According to Merriam-Webster, a “trinket” is “a thing of little value,” which is odd when you consider the rich profusion of boxes designed to store them. There are porcelain trinket boxes, as well as lacquered ones from Russia to Japan. Some boxes are made of papier-mâché, sterling silver, or wood, and many are admired for their surface decorations, as in the enameled trinket boxes of 18th-century England.

Some of the earliest wood boxes in the Colonial United States doubled as desks, with flat surfaces on their tops for writing and a compartment below to store everything from writing implements to the family Bible. Eventually, these boxes began to sprout legs to become proper desks, so smaller boxes were made to sit atop them. Those boxes were often ornamented with carving, inlay, or gilt, and frequently featured domed lids. Before long, some boxes were also given legs (though far shorter than those of desks), while others were cylindrical in shape and either heavily painted or upholstered in tooled calfskin.

Shaker boxes of the 19th century may be viewed as a reaction to all this ornamentation. For the religious Shakers, being neat was literally a way to get closer to God, so Shaker boxes not only served to hide clutter and keep small items dust-free, they were themselves uncluttered objects. The most familiar Shaker boxes are the oval boxes of various sizes, with tight-fitting lids. The sides of Shaker boxes were most often made of thin maple, which was secured by copper rivets. Tops and bottoms were made of thicker slabs of pine. And while colors were not forbidden by the Shakers, the tones were muted, ranging from soft blues, reds, and yellows to dark browns that almost appear black.

More jewel-like are the porcelain, enameled boxes of 18th-century England. These dainty confections were produced by potteries from London to Liverpool, from Birmingham to Staffordshire. At times inspired by the work of Meissen manufacturers in Germany, English porcelain boxes featured floral decorations, portraits of noblemen and prominent politicians, the likenesses of dancers and actresses, and pastoral scenes, some of which were copied from popular engravings of the day.

Another box-decorating technique was lacquering, elevated to a fine art by the 17th-century Japanese, which is why the technique is also called japanning. Made from the sap of sumac trees, lacquer is painstakingly applied in layer after layer to a lightweight, white-pine form. A high-quality Japanese lacquered box from the heyday of the technique might have as many as 50 coats on its surface, but as Japan began to trade more frequently and casually with the West, shortcuts were introduced to satisfy global market demands.

Russian lacquered boxes evolved after these shortcuts had become the norm, though the techniques practiced by Russian artisans were similar to those of the 17th-century Japanese. The major difference between the two types of boxes, beyond, of course, the differences in the styles of the surface decorations, was the box’s base, which the Russians made out of papier-mâché rather than pine.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Buffalo Architecture and History

Buffalo Architecture and History

Chuck LaChiusa's wonderful guide to the architecture and history of Buffalo, NY, also happens to host an impressive… [read review or visit site]

Chipstone

Chipstone

This beautiful site showcases the collection of Stanley and Polly Stone of Fox Point, Wisconsin, consisting of earl… [read review or visit site]

Kentucky Online Arts Resource

Kentucky Online Arts Resource

This huge online database from the Speed Art Museum is a rich trove of beautiful photos and reference information o… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

