Du Paquier rectangular tobacco box with hinged cover and tamper in a contemporary fitted leather case, c.1730, £200,000 at Bonhams.

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The business end of Bonhams(28/27/21/14.5% buyer’s premium) 500 Years of European Ceramics sale on December 6 was provided by the corporate collection of British American Tobacco (BAT).


British pearlware puzzle pipe, c.1800, £1400 at Bonhams.

Assembled by the since the 1960s, many of these pieces are well-known from the collecting literature and had formed part of the exhibition The British-American Tobacco Company Collection of Tobacco Containers & Accessories held by The International Ceramics Fair and Seminar in London in 1988.

The firm had continued to acquire choice antique ceramics related to tobacco smoking into the first decade of the 21st century.


Mennecy silver-mounted trompe-l’oeil tobacco jar and cover in the form of a bundle of radishes c.1755-60, £14,000 at Bonhams.

‘Lothsome, harmefull’

The arrival of a mysterious herb enjoyed by the native American cultures into Europe had not been without resistance or controversy.

The first European caught smoking tobacco (Rodrigo de Jerez - a member of Columbus’ crew) was imprisoned by the Inquisition.


A pair of Saint-Cloud silver-gilt-mounted miniature tobacco jars and covers in a red lacquer travelling case, c.1760, £9000 at Bonhams.

A century later, in his famous 1604 polemic A Counterblaste to Tobacco, the Stuart king James I denounced its use as a “custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs”.

In the 1630s the killjoy Ottoman sultan Murad IV added smoking tobacco to drinking of coffee and alcohol as a vice deserving of the death penalty.


Cozzi armorial tobacco jar and cover, c.1765-70 painted with the accollé arms of Erizzo and Bentivoglio, £16,500 at Bonhams.

The BAT collection focused on the high-status products made in the 18th century, during which France implemented its first smoking ban (1719), the tobacco plant was officially named nicotiana by Linnaeus (1753) and London physician John Hill published the first clinical report connecting tobacco with cancer (1761).


Birmingham enamel gilt-metal-mounted oval tobacco box and cover, 1751-56 with transfer printed overpainted en camaieu decoration, £6000 at Bonhams.

With snuff proliferating in the Catholic south and pipe smoking favoured in northern Europe, tobacco had also become firmly entrenched into European society.

The vessels made to hold tobacco for courtly use were sometimes spectacular.

The Du Paquier factory in Vienna is thought to be the first of the European porcelain makers to produce tobacco and snuff boxes.

The example at Bonhams, dated to c.1730, was one of only two known and includes its silver-mounted tamper (used for pressing the leaves) and the original fitted leather and red velvet case.

Profusely decorated with chinoiserie scenes to the sides and panels of indianische Blumen to the cover, the gilt feet are modelled as gilt tobacco plants.

Pictured in the 1988 book Tobacco Containers and Accessories: Their Place in Eighteenth Century European Social History (Deborah Gage and Madelaine Marsh), it was previously part of both the Otto and Magdalena Blohm (Hamburg) and the Pauls- Eisenbeiss (Riehen, Switzerland) collections and was last sold at Christie’s in 1987.

Here it hammered for £200,000 against an estimate of £40,000-60,000. The only other example recorded (lacking its tamper and case) is housed in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut.

European factories

The 51 BAT lots (of which 35 sold) included pieces by a broad range of European factories.


Crépy-en-valois wild boar tobacco jar and cover, c.1762-70, £60,000 at Bonhams.

Guided at £6000-8000 but sold at £60,000 was an equally rare tobacco jar and cover modelled as a wild boar by the short-lived Crépy-en-Valois factory. Founded in October 1762 by Louis-François Gaignepain - a former worker at Mennecy - together with a Paris marchand-mercier, Pierre Bourgeois, it operated only from 1762-70.

These wild boar jars or ‘pot a tabac blanc En hure de Sanglier’ are mentioned in the local trade journal Livres Journal de Vente pur la manufacture de Crépy, in 1765 and 1766. However, the only other recorded examples of this naturalistic cylindrical form are the two in a fitted leather case in the Sir AW Franks Collection in the British Museum.

This example, with restored small chips, had been bought for the BAT collection from The Antique Porcelain Company, New York, in 1981.


Documentary Sèvres tobacco jar and cover (pot à tabac), £22,000 at Bonhams.

Typically tobacco would arrive in Europe from the plantations as dried leaves and would be prepared - twisted, rolled and shredded - in port cities for sale. A clue to the process can be seen in the decoration to a documentary Sèvres tobacco jar and cover (pot à tabac) that took £22,000 (estimate £6000-8000).


Documentary Sèvres tobacco jar and cover (pot à tabac), £22,000 at Bonhams.

The landscape vignettes to this vessel painted by André-Vincent Vielliard include a depiction of a tobacco shredder and chopper together with a tobacco box inscribed Taba[c] Pour Pari[s] and dated 1767. It too had been acquired from The Antique Porcelain Company in 1986.