The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Snuff box
  • Snuff box
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Paris, France
  • c. 1755
    1819 - 1838 (mounts)
  • Papier maché (?), metal foil, shellac varnish, oil paint, tortoiseshell and gold.
  • Object size: 4.2 x 9.6 x 6.2 cm
    Weight: 99.1 g
  • Maker's mark: An unidentified post-revolutionary goldsmiths mark with the last letter Band the difference of a long-necked bottle.
    Large guarantee: The restricted warranty (grosse garantie) for gold, Paris, 1819-38.
    Mark: Another illegible mark, perhaps the post-revolutionary mark for 18 carat gold.
    Mark: The third standard mark for gold (18carat), Paris, 1819-38.
  • G11
  • Boudoir Cabinet
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • This oval snuffbox is made from papier-mâché covered in probably gold (though possibly silver) foil. It has then been varnished with gold coloured shellac (a resin secreted by the female lac beetle). The images of landscapes round the edge and a group of a gentleman and two ladies in conversation on the front have been painted on in oils, to give the impression of a gold snuffbox with enamel images. The inside of the box is lined with turtleshell.

    The author Diderot in his Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers [Encyclopaedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts] refers to this type of box as tabatière en carton [snuffbox in cardboard], where he mentions in great detail the manufacture of the boxes using papier-mâché and varnishes. Although this box would have appealed to many in the 18th century, the material used, and the relatively small amount of precious material used suggests that it might have been bought by the less wealthy members of society.

    Snuffboxes played an important role in fashion and self-promotion, in diplomacy and, in the 19th century, in collecting. Often they were used as a currency for their monetary values and the status they could embody. Their practical purpose was often secondary – they were highly valued as art objects in their own right. Gold boxes were a barometer of the taste of the time and exemplify the skills of not only goldsmiths, but also enamellers, lapidaries and miniature painters.