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M-o-p games box circa 1760




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Canton provided many luxury items for the rich European man-about-town in the eighteenth century: this mother-of-pearl box fits that category. Made on a wooden carcas and covered entirely with highly ornate mother-of-pearl this box comes into the luxury category. It was clearly made as a games box, with four interior boxes for counters. Made for export to Europe, these boxes were extremely fragile and very few survive in good condition. One slip and it is smashed to pieces. For many years I wondered about pieces of mother-of-pearl 'rope' which occasionally turned up in collections of mother-of-pearl pieces: I finally realised that they are the remains of the rope edging to these boxes. You can see the problem: the mother-of-pearl is so finely sculpted into scrolling leaves that one is even afraid to look too hard at these for fear of breaking them. The interior contains four boxes - these have sadly lost their lids. But the decoration to the sides of the boxes is most important in helping to date the  boces: the boxes are all comprised of  panels showing the Valentine's pattern ( see the article about the history of the Valentine's pattern elsewhere on this website). So the boxes allow us to allocate a date of around 1760 to the box. The one shown has had professional restoration to several areas of the lid; it is extremely rare to find a similar box in perfect condition. In addition, what is very nice is that it is possible to determine the exact type of counter that woul have been in the original box: the Valentine's pattern counters, as pictured. I have once seen a box that contained some Valentine's pattern rounds, squares and oblongs but predominantly those extra-large fishes, measuring over 3 1/4 inches and decorated with the early billing birds design with the associated breadfruits still in evidence, showing that they were produced at around the same time as the Valentine's pattern counters; so it seems likely that these were also part of the original contents of the boxes. The hand-written inventory on the inside of the lid, dating from 1953, would appear to support this.

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