Schrezheim Porcelain Pug Dog Snuff Box for Sale at Bonhams

A very rare Schrezheim porcelain snuff box in the form of a pug dog is expected to fetch £12,000-18,000 when it goes up for auction at Bonhams, New Bond Street on 5th July in the sale of the Helmut Joseph Collection of Porcelain Snuff Boxes.

Around 1740, a series of pug related items were designed as secret emblems for a German underground Masonic-styled lodge known as the “Order of the Pug.” Many were created by Johann Joachim Kaendler, master model maker of the Meissen porcelain factory in Germany, but the one for sale at Bonhams is a much rarer example from the Schrezheim factory. It is believed that the Order of the Pugs was created as a fraternal group for Roman Catholics who had been forbidden to join the Masons by Pope Clement XII’s 1738 bull, In Eminenti Apostolatus Specula, and that it was thought to have started by the elector of Cologne, Clemens August of Wittelsbach. Members were required to wear dog collars and had to scratch the door of the lodge to gain entrance. Initiates were said to have been blindfolded and led around a symbol-filled carpet nine times while the assembled “Pugs” of the Order barked loudly and yelled “Memento mori” (‘Remember you shall die’).

Created circa 1761-70 and measuring just 9.3cm across, the box is naturalistically modelled and coloured and shows the crouching animal chewing on a bone, wearing a gilt-edged purple collar. The cover was painted by Johann Andreas Bechdolff and the inside is decorated with a landscape scene depicting a figure facing a building across a gully.

The box is one of 80 from the Helmut Joseph Collection which are to be auctioned at Bonhams. The collection gives a comprehensive overview of the history of European ceramics in snuff boxes, with examples from all major factories including Doccia, Meissen, Fulda and Sevres. These exceptional and exquisite objects were considered the pinnacle of refined 18th 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. 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. The entire collection is estimated to fetch £800,000-1,000,000.

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 examples for sale at Bonhams come from what is without doubt the greatest collection of snuff boxes in the 20th 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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