Betel and betel boxes have a social history as long and rich as that of the snuff box. In North India the chewing of betel (called paan) is a very old custom. Thin slices of the nut of the areca palm (supari) are mixed with lime paste (chunum) made from ground seashells and spices. The whole mixture is then wrapped in the fresh leaf of the betel tree. The prepared product is called a quid. At court, it was considered an honour to participate in this custom and an even greater honour to be given a box known as a pandan. Many other Eastern societies used betel as a gentle stimulant and alkaline digestive. This is an interestingly shaped timber box with slightly tapering sides which are skillfully dovetailed. The quality of the box is revealed when one looks at the beautifully carved base (see image). We have been told that this box is from Sumatra. Inside there is an upper tray which lifts up to show a further compartment beneath. In the tray are a variety of shapes of lidded brass boxes, a small brass bowl and a brass betel nut cutter which has some markings on the side that we cannot interpret. All of these are in good condition. One edge of the tray has an edging piece that needs to be either glued or carefully nailed back into position but otherwise the box is in very good condition for age. This is a most interesting and stylish box and would grace any collection of Asian arts. Width 8.5 ins (21.5cm) x depth 5 ins (12.6cm). Weight 872 grams. This item appears in my book, “Antique Boxes, Inside and Out” on page 185.
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