Rare and incredibly beautiful Anglo-Indian Bezique box, made for the British/European market c.1870 in Srinagar in the heart of the Kashmir valley in northwestern India. Included with the box are contents I have added.
The process of making painted and varnished wood wares in Kashmir in the second half of the 19th century is described by Amin Jaffer in his wonderful book cataloguing the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum, "Furniture from British India and Ceylon":
"The production of painted and varnished wares was divided into two stages: making (sakhtasazi) and painting (naqashi), each the specialty of a different craftsman. . . In the case of wood this involved sawing, planing and turning . . . When formed the surface of the object was rubbed and smoothed to prepare it for painting . . . Wooden articles were sometimes covered with a thin layer of sheepskin in order to create a more regular surface, . . . the object was filed with a piece of oven-baked red clay (kurket).
"Once perfectly smooth, the surface was stained with a mixture of white powder, glue and water (safeda kashgari). The ground color (zamin) was then applied and the article passed into the hands of a painter. He outlined the desired pattern with yellow paint (zarda) and blocked areas intended for floral decoration with white flour paste (astar) and white paint composed of gypsum and glue. Once dry, the surface colour (partaz) was applied and the design was painted freehand based on patterns that craftsmen had learnt and repeated from an early age. The pigments used were derived principally from minerals and vegetables, both of local origin and imported. . . . Designs and highlights were painted in diverse colours, together with gold and silver paint, using brushes of varying fineness made of cat, goat or ass's hair.
"On completion the surface was burnished with jade or agate and coated with a transparent varnish, originally made of linseed oil and gum resin . . . Accounts indicate that painters worked from memory and specialized in depicting arabesques, paisley designs, figurative scenes or flowers. . . ."
The bezique box here for sale was made by that process. While I have dated the box c.1870, the court cards depicted in the center of the lid are single-ended and it is possible that the box dates even earlier. The lid is not hinged, but rather lifts off. The box measures approximately 9.2" wide by 6.0" deep by 2.0" high. Inside there are four compartments of equal size, each approximately 103mm x 66mm. The interior of the box and the underside of the lid are painted blue. I believe that all is original.
The condition of the box is remarkably fine. The paint is still very bright and colorful, and the lacquer finish has held; there is almost no paint/lacquer loss. There is a hairline crack on the top of the lid at the upper left hand corner (separately pictured) extending approximately 1.2", but it has not disturbed any of the paint or lacquer around it, and appears to me to have resulted from wood shrinkage over time, rather than any external trauma.
To the box, I have added:
* Two decks of De La Rue bezique cards, with matching backs, square corners, no indices, and unturned courts, that date c.1870. They are lightly soiled throughout, but otherwise in excellent condition. These decks include a De La Rue paper insert with Bezique Rules. I do not know if it dates to the cards.
* Two decks of De La Rue bezique cards, with complimentary but not matching flowered backs, square corners, no indices, and turned courts, that I believe date to the late 1870s. They are in "as new" condition, but the faces of the cards from the deck with the pink backs show the very faintest pink ink transfer from the backs of neighboring cards due to storage. The cards with the lavender backs are perfect.
* Two matching Goodall bezique counters that may date more toward the end of the 19th century. De La Rue bezique counters of the same type – at least those that I have to contribute -- are slightly larger, and do not fit well in the interior compartments of the box. These counters are "as new."
The box is available without the cards and markers for $750
References: Jaffer, "Furniture from British India and Ceylon" pp.294-301; Lodge, "The Standard English Pattern" pp.11-12, D5, D6.
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