This fine silver betel box and set comprises the box, a pair of betel shears (kacip), a leaf holder, and three spherical, lidded betel containers with gilded repoussed silver tops.
The box is unmarked and might date to the eighteenth century. It stands on four flattened spherical feet, and has pierced silver key and handle plates decorated with scrolling foliage. The key plate is decorative only: no lock or key was ever fitted to the box.
A chain of three strands holds the lid to the box. Inside, two engraved hinge struts attach the lid to the box.
The betel shears are of iron shaped as a cockerel (a typically Javanese form) with sheet silver wrapped around the handles. The handles have bud-like silver finials.
The betel leaf holder is an elegant device. In ‘Y’ shape, it is open at both ends. The leaves of the piper vine were rolled and stored in the holder. It is these leaves which wrapped all the other elements to make the betel quid which could then be popped into the mouth and chewed.
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).
The box and set here are in fine condition. There are no dents to repairs to the box. It has an excellent patina. The items inside are similarly in a good order.
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.
Veenendaal, J., Furniture from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India During the Dutch Period, Foundation Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara, 1985.
Veenendaal, J., Asian Art and the Dutch Taste, Waanders Uitgevers Zwolle, 2014.
Voskuil-Groenewegen, S.M. et al, Zilver uit de tijd van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Waanders Uitgevers, 1998.