Betel boxes of this type – gilded and inlaid – are relatively uncommon.This small example comprises the base, the cover and an internal tray. It was designed to hold leaves for the betel quid as well as receptacles that held the various other ingredients of the quid.
The box is constructed from thin slithers of woven bamboo that have been lacquered and then gilded with a lacquer and ground gold leaf covering.
The lacquer is inset with glass roundels (hpet-htok) backed with green and silver foil (known as hman-zi- shwei-cha) and further decorated with moulded relief work (known as thayo) in a variety of motifs including the kya-hmauk (petal) and dha-zin-gwe (orchid scrolling) motifs. The interiors of the box and cover and internal tray are in red lacquer.
The moulded relief flower designs employed on the exterior suggest that the box may have come from the Shan states in eastern Burma, or been made by a Shan craftsman.
Gilded betel boxes of this type often were commissioned as presentation pieces, often for one prince to give to another, or perhaps to present to an esteemed monk.
The box is in fine good condition with little loss to the lacquerwork and inlay work. It has an excellent patina and very obvious age.
This item was obtained in the UK and almost certainly came to the UK during the colonial era.
Conway, S., The Shan: Culture, Arts & Crafts, River Books, 2006.
Fraser-Lu, S., Burmese Crafts: Past and Present, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Fraser-Lu, S., Burmese Lacquerware, White Orchid Books, 2000.
Isaacs, R., & T.R. Blurton, Burma and the Art of Lacquer, River Books, 2000.
Lowry, J., Burmese Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1974.