Snuff Boxes at Bonham’s — New Record

Posted in Art Market by Editor on July 2, 2011

Press release from Bonham’s:

Meissen gold-mounted Royal snuff box made for Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, ca 1755. Estimate: £100,000 - 150,000

The most important collection of porcelain snuff boxes ever assembled is to be sold at Bonhams, New Bond Street, London on 5th July 2011 (Sale 19483). Comprising 80 boxes, the Helmut Joseph Collection gives a comprehensive overview of the history of European ceramics in snuff boxes, with examples from all major factories including Capodimonte, Meissen, Fulda, and Sevres. These exceptional and exquisite objects were considered the pinnacle of refined eighteenth-century court culture at its most luxurious and the collection has been exhibited in the world-renowned institutions of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (1972-2000), alongside the Gilbert Collection in Somerset House (2003-2008) and most recently at the Bowes Museum, Co. Durham. The entire collection is estimated to fetch £800,000-1,000,000.

Gold-mounted circular snuff box with a portrait of Maria Josepha, Electress of Saxony and Queen of Poland, ca 1755. Estimate: £40,000 – 60,000.

Prolonged exposure to air causes snuff to dry out and lose its quality, so pocket snuff boxes were designed to be airtight containers with strong hinges, generally with enough space for a days worth of snuff only. The jewel-like objects are immensely tactile and widely varied in design and style. The most expensive in the collection has an intricately detailed depiction of a Dresden landscape on the inside lid, which is after an engraving by Bernardo Bellotto (estimate £100,000-150,000). There are also more affordable boxes, such as a small St Cloud example dating to the 1730s in the shape of a horse with diamond eyes (estimate £3,000-5,000). The collection has a large variety of boxes made as diplomatic gifts between nobility, as well as intimate family gifts, such as a magnificent Meissen box with the portrait of Maria Josepha, mother-in-law of Louis XVI. This extremely rare box painted by Heinrici was most likely a gift to one of her daughters.

Rich in detail and made from precious materials these gem-like pieces were among the most precious and intimate gifts bestowed by princes and monarchs. Many of them feature in the standard reference on the subject by Barbara Beaucamp-Markowsky, who writes: “Superbly decorated boxes in gold, enamel, mother-of-pearl or precious stones, and above all in porcelain, were adored by the ‘beau mode’ of the eighteenth century, indeed, such was their passion that it has been described as the ‘box culture period’ of the siècle gallant. Snuff-boxes were then the ‘musts’ of the world of elegance. They bore gracious witness to one’s good taste and refinement. Porcelain boxes from the colourful European factories possess such exquisite elegance and attractiveness, the delightful paintings on the inside of the lids so fascinating, that they are comparable in their fineness with that of the most exacting miniature paintings.”

The examples for sale at Bonhams come from what is without doubt the greatest collection of snuff boxes in the twentieth century, formed by Helmut Joseph. Joseph began collecting boxes following the example of his father, who already has a substantial collection before WWII. A real connoisseur of early Meissen porcelain, he had a profound and intimate relationship with his subject, and a deep knowledge of the field. Helmut Joseph generously made his collection available to the public; he always showed an interest in sharing information, and indeed supporting the development of knowledge on ceramics, be it by funding museums, or publishing his own collection.

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Sale results (updated 7 July 2011), from a Bonham’s press release:

Snuff Box with Dresden Landscape Sells for £860,000

The most important collection of porcelain snuff boxes assembled in the 20th century sold for a fantastic £1,700,000 at Bonhams, New Bond Street, London on 5th July 2011. The top lot was a magnificent made for Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. With an intricately detailed depiction of a Dresden landscape on the inside of the cover, painted after an engraving by Bernardo Bellotto, the box had attracted a pre-sale estimate of £100,000-150,000. After a protracted bidding battle on the telephones the hammer finally came down on the staggering price of £860,000. This is a world record price for a porcelain snuff box at auction. . . .

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