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    

Stunning Victorian Scottish Solid Silver, Rams Horn & Cairngorm Snuff Mull19thc Antique 930 Sterling Silver Guilloche Enamel Hand Painted Card Case, Nr Antique Chinese Silver Filigree & Enamel Box With MirrorBeautiful Large Decorative Dutch Antique 1887 Solid Silver & Gilded Table BoxFine Large Clean Heavy English Antique 1933 Solid Silver Cigarette Box Solid LidErhard & Söhne, Sohne Art Nouveau Trinket Box: J261Limoges Trinket Box Peint Main Rochard France Picnic BasketQuality Sterling Silver Anatomical Skull Box Case Vesta On Albert Watch Chain English Sterling Box Edward Farrell 1814 Was $4500 Gorgeous Antique English Sterling Silver Heart Shaped Box - Nathan & Hayes 1890Beautiful Large Antique English Sterling Silver Cannister - Florence Warden 1896Estate 925 Sterling Silver Keepsake Box By Mappin Webb Limited BirminghamBeautiful Clean Decorative English Antique 1893 Solid Sterling Silver Vesta Case"solid Silver & Enamel Galleon At Sea Box" Superb Quality Birmingham 2001Beautiful Late 19th Century Indian Silver & Enamel Table Box.Distressed Scrap Antique Hm Sterling Silver Box Ewdardian Hand Mirror 1904/ 1931Antique Sevres Romantic Lovers Painted Porcelain Bronze Mounted Trinket Box NplVintage Signed Pal Bell Israel Cast Bronze Map Of Judea Hinged Trinket Box SmsVictorian Gilt & Hardstone VinaigretteAntique French Regency Georgian C1830 Burr Elm Sewing Work Jewellery Trinket BoxAntique Sevres France Rose Floral Painted Porcelain Bronze Mount Trinket Box NplVintage Peint Main Limoges Trinket BoxEstate 925 Sterling Silver Keepsake Box By Jb Chatterley & Sons Ltd BirminghamNice Little Vintage Solid (925) Silver Stamp Box With Lid - Estate ClearanceLot 3 Victorian Sterling Silver Novelties--2 Boxes & Chatelaine Needle Case Antique Hallmarked English Solid Silver Table Snuffbox Birm. 1902 68.42 GLimoges Hand Painted Peint Mein Porcelain House Trinket Box Large Solid Silver Hm1947 Table Top Cigarette Box Jewellery Case Trinket CasketVintage Peint Main Limoges Trinket BoxScarce Antique Pratt & Farmer Brass Butterfly Needle Case / Trinket Box `royal`, French Solid Silver Table Spoon, C1890, 84gmAntique English Hallmarked Silver Circular 1898 Table Snuffbox Vgc A Fine Quality Sterling Silver Cigarette Box Or Jewellery Box London 1968String Ball Box Edwardian Sterling Silver Birmingham 190214 Harmony Kingdom Nrfb Adam Binder Eden Series Figurines Trinket Boxes Antique Clover Shaped Mauchline Ware Trinket Box, "ventnor Isle Of Wight"Vintage Peint Main Limoges Trinket Box2 Antique Hallmarked, .800 Continental Silver Box & Basket W/ Cherubs No ReserveLimoges Retired French Cheese Platter Under Crystal Trinket.. Orig Box FranceRare Small Halcyon Days Sleeping Kitty Cat Kitten Enameled Trinket Box FigurineRoyal Doulton Brambly Hedge Spring' Trinket Box ~ First QualityAntique Porcelain Powder Jar Or Trinket Box Moriage Maybe NipponHolt Howard Cat Sewing Tape Measure Rare Trinket BoxLimoges Xmas Tree Trinket BoxAntique Vintage Playing Card Box,trinket Case,ww1 Military Ship,art Deco,oldExquisite Vintage Japanese Solid Sterling Silver Bonbonniere Snuff Box Japan13 Harmony Kingdom Nrfb Adam Binder Figurines Trinket BoxesVintage Miniature Halcyon Days Owl Enamel Trinket BoxAn American Orleans Carpenters Shaker Style Bent Wood Musical Box Swiss MovementMarjolein Bastin Trinket Box & Rubber Stamp Saar The DogWedgwood Lavender Jasper Ware Scalloped Oval Trinket Box And Cover.Vintage Mexico Mother Of Pearl Abalone Inlay Checker Board Pattern Trinket BoxFinest Vintage H-chased Japanese Solid Sterling Silver Bonbonniere Box JapanStunning Sevres Porcelain Egg Shaped Trinket Box20 Harmony Kingdom Figurines Nrfb Treasure Jests & More Nrfb All Trinket Boxes13 Harmony Kingdom Treasure Jest Nrfb Must L@@k! Trinket Boxes England Royal Albert "caroline" Small Trinket Box With Sculpted Blue Flower (2nd Qual)19th Century Shaker Seed Box19thc Antique 930 Sterling Silver Guilloche Enamel Painted Snuff Box Case, NrAntique King George I Queen Silver Mounted Tortoiseshell Snuff Box 18th Or 19thc