Shagreen was one of those highly desirable and quite expensive materials used on small items – like this inkwell – in the 18th and 19th centuries. Made of either shark skin, or in this case probably ray skin, it features a pebbly appearance due to spiny protrusions on the skin that take the place of scales. These protrusions are ground down and polished, which creates this wonderful pearly appearance. Often shagreen was dyed green or black, but the makers of this inkwell chose to leave the skin in its natural color, which actually accentuates the pattern of the skin.
This traveling inkwell is French. The inside cover bears the words BREVETE SGDG. This stands for "Brevete San Garantie Du Governement," which basically means "Patented without government guarantee." We have read that this was used in a similar way to Patent Pending, and that the mark probably began its use around 1844 when patent laws were revised in France. The inkwell is wood under the shagreen cover. A button in front is pushed to release the lid. Once lifted, another lid beneath can be opened when the clasp holding it down is pressed to the side. Inside is a glass bottle; this lid has a spring behind the leather cover which allows the ink to be sealed tightly within the bottle. We believe the button and trim on this piece are silver although we have not had this tested.
SIZE: This is a perfect cube at 2".
CONDITION: This is a beauty. The shagreen is in near perfect condition. The top section has lifted a bit from the wood, and there is a very small tear in the shagreen at one corner. In this same corner, a small section of silver trim is missing. Otherwise, everything is intact and beautiful. The button and clasp work well. Unlike later spring loaded travelers, the lids do not pop up; as the button or latch are pushed, one must lift the lids. This appears to be the way it was made rather than a defect. The hinge is strong, and the ink bottle inside is in perfect condition. The leather covering under the inside lid is intact with just a bit of ink stain.
This is a terrific inkwell!