Inventory no.: 3240

Colonial Dutch Bible Box


Small Tortoiseshell Bible Box with Chased Silver Mounts

Sri Lanka or Batavia

18th century

length: 9.5cm, width: 6cm, thickness: 2.2cm

Dutch colonial bible boxes are relatively rare. This example follows the conventional form of having a hinged lid and is thicker at the front than at the back to emulate a leather-bound book. It has chased and engraved silver mounts on all sides and along the ‘spine’ but what makes this box particularly unusual is its miniature size and the fact that it is made from tortoiseshell.

The hinged lid is kept closed by two silver latches. These are engraved with floral and foliage motifs. The rest of the mounts are chased with foliate arabesques.

Surviving Dutch colonial bible boxes are relatively few. Veenendaal (1985, p. 86) illustrates two examples, one of which also is illustrated in Voskuil-Groenewegen (1998, p. 92).

Bible boxes were used to hold a small personal bible. The wives of Dutch officials would walk in public in the Dutch settlements of south India, Sri Lanka and the East Indies followed by slaves or servants who held aloft umbrellas, carried betel boxes and perhaps a spittoon. Sometimes such a procession included a servant or slave who carried a bible box such as the example here.

The example here is in a fine condition consistent with age, use and material from which the item is made. There is some minor cracking to the tortoiseshell along the spine and a small, old repair to the edge of the lid on one side. But these are barely visible. Overall, the small item is visually pleasing and a rare curio from Dutch colonial times. It is not clear whether the box comes from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) or Batavia. Styles were similar in both locations during the 18th century as both places were controlled by the Dutch, there was much movement by colonial officials between the two places, and similar items were ordered from local artisans in both places.


Tchakaloff, T.N. et al, La Route des Indes – Les Indes et L’Europe: Echanges Artistiques et Heritage Commun 1650-1850, Somagy Editions d’Art, 1998.

Veenendaal, J.,

Furniture from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India During the Dutch Period, Foundation Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara, 1985.

Voskuil-Groenewegen, S.M.

et al, Zilver uit de tijd van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Waanders Uitgevers, 1998.Provenance:

UK art market

Inventory no.: 3240


In this early engraving produced by R. Vinkeles after a drawing by J. Haafner, a colonial Dutch or mestizo Dutch woman is accompanied by two slaves, the female one of whom carries what appears to be a bible box in her right hand that is similar to the example here.