Silver Betel Box (Chelpa)
Negri Sembilan, Malaysia
width: 6.3cm, thickness: 3.5cm, weight: 52g
Hinged silver octagonal boxes of the type shown here were used by the Malays to hold tobacco or betelnut (sirih). This example is decorated with chasing, engraving and punchwork with Islamic-inspired palmettes on one side and repeated Chinese-inspired plum blossom motifs on the other, neatly encapsulating two significant influences on traditional Malay culture: Islamic and Chinese tendencies. It is believed that the form of these boxes is based on the form of pocket watches used by 17th, 18th and 19th century European gentlemen who came to Asia as traders and colonialists. Often they were worn attached to a scarf or kerchief draped over the shoulder.
Ling Roth (1910) shows a variety of Malay
chelpa of this form which he mentions were all found in Negri Sembilan state, central Malaya.
This example shows plenty of age and wear.
Truly Malay silver is comparatively rare. Much of what today is considered Malay silverware, including much of what is sold in Malaysia and Singapore as Malay silver, is in fact from Sumatra. It is probably the case that it is easier today to acquire silverware that is truly Malay from the United Kingdom from old collections accumulated during colonial times than it is to acquire it commercially in Malaysia or Singapore.
Ling Roth, H., Oriental Silverwork: Malay and Chinese, Truslove & Hanson, 1910.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 1957