Accurate and contemporary 19th century bronze and enamel miniature of a French Army regiment cantinière's tonnelet, or small brandy cask.
Cantinières were women who were licensed by the French government to sell food and brandy within French regiments from the 1700's onward. Prior suppliers and camp followers were not regulated.
At first, the French army required cantinières to be married to a regiment soldier, and she and their children helped in the management of their husbands side business of helping the troops. After the French Revolutionary War, the requirement for marriage was dropped and the women essentially became independent business women. They traveled alongside the troops, even following them into battle.
This piece is a bit of a mystery. The small cask is very strong and well made, and has traces of gilt on the now exposed bronze. The color is not painted, but nicely and thickly enameled. It has every sign of dating from the 19th century when full-sized enameled casks would still have been in use during the Crimean War.
My first thought was that it was a contemporary French soldier's somewhat tongue-in-cheek powder cask. This was supported by the presence of one link from what was a safety chain on the opening on the aperture on the top of the piece, and a corresponding tab on the blue side of the piece where the other end of the chain would have been attached. There are also wear marks consistent with it being suspended from a strap, and it would be hard to explain how a model that wasn't regularly used and handled would have such substantial wear. The top, however, appears sealed shut and the tap is purely ornamental. Either this was sealed after the fact ,or it was indeed a contemporary miniature, purpose unknown.
In either case, it is a remarkable and highly unusual piece of French militaria or costuming to add to and existing collection . Measures approx 8" long, including tap, and 4 1/2 inches high including the uppermost aperture. One of the original tabs on the ends, that a carrying strap would originally have run through, is missing.
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