5289

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Extremely Rare ‘Brown & Gold’ Straits Chinese Wedding Dress & Hat Box

Straits Settlements, probably Singapore
circa 1900

length: 49cm, height: 53cm, depth: 34cm

Sold

Provenance

collected by Alwyn Sidney Haynes (1878-1963), and thence by descent. Haynes was a colonial administrator in Malaya and the Straits Settlements between 1901 and 1934. He held many posts including Acting British Resident, Pahang (1924); British Resident, Perak (1925); British Advisor, Kedah (1925); British Advisor, Kelantan (1930); and Acting Colonial Administrator, Straits Settlements (1933), after which he retired and returned to England, and lived near Stratford-upon-Avon, and then in Leamington Spa. Haynes loaned some of the items he collected in Malaya to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford in 1939. He was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1950.

This is probably one of the rarest items of Straits Chinese wedding paraphernalia in existence. It is a ‘brown and gold’ teakwood box designed to hold a Straits Chinese wedding costume and crown. It is the only example of which we are aware. No other example has been published and possibly it was a unique commission. (There are several examples in private collections of a similar form with a hat ‘dome’ but these are made of plain sheet metal.) It was acquired in the UK from the estate of a descendant of a colonial administrator who held a number of posts in the Straits Settlements from 1901 to 1934, including that of British Resident in Perak.

The box is in the distinctive ‘brown and gold’ style favoured by wealthier localised peranakan Chinese in the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca and Penang) in the last 19th and first half of the twentieth centuries. The style comprised locally-made and carved teakwood furniture items stained brown with carved detail with gilded (gold-leaf) highlighting. Often such items were commissioned as wedding gifts.

The comprises a base and a hinged lid. Each is stained brown and carved with sprays of plum blossoms that have been gilded. The dome on the lid is particularly splendid. It is carved from a single piece of wood and the underside retains chisel marks from when its form was chiselled out. It is decorated as a lotus bloom with large wavy petals with the petals defined with gilded ribbing is high, carved relief. The top of the dome is carved with stamens which too have been gilded. There are two metal handles on either side.

The Straits Chinese wore elaborate embroidered silk wedding costumes in the Qing style and also hats often decorated with dozens of gilded silver elements decorated with kingfisher feathers, pearls, and other elements. The box has room for the wedding costume to be folded inside and the hat or wedding crown to be place on top.

The box has wonderful presence and incontrovertible patina. There is an age-related split across the top (but not to the dome) and also one in the base. This might close-up in a more humid climate. Nails have been hammered into the top along the joins at the time or manufacture or soon after. The box retains its original lock – a Showell brass lock from Birmingham. The original key is still present and the lock still turns.

References

Ong, P.N., Brown & Gold: Peranakan Furniture from the late 19th Century to the mid-20th Century, Ong Poh Neo, 1994.

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