Inventory no.: 2932

South Indian Brass Pandan


Unusual Book-Shaped Brass Betel Box or Pandan with Inscription

South India

circa 1800

length: 19.6cm, width: 13.7cm, thickness: 3.8cm, weight: 1,211g

This very unusual pandan or betel nut box is of thick brass and is shaped as a book. The book form is reminiscent of the wooden cases for bibles in book form commissioned by the Dutch in Sri Lanka and presumably South India during the eighteenth century.

The box here weighs more than a kilogram and so is surprisingly heavy. The lid fits well and the lock (with original brass key) still work. The interior is divided into one large compartment (for the leaves used to wrap the betel quid and to hold the shears used to slice the betel nut) and three smaller compartments used to hold the nuts, the lime and perhaps chewing tobacco or spices used to mix with the nut in the quid.

The spine of the book has three syllables in Telugu, the main language of southern India. Often such marks were for an owner and his descendants. Housing was often communal and included many members of the extended family, so it was important that objects of value should have ownership marks particularly to settle inheritance questions.

The box is in excellent condition and has a wonderful patina.


Brownrigg, H., Betel Cutters from the Samuel Eilenberg Collection, Thames & Hudson, 1992.Provenance:

UK art market

Inventory no.: 2932