19th C Sumatra Betel Nut or Tobacco Box Bronze GiltSilver Boxes from Southeast Asia

19th C Sumatra Betel Nut or Tobacco Box Bronze Gilt

We have a love affair with little boxes. Whether wooden, silver, porcelain or paper, there is something special about these little containers. Aside from their decorative beauty, they can hold all kinds of tiny goodies. And when they are vintage or antique it's fun to imagine what treasures they may have harbored and what stories they have lived through.
Over the centuries small boxes have served as repositories for curls of hair, gemstones and pearls, sand or shells from romantic beaches, facial patches (those little black spots Victorians used as "beauty marks"), tobacco and tea, rosary beads and more.
We have recently acquired a collection of tobacco and betelnut or lime boxes from Southeast Asia. These are superb examples of metalwork from that region. Tobacco was a special treat in early days. It was introduced from the New World and became a sensation in Europe by the early 1800s both for smoking and as snuff. Little boxes made to hold the precious commodity were simple at first, then became more decorative and larger as tobacco prices came down.
Betelnut is a concoction enjoyed by many people in Southeast Asia. It is a mixture of ground or chopped betel leaves, areca nut and slaked lime, and often tobacco as well. Sometimes other herbs and spices are added for variety. As with tobacco, little boxes were made to hold these ingredients
Back Row: Slaked Lime boxes; Front Row: Tobacco or Betelnut boxes