Period: 1700s item: French billet doux (sweet note) decorative style: Vernis Martin
This is one of those items that isn't often understood. Some will find one and will decide it must be a cigar case, or perhaps an extra large needle case. But it's far far more charming and more rare. This one comes from the era of French King Louis XVI, and his Queen Marie-Antoinette, and it would have served as the outer etui or case into which a rolled paper (scroll-like) would have been placed to be hand delivered to its intended recipient. Of course there were couriers whose job was to run these often slightly salacious notes back and forth and they played a great role in the romantic liaison of that time. Words of love; plans for a rendezvous, these were the kinds of things that would have traveled by hand of a trusted courier - perhaps the Courtiers or ladies in waiting, grooms to the King. This is where the name comes from. A "billet doux" is translated to "sweet notes". The decorative style most in favor in the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was the layered oil paint and varnish process used by the brothers Martin, which gave a deeper lustrous and elegant finish, and which came to be known simply as "Vernis Martin" or varnish Martin. Over years the varnish darkens so most have a lovely yellow-golden deepening of the colors imbedded in the various layers. A rich surface decor still in favor today but painstakingly labor-intensive.
Very good to excellent for age and type. The gold bands test 12k, which would have been a lower grade than most in France where the standard was ether 22k or 18k gold. The wooden tube is beautifully hand painted, no missing sections. Often the wood was covered with fine shagreen and then the process of painting and layering with varnishes began. I do believe this one has that underlay of shagreen. And shagreen is the belly leather from stingray. Very small smooth scales. I can't guarantee it is on this one without damaging the paint, so won't but I think I can see the slight evidence of the signature scales. Tube slides open perfectly, no warp. No chips nor cracks, and it is fully intact. Measurements noted on photos: 5.25" long and 7/8" diameter. Ready for your own sweet notes.
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