Rare Dutch Colonial Betel Box in Ivory with Pierced Silver Mounts
Batavia, Dutch East Indies
length: 16cm, height: 8cm, depth: 12cm, weight: 613g
This fine Dutch colonial betel or sirih box is from eighteenth century Batavia in the Dutch East Indies, and is composed of ivory sheets fixed with ivory pegs and pierced silver mounts. Ivory betel boxes are relatively rare. More typically, they are made of wood.
Possibly it was made for a Dutch colonial administrator or his wife – the Dutch took up the local habit of chewing betel in the Dutch East Indies during the 18th century.
The box has pierced and engraved silver floral plaques designed to cover the screws used in its construction. There are also pierced silver corner mounts, hinge flanges, and a pierced silver key escutcheon.
The box sits on four solid-cast zoomorphic silver feet.
Prominent silver hinge flanges are attached to the inside of the box. These are pierced, mirroring the fret work of the mounts outside the box. These attach the lid or cover to the base. The interior also retains the original silver chain that supports the lid when open.
The original silver lock is in place. The key no longer is present however.
Relatively few Dutch colonial betel boxes made from ivory have been published. One example is illustrated in Veenendaal (1985, p. 88), and again in Tchakaloff (1998, p. 116).
The Javanese habit of chewing betel was adopted by the local Dutch and exquisite boxes to hold the nut, the betel leaf and the other accompaniments were commissioned by the Dutch. The Dutch realised early on how important betel was to the indigenous people and how it was an essential part of hospitality including with the indigenous rulers. They quickly incorporated betel use with their dealings with local elites. Paintings that show the wives of Dutchmen at the time often show betel boxes prominently displayed. One such seventeenth century painting by J.J. Coeman which today hangs in the Rijksmuseum shows Batavia’s Cornelia van Nieuwenroode with her husband Pieter Cnoll and two of their nine daughters, one of who is shown holding a jewelled betel box (Gelman Taylor, 2009, p. 42).
The fashion for luxurious betel accoutrements and other finery saw the governor-general in Batavia Jacob Mossel issue a decree in 1754 stating that only the wives and widows of the governor-general, the director-general, members of the Council of the Indies and president of the Justice Council were permitted to
use gold or silver betel boxes adorned with precious stones, (Zandvlieyt, 2002, p. 206).
There are no apparent maker’s marks to the silver on this example. The box clearly is of Batavian origin.
The box is in excellent condition. The lid fits tightly and there is no obvious warping or shrinkage. All the silverwork is present. The ivory has a superb soft colour consistent with being several hundred years old. This is a fine, museum-quality piece.
Eliens, T.M., Silver from Batavia/Zilver uit Batavia, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag/W Books, 2012.
Krohn D.L. & P.N. Miller (eds.),
Dutch New York Between East and West: The World of Margrieta van Varick, Bard Graduate Center/The New York Historical Society/Yale University Press, 2009.
Dutch Ships in Tropical Waters: The Development of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) Shipping Network in Asia 1595-1660, Amsterdam University Press, 2010.
et al, La Route des Indes – Les Indes et L’Europe: Echanges Artistiques et Heritage Commun 1650-1850, Somagy Editions d’Art, 1998.
Furniture from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India During the Dutch Period, Foundation Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara, 1985.
Asian Art and the Dutch Taste, Waanders Uitgevers Zwolle, 2014.
et al, Zilver uit de tijd van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Waanders Uitgevers, 1998.
private collection, Scotland.
Inventory no.: 4126