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Featured Collection: Bilston & Battersea Enameled Boxes


Our December Specialty Auction features an important life-long collection of fresh to market, meticulously curated enameled boxes.

These enameled boxes, intricate in detail and endless in variety, appeal to collectors for their elaborate decoration as well as their endearing sentiment. boxes were made to hold facial patches, snuff, and sweets. Many were inscribed with clever wit and wisdom.

Painted with a newly developed technique called transfer printing, they are a prime example of the advancements made in enameling during the 17th and 18th Centuries. In the transfer printing process, enamel pigments were brushed onto an engraved metal plate which was then impressed onto the box, thereby transferring the image.

At this time, it was fashionable for women and men to apply black patches of gummed taffeta and velvet to their faces. These beauty marks varied in form-- from the commonplace spot, star or crescent moon, to flowers, and even the silhouettes of animals or people. As the fad progressed, the placement of a ladies (or gentleman’s) patches on the face developed its own language. Placing a patch in the middle of the forehead conveyed dignity for instance, while placement on the corner of the eye expressed passion, the corner of the mouth was for the flirtatious. Sometimes patches were simply used to conceal pimples, blemishes, and small pox scars.


This detail of Lot 12022 features the decorated interior of a snuff box, depicting a portrait of a lady adorned with various patches.

Small Enameled boxes were often gifted to ladies to hold their patches as a token of love or friendship. The richness of the decoration was in accordance with the ladies social status (or more accurately, that of the giver's).

Among the patch boxes represented in the collection up for auction, many are inscribed with sentiments, probably given as a symbol of intent in lieu of an engagement ring. A costly expression of admiration, the messages range from witty:


Lot 12002 is a mirrored patch box inscribed with the message "Open this box and to your eyes, It will reflect the Nymph prize, Happy were I did it discover, whilst I gaze, your favorite lover."

To the lustful:


Lot 12015 reads "As thou alone hast power to please, love, and give thy lover ease."

To the cautionary:


Lot 12006 warns the recipient, "If you will not when you MAY, When you will you shall have NAY."

Some patch boxes were merely decorative such as this particularly pretty example:


Just as patches were a Roccoco fad, so became the use of snuff. Heavily decorated enameled boxes were created to hold and protect the powdered dry tobacco. Many were floral patterned or were painted with pastoral scenes. Rarer pieces took on the whimsical forms of animals or people.

Here is an exquisite example of a pastoral snuff box in blue and gold:


Lot 12083 in our upcoming auction.

And Another in pink:


Lot 12082.

Snuffboxes became a requirement of luxurious attire, and even those who did not snuff were advised to carry a box as an accessory. Some dandies had as many snuffboxes as outfits, and changed them out daily in accordance with their mood and attire.


Lot 12100 is painted on all sides with depictions of various birds.

Some contained precious portraits of loved ones hidden under the lid.



Here you can see Lot 12029 closed, and opened to reveal a beautifully painted portrait of a lady within.

This enameled snuff box features the portrait of an unidentified actress with elaborately coiffured hair.


Lot 12108's depiction of an unidentified actress is both rare and desirable among collectors.

Bonbonniere boxes were made to hold sweets, especially kissing comfits, designed to freshen one’s breath. Many bonboniere’s were playful in design. Such as this rare pickle form:


Lot 12092 was designed to hold breathe freshening sweets, not mini gherkin treats as one might be inclined to guess.

And this turban-headed man:


Lot 12094.

The most common bonbonnier was fashioned in the shape of a dog’s head.


The enameled box fell out of fashion with the snuff and patches they were made to contain. The onset of the Industrial Revolution offered the public new and less expensive items to collect.

For the modern day collector, the wit, whimsy, endearing sentiment, and craftsmanship of these exquisite boxes are a source of amusement and pleasure.

#enamel #bilston #battersea #snuff #patchbox #bonbonnier #box

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