This ovular snuff box is embossed with musical instruments and sheet music along the lid of its sterling silver casing. Floral designs make a secondary motif, with leaves set behind the instruments and a blooming flower on the bottom of the box. Beneath the lid are indistinguishable silver maker marks, a crown of sorts and two other symbols. The crown insignia indicates French origin.
Country of Origin: France
Medium: Sterling Silver.
Size: 3" by 1 3/4" by 1 1/4".
Weight: 2 1/2 oz
Condition: Very mild indentation along the back below the hinge, some tarnish to the inside of the box and along the rim of the lid. Overall Very Good Antique Condition.
Circa: Mid to Late 1800s.
Snuff boxes are made in two sizes, ones for the pocket and communal boxes made for table use. Pocket boxes are usually made to hold a small amount of snuff for immediate consumption. High-quality boxes have tightly-sealed lids to ensure that air does not penetrate the box, although wholly air-tight boxes are a rarity. Pocket boxes are intended keep a day or two's supply. Table boxes are still to be found in the mess of certain old regiments - often in the traditional 'ram's head' style - and a communal snuff box is kept in the House of Lords in the UK parliament. People of all social classes used these boxes when snuff was at its peak of popularity and the wealthy carried a variety of fancy snuff-boxes created by craftsmen in metal-work, jewellers and enamellers. Some of these were rich in detail and made from precious or expensive materials such as gold, silver and ivory and were often adorned with artwork, gems and precious stones. Boxes made for the poorer snuff taker were more ordinary; popular and cheap boxes were made in papier-mache and even potato-pulp, which made durable boxes that kept the snuff in good condition. Alloys that resembled gold or silver were developed in the 18th and 19th centuries such as the ersatz gold Pinchbeck and the silver look-alike, Sheffield Plate. Other popular materials used in making these boxes include: Tortoise-shell, a favorite material owing to its satin lustre; Mother-of-pearl, which was kept in its natural iridescent state, or gilded, or used together with silver; and Boxes made from exotic materials such as Cowrie shells, enriched with enamels or set with diamonds or other precious stones. The lids were often adorned with a portrait, a classical vignette, portrait miniature, hardstone inlays, or micromosaic panel. Some of the most expensive just used subtly different colors of gold. Perhaps the most widely used semi-precious metal was silver, and snuffs of all shapes and sizes were made in that metal during snuff's great popularity. Even after snuff-taking ceased to be a general habit, the practice lingered among diplomats, doctors, lawyers and other professionals as well as members of professions where smoking was not possible, such as miners and print workers and snuff still has a considerable following, particularly amongst ex-smokers. Monarchs retained the habit of bestowing snuff-boxes upon ambassadors and other intermediaries as a form of honor. As Talleyrand explained, the diplomatic corps found a ceremonious pinch to be a useful aid to reflection in a business interview. At the coronation of George IV of England, Messrs. Rundell and Bridge, the court jewellers, were paid handsomely for snuff-boxes for gifts to foreign representatives. Today snuff boxes are collected at many levels. The high-end of the market being reserved for gold boxes that have been jewelled or have original art work on them, or boxes with provenance linking them to world figures, such as Napoleon or Lord Nelson. Some of the most expensive are French and German 18th century examples, and the record auction price for a German box is about US$1.3 million, in 2003 at Christie's in London.
Provenance: Louis Gianni.
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