Inventory no.: 683

683. Antique Ceylon or Sri Lankan Betel or Tobacco Box


Etched Brass & Copper Tobacco/Betel Box

Sri Lanka

circa 1720

length: 12cm, height: 3cm, width: 4.7cm

This box with copper sides and a brass lid and base with a hinge that elegantly alternates between the two is the product of Sri Lankan craftsmen who based the form on contemporary Dutch tobacco boxes that similarly mixed these two metals.

According to Coomaraswamy (1956, p. 255) “The influence of Portuguese and Dutch in the low-country [the coastal regions of Sri Lanka] in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, on art, costume, and manners was extremely marked…Dutch influence is seen in the brass tobacco boxes, of which Dutch examples are still common, beside the Sinhalese imitations.”

The Sri Lankan elements of this box is clear in the three lotus flower designs within roundels etched onto both the lid and base of the box.

The Dutch had captured most of the island of Sri Lanka by 1660 which they ceded to Britain in 1802. During this 140 year period, Dutch tobacco boxes were incorporated into the oeuvre of local makers, much in the way that they became adopted in Sumatra. Locally, they were used to store and carry small amounts of tobacco but also betel.


Coomaraswamy, A.K., Mediaeval Sinhalese Art, Pantheon Books, 1956.

Inventory no.: 683