ANTIQUE BOXES
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Antique Boxes in English Society

1760 -1900   by ANTIGONE

WORK - SEWING BOXES

 Sewing Box thumbnail index, a pictorial reference to antique sewing boxes

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INTRODUCTION

LATE 18th CENTURY

REGENCY PERIOD

MID 19th to end of 19th CENTURY

 

 

Vizagapatam Antique Fitted Sewing box, circa 1835
Important and Impressive Radiating Green Horn Vizagapatam Antique Fitted Sewing box, circa 1835

 


Antique Fully fitted sewing box by Turill of Regent Street London Circa 1840.

Sewing Box thumbnail index, a pictorial reference to antique sewing boxes

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INTRODUCTION

The sewing box or work box was a much loved personal home accessory, where the lady it belonged to kept her embroidery tools and materials. As ladies of a certain social standing did not have many outlets for their artistic creativity, ability to compose and embroider designs on fabric was seen as a major accomplishment.

There are many references in literature to sewing, embroidery tools and boxes. In Jane Austen's Mansfield Park the heroine Fanny Price finds solace in "the room...most dear to her" where " The table between the windows was covered with work-boxes and netting -boxes…" Jane Austen herself had a large Chinese export lacquer box/table on stand complete with fitted tray, which can still be seen in her house in Chawton.

The stylistic development of the work box mirrors that of the tea caddy. The main difference is that Tea Caddies are on the whole taller and narrower. The shapes and decoration however follow the same pattern except that work boxes revert to rectangular shapes after the middle of the 19th century.

 

Chinese Export Lacquer Sewing  Box decorated with scenes of oriental life  circa 1850.
Chinese Export Lacquer Sewing  Box decorated with scenes of oriental life  circa 1850.

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An early 19th Century  fully fitted Chinese export lacquer combined sewing and writing box of rectangular form opening to a fully fitted sewing tray with turned and carved ivory tools and having a drawer fitted for writing. Circa 1800

SB474: A very fine Chinese export lacquer sewing box of complex curved octagonal form, with fine decoration of oriental scenes framed within cartouches standing on gilded bat feet. The background is filled with diaper designs of stylized flora. Inside there is a lift out tray with supplementary lids and   sewing tools  made of turned and carved ivory.   The box has gilded side handles and hinges. Circa  1835. Enlarge Picture
A very fine Chinese export lacquer sewing box of complex curved octagonal form, with fine decoration of oriental scenes framed within cartouches standing on gilded bat feet. The background is filled with diaper designs of stylized flora. Inside there is a lift out tray with supplementary lids and sewing tools made of turned and carved ivory. The box has gilded side handles and hinges. Circa 1835.

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An exceptional and rare fully fitted brass inlaid workbox, which shares elements with the work by Edwards. The form is typical of the early Regency: perfectly proportioned drawing its inspiration from ancient architectural structures. It has turned gadrooning handles and feet Circa 1815.

SB454: Mahogany and brass bound sewing box circa 1820. This is a most unusual early sewing box, both strong and robust. The high quality of the structure suggests that it was made to withstand travel as well as sit in elegant drawing rooms. The mahogany is edged in squared brass all around and bears flat-folding side handles. The original interior is lined in red textured leather. The tray is in keeping with the exterior and is structured for strength. The ‘envelope’ is most unusual and opens with a silver catch. Some bending on bottom brass suggesting that the box did travel! Working Bramah lock and key.  Enlarge Picture

Mahogany and brass bound sewing box circa 1820. This is a most unusual early sewing box, both strong and robust. The high quality of the structure suggests that it was made to withstand travel as well as sit in elegant drawing rooms. The mahogany is edged in squared brass all around and bears flat-folding side handles. The original interior is lined in red textured leather. The tray is in keeping with the exterior and is structured for strength. The ‘envelope’ is most unusual and opens with a silver catch. Some bending on bottom brass suggesting that the box did travel! Working Bramah lock and key.
 

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LATE 18th CENTURY

There are basically two categories of boxes dating from this period.

