Early 1800s French shell caskets were made of bronze or ormolu framework onto which steamed slabs of manmade or 'casein' shell were mounted, with nothing backing it. That left the shell vulnerable to damage and these older ones are rare to find. The distinctive style of them remains immensely appealing and popular, though far too many were lost to the ages. A bit later, by 1840-60s, French shell caskets such as this very large one you see here, preserved something of the look of those early ones but they did use the shell as a veneer over wood, thereby giving them a bit more permanence and a sturdier chest in the long run. This is probably one of the early ones of that later type, dating to 1840s and is a superbly crafted and well preserved chest from that later style. As you see, the shell has a couple of hairline cracks, showing its age and the fragile nature of old casein shell, but it's complete and in quite fine condition overall. A great large size, something not possible in the earlier type of French shell caskets which were all quite small. The earlier ones look fabulous grouped with this big chest, however, and you're sure to want this one for your own collection. Lock is the original, has the original working key. Perfect for your own treasures or large enough for love letters and family's most precious small treasures. Sure to become a family heirloom, itself.
Very good condition for this type and age. You see a few natural age flaws to the old casein shell, but none is missing. The veneer is thin, beautifully colored. Mahogany chest is bombe-shaped and trimmed out with generous rocailles of gilt bronze, a' la' Louis XV. Interior lining is original, I think, is silk and shows its age only in the bottom half so nice to show the casket open. Lid silk is fine. Georgeous and rare! The very early milk protein-based compound known as 'casein' was a very early forebearer to later 'plastics' and is truly a natural compound, very difficult to discern even in a burn test since it will give off the same burnt hair smell, being an animal protein. RARE to find in large form, and in such good condition. Were it real shell, a casket of this nature would be 3-4 times our price, and would look just the same. A real museum piece, this one!
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Antique French sterling silver, Georgian jewelry, sewing, Black Forest, etc 17th to 19th c. European
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