Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article


Snuffboxes and bonbonnieres are often confused one with the other, but this should not be the case. The easiest method to determine concerning them is to examine the hinges. These, in French boxes, are made with peculiar care and skill, where a snuffbox is concerned, in order that no snuff should find its way, either into the mechanism of the hinge or out into the pocket where the snuffbox lies ; and if a box when shut up, forces out a little puff of air, and closes with extreme precision, it is almost certainly a snuffbox. There was no such particular attention given to the bonbonnieres, although they closed quite well, and kept back the air to a great extent from their contents. Then the bonbonniere was often made of a material that was particularly precious and fragile, because it was more usually intended for standing on the table than was the snuffbox.

The finest bonbonniere of modern times known to me was the one which came into the market last May. It had originally belonged to Mr. Alfred de Rothschild, and was of Sevres porcelain, decorated with paintings of very high quality, no doubt by Dodin after Boucher, and the gold mounts, beautifully made, were signed by the king's jewellers, Fossin et Fils. The box was a very wonderful piece of work, the paintings delightful, the gold exquisitely carved and chased, and it fetched four thousand pounds. With it were sold several other boxes, one or two of which were most certainly snuffboxes, and others just as surely intended for bonbonnieres.

I wonder what kind of confectionery these boxes used to contain ? Certainly not chocolates such as we have at present : the French bonbonniere would only hold two or three of the modern chocolates, and until Menier began to start his important chocolate industry in the nineteenth century, there was no special trade in chocolate in France. In the very early part of that century his father was making the solid chocolate, and he improved and increased the manufactory.

We have our words "comfit" and "lozenge" from the French, and the original lozenges were of what we now term a lozenge shape, a pointed diamond, but the notion of combining drugs with sugar for lozenges is quite a recent one, and the earliest lozenges were simply scented. The comfit was a dry sweet, and in all probability the oldest sweetmeats of the present day are the sugared almonds and the sugared coriander seeds which children know as sugar-plums or caraway comfits.

These bonbonnieres, it may be expected, contained sweetmeats of that kind, certainly dry and probably rather hard, and what are known as white Scottish sweets, which include cloves covered with hard white sugar, are the direct descendants of the kind of French confectionery they held. It was introduced into Scotland in Mary Queen of Scots' time, and this is just another example of the way in which Scotland preserves many French habits, words and phrases which she has enshrined in her language and manners, and which still remain as evidence of the close connection that formerly existed between the two countries.

There are many delightful gold bon-bon boxes to be found, some of them set with enamel, either a portrait or a tiny landscape.

There were silver ones also, although these are not so common. Then, in England, there were many such boxes made of enamel, produced both at Battersea and at Bilston. The potteries of Chelsea, Derby, Bristol, Worcester, and other places, also made porcelain boxes, mounted in metal, in which dry sweetmeats were kept, and there are many to be found of Capo di Monti ware, some of which are quite large caskets to stand on the table.

These also were made both at Dresden and in Vienna, and are always said to have been originally produced to hold the candied fruits that for many generations have been made at Grasse and at various other places along the maritime coast of France and Italy, and even more extensively in Sicily. There, quite big boxes as large as teacaddies are to be found, both of Italian pottery and of Capo di Monti porcelain, anct these, packed with the candied fruits of Sicily, were no doubt very acceptable presents.

The porcelain boxes of China or Japan in some cases contained tea, in others spice. The Dutch, to whom we were at one time indebted for almost all our spice, imported a good deal of it in lacquer boxes, and in similar boxes made of porcelain, and these were regarded as large bonbonnieres, holding most acceptable gifts of spices, dried ginger, and various other Oriental dainties.

What exactly the glass bonbonnieres were for one hardly knows. They must have been very fragile; only a few really old ones have survived ; there were some creamy ones made in Bristol, and perhaps they were toilet boxes, or to hold powder and other adjuncts for the toilet-table. The small, square Chinese glass boxes were perhaps for snuff, but that is not certain, because snuff, as a rule, was contained in small bottles. The special demand, however, is for the French bonbonnieres, often of gold, generally beautifully made and daintily decorated, and in the extravagant days that preceded the Revolution, there were large numbers of them made for presents, and very substantial sums were paid (or at least in some cases owed) for them.

These, however, are beyond the reach of most collectors, but tortoiseshell ones are often to be found, and the prettiest are ornamented in spots of gold, in what is known as pique work. Then there are the eighteenth-century silver bonbon boxes, decorated in repousse, and a much larger variety of shapes made in Holland, some quite tiny, square, canister-shaped ones, often called patch-boxes, but certainly not for patches, because they are too small to enable one to draw out the patch by putting two fingers into the box, and moreover, too deep; patch-boxes are shallower things, and generally oval, so that the two fingers can go easily into it. Moreover, there are some circular china ones made at the less important Staffordshire potteries, often quite pretty, and sometimes with a portrait upon them ; and I have seen them made of shell and of ivory, while there are many of Wedgwood, not the toilet boxes with the loose Wedgwood lid, but mounted in metal and cleverly hinged. There are also boxes of a French red enamel, and these are sometimes lined with tortoiseshell, and occasionally mounted with fine chased ormolu work.