Snuff bottles made of crystal or glass (and more rarely other materials such as agate or hair crystal) are painted on the inside using a narrow sliver of bamboo or brush, and ink and colour. They were not, therefore, made to be used to carry snuff and are considered a separate entity in collectors' eyes t from the more usual utilitarian bottle. It is a difficult but rewarding field in that most bottles are signed by the artist and dated.
The earliest recorded inside-painted bottles were produced in the early 19th century, and were recorded as being the work of Gan Xuanwen of the Lingnan school based in Guangzhou. The proliferation in the production of inside-painted bottles came with the foundation of the Beijing School in the late 1870’s by Zhou Leyuan. Another notable artist of that time was Ding Erzhong with his delicate brushstrokes and a small output. Ye Zhongsan the Elder began painting in 1893 as the pupil of Zhou Leyuan, and his three sons continued the tradition producing notable work until about 1945. One of the sons, Ye Bengqi set up a school of inside painting in the late 1950’s which continues today. There are many other notable artists : Ma Shaoxuan, Chen Zhongsan, Wang Xisan, Liu Shouben whose work the beginner collector should consider.