Inventory no.: 1952

Early French-Indian Colonial Ivory Card Case


Rare French Colonial Ivory & Sandalwood Double Visiting Card Case

Pondicherry, South India

17th century

height: 9.3cm, width: 5.8cm, thickness: 2.6cm

This very rare visiting card case has a fine sandalwood substructure that has been covered in thin, carved ivory panelling. It is a rare and unusual example of a French colonial Indian artifact and is almost certainly from Pondicherry (Puducherry) or its environs. It has a compartment on one side, accessed by a sliding cover; and then the box is turned over from where another compartment is accessed via a sliding cover (but which opens in the opposite direction.)

Pondicherry became a French colonial possession in 1674 and remained do until its de factor transfer to India in 1954 and its formal transfer in 1962. Pondicherry was ruled from France and its colonial architecture developed a distinct French style. Public buildings were built with neo-classical pediments, columns, arches and gables. All these elements are seen in the designs on this card case.

The box is carved with no less than 24 figures all in colonial European dress of the 17th century, including broad-rimmed, flat hats worn by the male figures and billowing, full-length dresses on the ladies. The figures are shown with numerous pet dogs.

A typically French winged angel figure is depicted on one panel – a motif still seen in Pondicherry today, thanks to French colonial influence.

The trees depicted with their willowy fronds are palm trees. The large standing birds with long tails that trail behind carved here and there appear to be male peacocks depicted with their tails down.

The ivory on the box is stained here and there are small chips to some corners – but it is largely intact. There is considerable warping to the ends of the side panels. But perhaps this is to be expected given the materials used and their age. But generally, there are no repairs and no losses.


UK art market

Inventory no.: 1952


Detail of the winged angel or cherub on the card case, then on the awnings of the Manakula Vinayagar Temple in Pondicherry, and then ion the Immaculate Conception Cathedral also in Pondicherry. (The latter two photographed in December 2013.)

Locals playing The French ball games boules in Pondicherry, December 2013.

French Colonial architecture in Pondicherry, photographed in December 2013.

The architecture is similar to that portrayed on the card case here.