19thc Sazikov Сазиков Russian Silver Gold Gilt Cigar Case Original Wooden BoxAntique Victorian Banded Agate Panelled Brass Framed Trinket Box No Reserve Smart, Solid Silver Tea Caddy, 1915, 212gmGorgeous Solid Sterling Silver Art Deco Cigarette Box London 1930 468gExcellent Condition Early Antique, Heavy Solid Silver Victorian Table Snuff Box.Fine Quality C1880 Solid Silver Anglo Indian Raj Era Snuff Tobacco Box Antique Emerald Encrusted Arts Crafts Sterling Silver 1880s Antique Jewelry Casket Box Rare Georgian Sterling Silver Bright Cut Snuff Box 1784Lovely Decorative English Antique 1892 Solid Sterling Silver Tea Caddy CanisterStunning Art Deco Sunburst Guilloche Enamel & Silver Cigarette Box.Wonderful Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette Box Case Birmingham 1928 285gA Superb Sterling Silver Cigarette, Cigar Jewellery Box Weighs 363.5 Grams.Unusual Solid Sterling Silver Morph Butterfly Snuff Box Birmingham 1922 Outstanding Hallmarked Spanish Solid Silver Cigarette Box In The Aesthetic StyleRare Vintage Japanese Sterling Silver 950 Compact Powder Case Box W Mirror JapanFine Moorcroft Moonlit Blue Enamel Trinket Box C.1998Large Decorative English Antique 1906 Solid Sterling Silver Snuff Tobacco Box Auc4 Beautiful Uranium Depression Glass Art Deco Lidded Bowl Trinket BoxSilver Snuff BoxVery Fine Vintage Birks Sterling Silver Bb Dome Top Ring Box 2 RingsHand-painted Rochard Limoges Porcelain Trinket Box ~ Old Style TelephoneAntique French Sevres Ormolu Hand Painted Enamel Porcelain Trinket Box VigierVintage Beveled Gorham Sterling Silver Cigarette Box - No Reserve 181g Not ScrapC1880 Antique 19thc French Samson Enameled Porcelain Armorial Casket Trinket BoxVery Fine Vintage Birks Sterling Silver Bb Dome Top Ring Box…exceptional...1859 Edward Smith Sterling Silver Engraved Snuff Box Birmingham EnglandSigned Parry-vieille Pv Stork On Chimney Limoges Trinket Box Sewing Scissors NrSolid Silver Filligree Box, C1890, 51gmFine Vtg 800 Italian Silver Miniature Mollusk Shell Novelty Trinket Box OpensAntique Late Victorian / Edwardian Cobalt Blue & Gilt Enamel Trinket Box C1900.No Reserve! Antique English Silver Guilloche Enamel Trinket, Snuff Box Case!Halcyon Days Enamel Trinket Box Solid Silver Pyx Or Communion Wafer Box - London, 1980France Limoges Hand Painted Pein Main Purse Bag Shape Trinket Box Rosenthal Netter Trinket Box Italian Art Pottery Vtg Mid Century Modern ItalyLimoges France ,peint Main Emperor Penguin Trinket BoxAntique Georgian Carved Tobacco Or Tea Jar Coconut With Silver Lid & Mount By IsVintage Limoges Signed Porcelain Trinket Box Japanese Solid Silver Cig / Desk Box - Major General American Military InterestLimoges Bird House Trinket Box On Stand, ExcellentLimoges France Peint Main Trinket Box Artist Signed Floral Bouquet Beautiful Antique 19c Inlaid Burr Yew Trinket Small Sewing Box With KeyAntique Victorian Japanese Desk Cabinet - Black Lacquered Jewellery Trinket BoxLimoges France Peint Main L.s. Us Passport With Jet Clasp Trinket Box Nwt1893 World's Columbian Exposition Chicago Silver Plated Hinged Trinket Box FancyHerend Handpainted China Candy Bonbonniere Trinket Box Floral 3 Roses HungaryEstate Vtg Halcyon Days Enamel Trinket Box Disney Peter Pan Children Mint In BoxBirds On Yule Log / Holly Limoges Trinket BoxA Harmony Kingdom Roly Poly Trinket Box Divine Adam Binder Made In EnglandLimoges France Peint Main Mouse Trinket Box Ex+mma Metropolitan Museum Of Art NrLimoges France Trinket Box Set Of 2 Limoges France Peint Main Marque Deposee Rooster Trinket Box NwtWedgwood Blue Jasper Ware - 5 Trinket Boxes - 2 Eggs, Octagonal And 2 Round France Limoges Hand Painted Pein Main Signed Teapot Shape Trinket Box Beautiful Signed Peint Main Limoges France Purse Hinged Trinket Box Blue FloralHalcyon Days Enamel Trinket Box Bonbonniere Lion And Lamb Gc Painter RareRochard Limoges Peint Main Figural Bird House Trinket BoxLimoges Trinket Box Signed Peint Main Rochard Egg Shape W Butterfly & LadybugsFrance Limoges Hand Painted Pein Main * Love * Heart Shape Trinket Box PendantTerrific Vintage Cinnabar Chinese Carved Lacquer & Enamel Trinket Box