Peking glass is another name for Chinese overlay carved glass that originated during the early Qing Dynasty in the late 17th century. The glass is multilayered so that different colours of glass show through the carved outer layer(s). At first, the art form restricted itself to snuff bottles, but over time artisans began producing other types of glass objects using the Peking Glass method. It is an art form that continues in the modern era.
Peking glass consists of objects made by Chinese glassworkers, and the earliest Peking glass came from the Imperial glassworks, which began in the late 17th century and operated through the 19th century. The most common Peking glass objects contain multiple, dipped layers of different coloured glass overlaying one another. The outer layers are carved with intricate designs revealing the colours below, and the result is a multicoloured glass object. Vintage snuff bottles typically have three to five glass layers with an opaque white base. Although designs vary greatly and contain many themes, common carved designs included floral and bird patterns.
Tobacco became available in China in the mid-1600s, and the socially acceptable form of using tobacco was as snuff (powdered tobacco that is insufflated through the nose). Thus, it is not a coincidence that the earliest Peking glass objects are small snuff bottles. They first appeared during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722), and soon their production became an industry operated by the Imperial glassworks. By the mid-1700s, Peking glass expanded beyond snuff bottles and became a full-fledged art form.
Qianlong Period (1736-1795)
Vintage Peking glass is from the Qianlong Period, when the art form reached its apex, and the most valued glass from this period are the carved snuff bottles. By the time Qianlong became emperor, the use of snuff had quickly become a rite of the wealthy. Emperor Qianlong encouraged Chinese art forms and actively collected Chinese art for his personal collection. The carved glass snuff bottle is so heavily associated with Qianlong that the term "Qianlong Glass" is interchangeable with "Peking Glass."
Vintage Snuff Bottles
The most common and most popular Peking glass objects are the snuff bottles. Glass snuff bottle production began in earnest under the direction of the Jesuit Kilian Stumpf, who was made director of the Imperial glassworks in 1695 under Emperor Kangxi. Vintage glass snuff bottles date from 1695 through the Qianlong Period and through the early 1800s. Other types of vintage Peking glass objects include vases, jars and beads.
Peking Glass Today
It can be confusing to try to distinguish between a vintage, 18th century Peking glass object and a modern object made using the same techniques with the same design motifs. The art form has been passed on through the generations. Like their vintage counterparts, modern objects will also often contain the Qianlong Imperial label to make identification even more difficult. Although it can be faked, look for the emperor's name (Kangxi or Qianlong) on the label of vintage objects. Vintage Peking glass is handmade, so any piece that has evidence of mould scars is not authentic.