Rectangular boxes

Rectangular boxes with wooden lift out trays over an empty space. Sometimes instead of a space there is a drawer. The tray, the drawer, or both are usually divided into compartments. The interior if lined at all, is lined with simple paper, in pink, blue, green or yellow.
Seldom are these boxes made of solid wood. Usually they are made in mahogany, pine or oak and veneered in saw cut veneers of mahogany, oak, yew, harewood, partridgewood, satinwood or fruitwoods. The decoration tends to be restrained, often simple edgings or crossbandings.

More ambitious inlaid decoration of neo-classical or more naturalistic designs is sometimes found on boxes which have trays fitted with sewing tools. Such examples are now extremely rare.

Most boxes dating from this period were finished in wax and as such the ones which have escaped insensitive restoration have built up a rich patina.

Some boxes were varnished. The varnish has often deteriorated over time

Rare important early 18th Century Venetian box with fielded panels decorated with lacca povera  depicting Chinoiserie fantasies, framed with gilt-wood; the inside of the box has a later (early 19th century English) tray, covered in green silk fitted for sewing, circa 1730 Enlarge Picture
Rare important early 18th Century Venetian box with fielded panels decorated with lacca povera depicting Chinoiserie fantasies, framed with gilt-wood; the inside of the box has a later (early 19th century English) tray, covered in green silk fitted for sewing, circa 1730


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Detail: A young Oriental boy in dress that is more European than Chinese with the symbols of a scholar prince.

SB 493: A rare Georgian sewing box of rectangular form  edged with maple the top having a hand colored print depicting cherubs and framed with mitered purfling having a lift-out tray still retaining turned Tunbridge ware whitewood sewing tools. Circa 1800. Enlarge Picture  
Rare Georgian sewing box with cherub print and turned Tunbridge ware sewing tools Circa 1800.
 turned Tunbridge ware whitewood sewing tools 


Regency Rosewood and Penwork sewing Box Circa 1810

 

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Decorated boxes

Boxes belonging to this category were painted either on a background of light coloured wood, usually sycamore, or on a lightly gessoed surface which was applied to the box before the decoration. These boxes are quite unique and wonderfully idiosyncratic. Real period gems.

 

Subjects vary from flowers to human figures, shells, butterflies, bees or whatever the particular person was interested in at the time of painting the box. Many were bought "in the white" and decorated at home by accomplished and dedicated ladies, eager to prove their gift as competent and inspired artists.

Most of these boxes were fitted with Tunbridge Ware early sewing tools. The tools were turned in sycamore and decorated with simple lines in primary colours. They consisted of small thread barrels, tubular small boxes, tape measures, wax holders and thimbles.

The barrels were made with a central spindle inside, on which the thread was wound. The thread was then pulled out from a small hole on the side of the barrel. The small boxes had screw on lids and were used for holding beads, gold thread or other precious embroidery necessities. The tape measure holder was a small tubular box with a central spindle and a slid on the side.

Rare late 18th century inlaid maple fitted sewing box decorated with a hand colored print depicting Autumn Circa 1790. Enlarge Picture
Rare late 18th century inlaid maple fitted sewing box decorated with a hand colored print depicting Autumn Circa 1790. 
The inside is lined in its original pink paper and has compartments for thread and ribbons.   Enlarge Picture
barrel containers are in the form of milk churns of the period. They are very delicately made and have a half herringbone inlay similar to that let into the sides of the box let in. Enlarge Picture

 

 

 This enabled the silk tape measure to be wound in and out when necessary without needing to handle it. The waxer consisted of two circles of wood holding a piece of wax in between them. This was used to wax the as yet unmercerized thread as it came out of the barrel, rendering it smooth.

 
Additional tools such as wooden reels, rollers for lace and winders were also made for use in the early work boxes. These, as well as the other tools mentioned were very skilfully turned to a very thin tolerance. They are very fine and light. The most extreme example are the thimbles which make one wonder if the turners were running competitions as to who could turn the finest thimble without it exploding on the lathe. Very few thimbles have survived in the boxes. Some have perished with use and some have found their way into thimble collections.

Regency painted sycamore sewing box Circa 1815-20.

Inside there is a lift-out tray which still retains its original red colored paper lining and leather cover. One of the central divisions is a replacement.

 

 

One section of the lift out tray often contained a removable pin cushion made up of a light wooden frame, stuffed with bran and covered on the top with silk. Other sections were left empty or were fitted with removable small boxes.

Early work boxes sometimes included small glass bottles with glass stoppers. These were probably used for hand sprinkling powder or aromatic vinegars and salts. Small 'emery' cushions for keeping rust off needles were also kept in work boxes.

 

An unusual painted Regency box with curved and tapered sides and pyramided top, having replacement side handles and and opening to two replacement velvet covered lift out trays making the box suitable for jewelry or sewing. The wood is sycamore and the painting depicting floral motifs is finely executed. A wonderful period piece. Circa 1810. Enlarge Picture
An unusual painted Regency box with curved and tapered sides and pyramided top, having replacement side handles and and opening to two replacement velvet covered lift out trays making the box suitable for jewelry or sewing. The wood is sycamore and the painting depicting floral motifs is finely executed. A wonderful period piece. Circa 1810.

 

Boxes of this period are now seldom found with more than a few surviving tools. Even in incomplete condition they are extremely rare.

TORTOISESHELL

Tortoiseshell  sewing boxes dating from the end of the 18th century are rectangular. 

 
They are in light blond shell. Sometimes pigment in the gesso under the shell gives it a green colour. Their lift out trays are covered in patterned paper or silk and they have tortoiseshell covered lids on some of the sections. If they have any tools at all they are in ivory and steel. These are rare, especially in green.

During this early period the decoration was restricted to simple silver or silver plated escutcheons, central plates, loop handles or small finials. Thin ivory edging lines and facings were also used, although many early boxes have boxwood facings.

See:18th and 19th Century Boxes, Style Materials and Methods 

SB121: A rare fully fitted tortoiseshell sewing box of rectangular form and shaped top by Thos' Lund of Cornhill, having ivory facings, silvered hinges and lock, mother of pearl escutcheon and name plate engraved "Mrs. Brown". Inside there is a liftout tray with green and blue silk coverings  and supplementary lids  containing  turned and carved mother of pearl spools (8) and other sewing tools. The inside the lid is covered in ruched blue silk framed with a smooth silk border and contains  a document wallet in the lid. Circa 1820. Enlarge Picture
A rare fully fitted tortoiseshell sewing box of rectangular form and shaped top by Thos' Lund of Cornhill, having ivory facings, silvered hinges and lock, mother of pearl escutcheon and name plate engraved "Mrs. Brown". Inside there is a liftout tray with green and blue silk coverings and supplementary lids containing turned and carved mother of pearl spools (8) and other sewing tools. The inside the lid is covered in ruched blue silk framed with a smooth silk border and contains a document wallet in the lid. Circa 1820.
SB121: A rare fully fitted tortoiseshell sewing box of rectangular form and shaped top by Thos' Lund of Cornhill, having ivory facings, silvered hinges and lock, mother of pearl escutcheon and name plate engraved "Mrs. Brown". Inside there is a liftout tray with green and blue silk coverings  and supplementary lids  containing  turned and carved mother of pearl spools (8) and other sewing tools. The inside the lid is covered in ruched blue silk framed with a smooth silk border and contains  a document wallet in the lid. Circa 1820. Enlarge Picture

 


REGENCY PERIOD

In the early 19th century sarcophagus, architectural and generally more complex shapes were readily adopted by the makers of work boxes. See Tea Caddies.  

 
To this was added a new shape for work boxes that of the basket. This took several forms, tapered, domed topped, double opening etc. but always with a shaped wooden handle straddling the box from one side to the other and fixed with turned wooden pegs. There is such a box in Mrs Fitzherbert's room in the Brighton Pavilion (George IV's summer palace) although whether the king's mistress ever used it, is a matter of conjecture.

The exotic woods popular at the time, such as rosewood and kingwood were used to veneer many fine work boxes, which were then decorated with inlays in brass, wood and mother of pearl. Sarcophagus style shapes were enhanced with feet and handles of the type used on Tea Caddies.

William IV fully fitted rosewood table cabinet of architectural form Circa 1835.
William IV fully fitted rosewood table cabinet of architectural form Circa 1835.
 

The top lifts to reveal a fully fitted sewing box. It has 8 mother of pearl spools, cut crystal scent bottle all set off with brocaded silk and gold  embossed  leather.  Enlarge Picture
The upper part is a fully fitted sewing box.

Penwork Chinoiserie  Painted  and boxes combining different types of decoration were made in all shapes. The interiors of these boxes are very similar to the interiors of the earlier ones, that is, they have lift out trays or drawers, fitted with turned wooden tools. Although many of the boxes were still supplied 'in the white,' a greater number were professionally decorated, especially in Tunbridge Wells. See Tunbridge Ware

However some of the boxes which were decorated at home dating from this period are wonderfully eccentric. The interpretations of exotic scenes in penwork and painting are quite idiosyncratic. Sometimes the boxes were decorated using an amalgam of techniques, including decoupage, cloth and even feathers!

 
TUNBRIDGE WARE
Wood decorated Tunbridge Ware work boxes dating from this period feature cube and vandyke patterns on usually a rosewood background and are fitted with stickware sewing tools. The sycamore barrels are either replaced with rosewood barrels or with stickware topped open spools. The tape measure holder,  waxer, winders etc are all in stickware or plain rosewood.

The range of wood used to decorate these boxes is unparalleled. It includes: naturally green fungus-attacked oak, holly, burrs, patterns made in the wood by fungus infection or peculiar growth, snakewoods (bamboo or palm treated with black polish to create snakeskin effect) as well as fruitwoods, root woods and exotic timbers newly arrived in England. The makers laid out the patterns, using the contrasts and harmonies of the material, with total respect for its natural beauty and quality. The artistic judgement of the woodworkers in selecting and arranging these pieces, created some of the strongest and most beautiful boxes ever made.

A early nineteenth century Tunbridge ware shaped Rosewood  box with  tray, circa 1815.

A early nineteenth century Tunbridge ware shaped Rosewood box with tray, circa 1815

Tunbridge ware box in bird’s eye maple with parquetry  in native and exotic woods, circa 1835.
Tunbridge ware box in bird’s eye maple with parquetry in native and exotic woods, circa 1835. 

SB440: A rosewood veneered Tunbridge ware  Sewing box, the slightly domed top inlayed with a display of roses depicted in micro mosaic, framed by  a wide banding of Berlin wool-work in micro mosaic and bandings of contrasting light and dark wood; there is a further banding of Berlin wool work design encircling the box which has concave sides. The inside retains its original liftout tray which is lined with its original  paper. Inside the lid is lined in red silk. circa 1850 Enlarge Picture

A rosewood veneered Tunbridge ware Sewing box, the slightly domed top inlayed with a display of roses depicted in micro mosaic, framed by a wide banding of Berlin wool-work in micro mosaic and bandings of contrasting light and dark wood; there is a further banding of Berlin wool work design encircling the box which has concave sides. The inside retains its original liftout tray which is lined with its original paper. Inside the lid is lined in red silk. circa 1850

 

In addition many other tools were made in painted sycamore or stickware and were added to the boxes from time to time. It is not unusual to find thimble cases containing rosewood thimbles, needle cases, clamps, shuttles and small circular boxes in the tray or the space under it.

Both the boxes and the tools were beautifully made and are excellent examples of the richness of the woods and the skill and judgement employed by the Tunbridge Ware makers.

Some painted wooden thread barrels.

 
WOODEN BOXES with OTHER THAN TUNBRIDGE WARE TOOLS
Other boxes made at this time were veneered in rosewood, kingwood, figured mahogany and other interesting woods. They were inlaid in wood or brass. The arrangement of their trays was similar to the above but the tools followed different patterns. Boxes dating from the first decade mostly had the barrel type thread containers, but they were made in plain rosewood, ivory or bone. The other tools were also made of these materials in similar shapes to those made earlier.

By the second decade the open spool had on the whole superseded the closed barrel. The first spools consisted of turned and carved circles screwing onto a bone tube supported by another plain circle on the base. The top circle was in ivory or mother of pearl. This design did not last for long. It was soon modified so that the two circles joined each other by the top circle being attached to a metal tube, which slid over a metal pin attached to the bottom circle.The other tools, tape measure, waxer etc followed the earlier patterns in the new materials. Emery cushions were mostly replaced by small tubular containers with a round opening covered in cloth in which the needle could be inserted for cleaning. 

Thimbles were occasionally in ivory but these were mostly superseded by silver thimbles, which were placed in prearranged grooved spaces on the tray. Unlike the French, English boxes did not contain mother of pearl thimbles.

A  Rosewood and Mother of Pearl Sewing Box.  Circa 1835.

By the second decade the open spool had on the whole superseded the closed barrel

SB492: An impressive sewing box veneered in saw cut highly figured coromandel, fitted with mother of pearl sewing tools. Enlarge Picture
An impressive sewing box veneered in saw cut highly figured coromandel, fitted with mother of pearl sewing tools. Circa 1835.

SB488: A sewing box of impressive form, decoration and workmanship, the interior lined with red silk and fully fitted with mother of pearl sewing tools, Circa 1825. Enlarge Picture
A sewing box of impressive form, decoration and workmanship, the interior lined with red silk and fully fitted with mother of pearl sewing tools, Circa 1825.

SB425:  Sewing box with  Japanned, raised and polychromed decoration on this sewing box depicting  a truly golden vision of Cathay. Figures relax in a garden with a distant rock in the background and the ho-ho bird above. This is a relatively late example of such work and it does not have an overall varnish. Note how the gold and the colors have remained brighter than in earlier examples. 8.5" wide.  Circa 1820. Enlarge Picture
Sewing box with Japanned, raised and polychromed decoration on this sewing box depicting a truly golden vision of Cathay. Figures relax in a garden with a distant rock in the background and the ho-ho bird above. This is a relatively late example of such work and it does not have an overall varnish. Note how the gold and the colors have remained brighter than in earlier examples. Circa 1820.

 

 

The tray itself as well as the inside of the lid became more elaborate. Silk and gold tooled leather were used to line the lid and to create small pincushions and covers. The centre of the tray contained a cover over an empty space. This cover had loops, which held small scissors, stilettos (tools with a sharp round pointed piece of steel held on a handle), hooks, flat needles, pencils, folding knives or other tools. These had mother of pearl or ivory handles.

 
A material used at this time to cover pine work boxes was leather. These boxes were made in exaggerated Regency sarcophagus shapes, with segmented tops, concave and convex elements, animal monopodia and drop gilded handles. The interiors were lined in paper, silk and leather, the lids covered in pale silk, printed with classical scenes. Most of these boxes have been battered by age but they still retain an excellent period look.

RECTANGULAR BOXES
In addition to the very handsome  shaped boxes, which combine many of the design elements associated with the Regency period, there are also more modest boxes dating from the early part of the 19th century.

These are of rectangular shape, mostly in rosewood veneer with simple metal line and mother of pearl circle decoration.

Other rectangular boxes in other woods with simple crossbandings or edgings were also made. These boxes still had a tray but they were supplied without the tools. Although the decoration was restrained they were still made to a very high standard of craftsmanship and have the subtle appeal of understated quality.

A fully fitted brass inlaid rosewood sewing box with gadrooned edges gilt side carrying handles and gilt feet. Inside the fully fitted sewing tray contains a set of turned ivory spools.  Circa 1810. Enlarge Picture
A fully fitted brass inlaid rosewood sewing box with gadrooned edges gilt side carrying handles and gilt feet. Inside the fully fitted sewing tray contains a set of turned ivory spools. Circa 1810. 

 

 
However rectangular boxes did occasionally have elaborate brass or mother of pearl decoration and trays fitted with tools. These were presumably made for people who were not partial to the new shapes, but appreciated the new decorative styles. These boxes herald the next period when the rectangular wooden sewing box was back in fashion.

 

SB123: Antique figured rosewood box with dramatic contrasting mother of pearl inlay depicting native plants, the box opening to a fitted inside with liftout tray with divisions for sewing. The tray is covered in its original 19th C paper and has supplementary lids covered in blue silk. The box has a rounded filet of solid rosewood let into the edges. All the veneers at this period are saw cut and about 1mm thick. Circa 1835. Enlarge Picture
SB123: Antique figured rosewood box with dramatic contrasting mother of pearl inlay depicting native plants, the box opening to a fitted inside with liftout tray with divisions for sewing. The tray is covered in its original 19th C paper and has supplementary lids covered in blue silk. The box has a rounded filet of solid rosewood let into the edges. All the veneers at this period are saw cut and about 1mm thick. Circa 1835.

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PAPIER MÂCHÈ
This is the fine period for papier mâchè boxes with fine decoration and interesting shapes. When fitted, the trays often contain mother of pearl spools and tools. 

 

Papier mâchè was the European craftsmen’s answer to Oriental lacquer. Decorated lacquer furniture and accessories were becoming increasingly fashionable by the second half of the 18th century. Natural materials for producing lacquer were not available in England, but this did not daunt the native makers. Inspired by the imported wares they set their mind to producing a material, which would have the same qualities as lacquer.

 In the 19th century papier mâchè boxes were made for a variety of purposes. The nature of the material which was by now made by the pulped method and pressed into moulds enabled the makers to create interesting shapes such as bombe, concave and sarcophagus, often standing on plinths or round feet.

 

An artist painted Papier mâchè sewing box having its original fully fitted tray with Dieppe turned and carved  spools and sewing tools Circa 1820.
An artist painted Papier mâchè sewing box having its original fully fitted tray with Dieppe turned and carved spools and sewing tools Circa 1820
.

An artist painted Papier mâchè sewing box having its original fully fitted tray with Dieppe turned and carved  spools and sewing tools. Enlarge Picture
An artist painted Papier mâchè sewing box having its original fully fitted tray with Dieppe turned and carved  spools and sewing tools. Enlarge Picture

The painting depicts a mountainous landscape. In the background the sea with sailing dinghies meets the cloudy sky. In the foreground are two fowlers one having just discharged his gun.  Their dog is still at their side. The bird would not be ease for the dog to retrieve.

A painted Fully fitted Papier mâchè Sewing box Circa 1835. Enlarge Picture
A painted Fully fitted Papier mâchè Sewing box Circa 1835.

A painted Fully fitted Papier mâchè Sewing box Circa 1835. Enlarge Picture
A painted Fully fitted Papier mâchè Sewing box Circa 1835. Enlarge Picture

The finely painted landscape scenes are painted on a gold ground which gives a iridescence.

 

 
ANGLO INDIAN
This is the period of very fine Anglo Indian work boxes, in Sadeli mosaic, ivory, horn and quills. The sandalwood trays were occasionally fitted with ivory tools in the earlier barrel designs. The Sadeli boxes contained Sadeli topped barrels and container lids. This is by far the best period for Sadeli mosaic and work boxes dating from this time are very rare.

All Anglo Indian Regency boxes are now rare. Boxes, which are completely covered in Sadeli mosaic in good condition, are very rare indeed.

Indian craftsmen showed incredible aptitude in adapting to the whims of the times. Boxes even in the shape of baskets were produced in the Regency period, although these still had the typical incised borders. This was not the case with the "English Cottage" shaped sewing boxes, which had incised decoration in naturalistic style with doors, tiles and climbing flowers. They were certainly made to gratify the expatriate nostalgia for the English countryside.

The mosaic technique is a very interesting example of the aptitude of the Tunbridge Ware workers to assimilate and adapt techniques and designs from other cultures. Stone mosaics were uncovered in the much talked about excavations of the 18th century. Mosaic covered boxes were known in England by the beginning of the 19th century by which time exquisite Sadeli Mosaic had already been introduced from India.

The ancient art of Sadeli Mosaic is said to have been introduced from Shiraz in Persia via Sind to Bombay, a long time before the Anglo Indian boxes were made. It was a technique, which required a high degree of skill and patience. It was executed very lavishly, in that the frequent cuts wasted a great amount of the precious materials used. The workmanship was however more than commensurable to the value of the materials.

Very Fine Early 19th C. Anglo Indian Ivory and  Sadeli  Mosaic Sewing Box.  Circa 1820. The ivory thread barrel is inlaid with Sadeli mosaic.

 
CHINESE EXPORT LACQUER
This is the best period for work boxes in this material. Each box represents countless hours of skilled work. Sometimes they are rectangular but mostly they are in rounded sarcophagus shapes with very fine gold decoration depicting oriental scenes. Most have lift out trays containing turned and carved ivory tools, barrel thread containers, circular boxes, thimbles, waxers, tape measures, sometimes clamps and other tools. These are larger than most other work boxes of the period. Most have a drawer on the lower part opening to reveal small writing surface.


Chinese Export Lacquer Sewing Box with Ivory tools Circa 1820

Sewing barrels turned and carved. The thread would come out of the small hole.

 


Antique Chinese Export Lacquer  Sewing  box, circa 1840.


TORTOISESHELL

Compared to tea caddies very few work boxes were made. On the whole they followed the caddy styles except that the interiors had trays sometimes fitted with ivory or mother of pearl tools.

STRAW WORK

Fine small Napoleonic prisoner of war boxes for holding thread were made at this time.


MID 19th to end of 19th CENTURY

 
By the middle of the century shapes reverted back to the rectangular. Earlier whimsical decoration went out of fashion. Mother of pearl and brass inlays were still favourite, although the earlier repetitive brass scrolls gave way to free standing motifs. Mother of pearl, abalone shell and brass were used together to form flowers, birds and butterflies.  SB120: A fully fitted sewing box veneered in thick striated coromandel  and inlaid in brass and shell, both mother of pearl and abalone. Inside there is the original fitted liftout tray  lined with silk and velvet, with a set (6)  of carved and turned mother of pearl daisy pattern spools designed for the new thread which now came on wooden reels.  The tray also has supplementary lids with carved mother of pearl pulls.   The box also has period  sewing tools including penknife button hook, and tweezers, and bodkin with mother of pearl handles. The steel scissors is designed for cutting button holes.  There is a document wallet in the lid. Circa  1870. Enlarge Picture
SB120: A fully fitted sewing box veneered in thick striated coromandel and inlaid in brass and shell, both mother of pearl and abalone. Inside there is the original fitted liftout tray lined with silk and velvet, with a set (6) of carved and turned mother of pearl daisy pattern spools designed for the new thread which now came on wooden reels. The tray also has supplementary lids with carved mother of pearl pulls. The box also has period sewing tools including penknife button hook, and tweezers, and bodkin with mother of pearl handles. The steel scissors is designed for cutting button holes. There is a document wallet in the lid. Circa 1870. 
 SB120: A fully fitted sewing box veneered in thick striated coromandel  and inlaid in brass and shell, both mother of pearl and abalone. Inside there is the original fitted liftout tray  lined with silk and velvet, with a set (6)  of carved and turned mother of pearl daisy pattern spools designed for the new thread which now came on wooden reels.  The tray also has supplementary lids with carved mother of pearl pulls.   The box also has period  sewing tools including penknife button hook, and tweezers, and bodkin with mother of pearl handles. The steel scissors is designed for cutting button holes.  There is a document wallet in the lid. Circa  1870. Enlarge Picture
 

 

Mother of pearl inlays without brass became cruder, sometimes no more than diamond designs. Wood marquetry was now in naturalistic designs, mainly of flowers. This was often very skilfully done, still using the natural woods contrasts, although sometimes enhanced with stains.

