3-inch mammoth ivory bottles are niche and make perfect heirlooms.
Even today, contemporary collectors pay well for mammoth ivory snuff bottles that were crafted during the Qianlong and Yongzheng courts. However, the enameled bottles of this period are considered to be highly collectible as the Chinese learned the art of enameling from the Jesuits. Considered to be Christian art collectibles, the artists painted them with Catholic iconography. Other forms of glass bottles being painted from inside become a popular collectible but that is a different niche.
However, today due to the intense demand for the collectible bottles, artists are carving mammoth ivory snuff bottles to cater to the exclusive demands. Although elephant ivory was the norm in ancient times, there are few examples of snuff boxes and bottles that were actually in use. The price of antique snuff bottles and boxes depends upon the skill of the artist. The more elaborately carved or hand painted it is the higher is the price. Additionally, the price also depends upon the quality of material it is carved from. With artists still practicing the art of making mammoth ivory snuff bottles in China using the same Oriental designs and style as passed on through the generation, the demand for these eclectic collectible does not seem to diminish.
After the ban on elephant ivory, the only legal and original ivory that could replace the fostering demand was mammoth ivory that was harvested from the carcasses of wooly mammoths found under the permafrost in Arctic regions. Although harvesting the tusks is painstaking and highly laborious work, mammoth ivory is very similar to the density and luster of elephant ivory. The only differentiating aspect is that the tusks are longer, thicker and the inherent crisscross pattern of Schreger lines differs.