Dutch Colonial Tortoiseshell Casket, A Very Fine Ceylonese Tortoiseshell Betel Casket with Silver Mounts, Galle District, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), late 18th Early 19Th Century.

Identification Number: 353


These types of outstanding and fine tortoise-shell boxes are not often seen in the market. The quality of the tortoise-shell is particularly good with a magnificent silver pierced flower arrangement fixed at top the cover.
Exquisite boxes such as these, known as Sirih boxes, were used by the new Dutch administration that arrived to Sri Lanka (and Batavia) in the 16th century, when they adopted the tradition of chewing betel—a local custom of prime importance rooted in the tradition of hospitality in the region. The boxes would be used to store the betel leaves and other materials for its preparation. Therefore, these new Dutch elite commissioned local artisans to work on lavish boxes of materials such as wood, tortoise-shell, ivory, silver or gold. Similar boxes were being produced in other parts of the Dutch East Indies, like Batavia, however there are slight differences in the production of each region, being the central motif and the general construction of this box and its armature, of purely Ceylonese style.
The shape, material, and all the characteristics of the silver here present makes it clear that the box was produced in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) under the patronage of the new Dutch elite and their taste. The overall casket has been fabricated from scalloped and bevelled tortoiseshell, with finely silver mounts attached to it. A heart shaped central silver mount, rendered with tendrils, roses and a conch, in the rococo manner is often seen in other Sri Lankan craft and alternative materials. The corners of the lid have been fitted with silver mounts rendering a floral bouquet. The sides of the box are reinforced by solid plain silver plaque, and the bolts are reinforced and hidden by semi-spherical bolt caps, particularly around the area of the lock. The box no longer preserves its original feet, as these were usually taken away, when the purpose and usage of the box changed.


Jan Veenendaal, Furniture from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India During the Dutch Period, Foundation Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara, 1985.

Batavian Silver, By Titus M. Eliens, Gemeentemuseum Den Hag, 2012, ISBN: 978 90 400 0361 5, W books, For related Sirih or Betel boxes please see illustrations and text in pages 21-26 & lot No. III36 illustrated in pages 68-71. Also lot inventory No. 0811493.

Condition: Very good, minor wear and tear.

23.2 cm width.
7.3 cm height.
17 cm depth.