Helmet-Hornbill faces extinction

The Helmet-Hornbill is easily distinguished by having the front of its nearly vertical and slightly convex epithema composed of a solid mass of horn instead of a thin coating of the light and cellular structure found in the others. So dense and hard is this portion of the “helmet” that Chinese and Malay artists carve figures on its surface, or cut it transversely into plates, which from their agreeable colouring, bright yellow with a scarlet rim, are worn as brooches or other ornaments. This bird, which is larger than a raven, is also remarkable for its long graduated tail, having the middle two feathers nearly twice the length of the rest. Nothing is known of its habits. Its head was figured by George Edwards in the 18th century, but little else had been seen of it until 1801, when John Latham described the plumage from a specimen in the British Museum, and the first figure of the whole bird, from an example in the Museum at Calcutta, was published by General Hardwicke in 1823 (Trans. Linn. Society, xiv. pl. 23). Yet more than twenty years elapsed before French naturalists became acquainted with it.

Price Realized
(Set Currency)
  • $17,500
  • Price includes buyer's premium
    $18,000 - $25,000

Sale Information

Sale 1977 
The Meriem Collection Important Chinese Snuff Bottles, Partii 
19 March 2008 
New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Lot Description

Of flattened form with flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a footrim, the material of warm, orange-yellow tone, carved through the red surface on the narrow sides with sinuous chidragons, coral stopper carved with a chi dragon, pearl finial and horn collar
2 3/8 in. (6.0 cm.) high 

Special Notice

Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.


Hugh Moss Ltd. 


JICSBS, March 1978, front cover. 


Canadian Craft Museum, Vancouver, 1992. 

Lot Notes

Hornbill was a valued substance to the Chinese well before snuff bottles came into fashion in the Qing dynasty. It came into its own, however, for the manufacture of Qing belt-buckles, snuff bottles, and other small objects during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Among the greatest carvers of the material was the scholarly artist known as Baishi, who signed his wares and dated two of them, establishing himself as having worked in the Daoguang period. Although many of his bottles are signed, it is also obvious that he produced unsigned works as well (see, for instance, a bottle formerly from the Meriem Collection, sold in these rooms, 19 September 2007, lot 707). Many of his signed works are carved with very similar chi dragon narrow sides, allowing the possibility that the workshop with which he was associated also made a range of plain bottles, the present example included.