5588

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Indian Brass Lime Box for Betel

India
19th century

length: 8.5cm, width: 4.5c,. height: 4.3cm, weight: 177g

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Provenance

UK art market

This charming, small solid, cast brass lime box is long and narrow with curved contours. It is hinged and has a handle and looks not unlike a handbag or travelling case, thereby suggesting colonials influence.

It is elegantly proportioned and was made to hold powdered lime, an integral part of the betel quid (betel or areca nut being a mild social narcotic usually paired with lime often obtained from powdered seashells or coral – the lime being necessary to react with the nut to release the stimulant).

Portable lime containers tended to be made because it was often the case that one would be offered betel at social occasions but if was felt that poison could be concealed in the lime itself, so best to bring one’s own lime but to partake of the other ingredients of the betel quid as offered by others.

The box is from India and possibly Sri Lanka.

It is in splendid condition. It has a good patina, and it retains traces of lime inside.

References

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

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