 
Coromandel and walnut were used more frequently than rosewood for veneering the main body of the box. Walnut veneers were cut very thin and highly polished. Indeed by now all the boxes were finished in glossy French polish.

Very few trays were fitted with tools. The ones which were, contained mother of pearl topped spools and steel tools with mother of pearl handles. Trays became increasingly simpler, covered in silver paper with silk topped covers. The inside of the lid was covered with padded silk, opening into an envelope type compartment. Very few boxes had gold tooled leather.

By the last quarter of the century walnut veneered boxes with geometric inlay bands were made in great numbers. Pretty and useful, they edged out the more ambitious Tunbridge Ware. The trays by now were very standard and were not supplied fitted with any tools.

 

Victorian fully fitted coromandel sewing box of architectural shape inlaid with mother of pearl abalone and metal, with turned handles and feet.  circa 1845 Enlarge Picture
Victorian fully fitted coromandel sewing box of architectural shape inlaid with mother of pearl abalone and metal, with turned handles and feet. circa 1845
Enlarge Picture

 SB500: Antique opulent fully fitted sewing box in ebony profusely inlaid with tortoiseshell,  engraved brass, mother of pearl and abalone. The inside has  a silk covered lift out tray retaining a set of sewing tools  including turned and carved mother of pearl spools with matching tape measure and needle cleaner. A central tray has steel tools with tortoiseshell handles. Circa 1840.   Enlarge Picture

Antique opulent fully fitted sewing box in ebony profusely inlaid with tortoiseshell,  engraved brass, mother of pearl and abalone. The inside has  a silk covered lift out tray retaining a set of sewing tools  including turned and carved mother of pearl spools with matching tape measure and needle cleaner. A central tray has steel tools with tortoiseshell handles. Circa 1840.

Antique Scottish  Sewing  box, with transfer decoration circa 1840.

 

TUNBRIDGE WARE
Tunbridge ware work boxes of the period are decorated with the characteristic mid 19th century Berlin woolwork mosaic motifs. The trays are covered in darker often patterned paper and if they contain any tools these are mostly in stickware.

 
PAPIER MÂCHÈ
Good papier mâchè boxes with mother of pearl and painted decoration continued to be made well into the Victorian era. There was not much change from earlier boxes, except perhaps a tendency for larger sizes. Tools if any, were in mother of pearl. As the century progressed to its last quarter the boxes followed the decline of the whole industry.

ANGLO INDIAN
The only good examples of Anglo Indian work boxes from this period are early examples of carved work in sandalwood. These contain Indian silver tools and occasionally glass perfume bottles.   Such examples are very rare indeed.

Most other boxes dating from this period are in a combination of carved wood and strips of later period Sadeli mosaic. The trays are fitted with Sadeli topped barrels. Pretty though they are, these boxes were made in greater numbers for the English export market and lack the finesse of the early Anglo Indian work.

CHINESE EXPORT LACQUER
These are similar to earlier examples. However as by now the Chinese market was open to all and was no longer the monopoly of the East India Company, examples of lesser quality were made to fullfil the growing demand. However these still required many days of very skilled work and are quite beautiful.

A few good examples with very fine decoration also date from this period. By the last decades of the century, they had gone out of fashion together with all things oriental.

Anglo Indian, Vizagapatam Porcupine Quill Horn and Ivory Basket-form box Circa 1850. quillbasket
Anglo Indian, Vizagapatam Porcupine Quill Horn and Ivory Basket-form box Circa 1850.

Victorian walnut veneered box inlaid in strips of geometric marquetry circa 1880
Box veneered in walnut and inlaid in strips of geometric marquetry of light and stained woods circa 1880.

Victorian walnut veneered box inlaid in strips of geometric marquetry circa 1880 Enlarge Picture
Box veneered in walnut and inlaid in strips of geometric marquetry of light and stained woods circa 1880.

 

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