Enquiry about object: 5043

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Cast Brass Headrest-Shaped Betel Box

Sumatra, Indonesia
18th century

length: 18.3cm, width: 9.7cm, height: 6.3cm, weight: 515g



UK art market

This box of thick brass sheet belongs to a relatively rare group of betel and tobacco boxes from Sumatra that have this distinctive shape. This shape, possibly  based on that of a pillow or head rest, comprises tapering, slightly concave sides and a concave lid or cover such that each of the four corners rises to a distinct point.

Lee et al (2016, p. 202) refers to this type of box as a ‘Padang’ betel box because they are most associated with the Padang Highlands in Sumatra. The boxes have however surfaces elsewhere such as in Eastern Indonesia, but this might simply have been as a result of trade. Lee et al illustrate three such boxes – one of gold, one of silver and one of wood with silver mounts. Jasper & Pirngadie (1930, p. 43) illustrate one in silver. The example here is the only brass example of which we are aware.

The box here has a superb golden patina. The surfaces have plenty of old scratches and remnants of staining – the age of the box is clear. Overall, it is a very sculptural item with a great deal of presence.


Jasper, J.E. & Pirngadie, De Inlandsche Kunstnijverheid in Nederlandsch Indie IV: de Goud en Zilversmeedkunst, 1930.

Lee, P. et al, Port Cities: Multicultural Emporiums of Asia 1500-1900, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2016.

Voskuil-Groenewegen, S.M. et al, Zilver uit de tijd van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Waanders Uitgevers, 1998.

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