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.

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."

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."

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."

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.

Lot 12083 in our upcoming auction.

And Another in pink: