Customers looking at our window are often heard to sigh and swoon over our jewels, and it would seem just as often...our extensive collection of handmade antique display boxes.
Amassed over several decades, we too love how interesting they look lined up in the window creating the appropriate 'antique' look for our old Georgian era shop, and spend much time swapping and rearranging the display. Our collection ranges from the simplest of early handmade Georgian ring boxes to magnificent custom fitted boxes made for suites or 'parures' of matching jewels, each carefully fashioned to home a precious and meaningful purchase and make it even more 'special'.
The earliest and perhaps most precious of our boxes are these cute old Georgian boxes, shaped like teeny shoes they are covered in the thinnest of leathers in browns and reds, the lids lined in beautifully fine silk with silk velveteen upholstery and closing with wonderfully tiny metal catches so that they appear as small treasure chests.
We also particularly love these cute horseshoe shaped ring boxes, dating to around 1830 the soft but brightly coloured Turquoise velveteen and silk upholstery resembling tiny Victorian bonnets.
Owning jewellery had always been a rare luxury confined to the wealthy, but with the rise of the middle classes in Victorian Britain tied to technological advances in jewellery making (for instance die stamping which allowed the mass production of cheaper jewels such as brooches) eventually such trinkets (or 'toys' as they were known) became more affordable.
At the budget end, vintage cardine boxes were stuffed with cotton wool wadding or sometimes with a folded card backed velvet inner, whilst the high end jewellery market demanded the finest of materials; fine silk or plush velvets, the most luxurious of fine Morocco leathers with tooled and gilded binding, the printed lids of cotton or silk proudly displaying the sellers business name and address in fancy scripts and sometimes even 'by Royal Appointment' in grandiloquent fonts. As this article by Collectors Weekly tells, so coveted was Tiffany and Cartier jewellery, that their distinctive boxes became an essential part of the fairy-tale romance.
Occasionally a box will hold a clue to it's story, for instance a significant date written inside by the past owner... once we even held a French box which had been upholstered in the woollen WW1 uniform of the British army; we imagined a heartfelt gift from a returning soldier. We enjoy researching the history of the individual companies named on the lids (Google IS such a wonderful tool!). A box with a significant name or a place can sometimes even be a deciding factor for a customer when choosing an engagement ring, although we have to say that we very rarely part with them (we have on occasion been offered quite large sums) as we know they would now cost us a small fortune to replace and the jewels we sell don't often come to us in their original case.
Box making itself was an occupation which employed mainly women working from workshops based in the famous jewellery districts in Birmingham and London. It was also carried out as piecework in the home as an important supplement to the household income, as in the case of Alga Lackey, aged 22 years and married with three children who in 1911 worked as a fancy box maker from her home in Birmingham.
Traditionally the basic structure would be made of wood, carved or sometimes bent to shape with metal hinges and clasps, lined with fabrics derived from natural sources; silk or cotton velvet, the cases bound in fine leather or later, fabrics. The colours would have been limited by the dyes available at the time and the early boxes seem to be restricted to creams, greys and pale blues for the fabrics and browns, blacks and darker reds for the leathers. The glues used would have been animal based, derived from boiling connective tissues and bones left over from meat production.
In the Victorian era advances in the creation of aniline fabric dyes made fabulous new colours possible; Mauveine or Perkin's mauve was one of the first synthetic dyes (discovered in 1856) and quickly becoming very fashionable, it was the first to be mass produced, in doing so making widely available what was one of the rarest colours previously only associated with royalty (Royal Purple). One can see the popularity of this amazing colour in the proliferation of plush purple boxes from the period.
Today, antique handmade boxes are as desirable and sought after as the jewellery itself, and are perhaps even more scarce. Be that as it may, aside from Ebay, we have found one place you could find the box of your dreams... although the prices might surprise you!! https://eragem.com/old-ring-boxes
Read about the development of Mauveine in the following link: