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Friday, June 1, 2012

favorite collections: antique tortoiseshell boxes


We have collected antique tortoiseshell boxes for many years. 
I wrote about our antique tortoiseshell frames here.

Tortoiseshell items were popular in the mid-1800's.  The world of travel was just opening up and items made from this exotic material were highly prized by the Victorians.  The Victorians were masters of elevating useful, everyday items to things of beauty.   Boxes and cases were made to hold common items like:  tea, needles, sewing items and thimbles, snuff, calling cards, eye glasses, hair pins, and jewelry.  Thankfully, in 1973 the Endangered Species Act helped to save the tortoise from extinction.  Today, only true antique items (by definition "antique" is anything over 100 years old) can be bought and sold.  Often tortoiseshell items are labeled as "faux" to allow it to be sold on such sites as ebay.  Many of these items are not faux, but as with all "antiques" the buyer needs to be knowledgeable and to know identification signs and markings of the "antique" they are wanting to purchase. "Celluloid" tortoiseshell is also very common and I have seen it labeled as real, when it is in reality a plastic.



Small needle boxes and a larger jewelry box (in this photograph) inside an antique cabinet in the master bedroom.







 


The bookcase in the reading room holds the large majority of our collection.  Because these pieces are generally small they work best when grouped together.  This grouping shares the shelf with an antique alligator box, an antique Chinese blue and white double happiness ginger jar, an antique sepia drawing, and a piece of "brain" coral.



On the right of this shelf is a large etui configured as a sewing kit- it contains small scissors and a thimble and compartments for needles and thread.   A stack of calling card cases holds one of the four needle boxes, and on the left is an eyeglass case that contains the original glasses, still inside.



19th century English sterling handled tortoiseshell page turner.  Page turners were used to turn the delicate pages of antique books. The Victorians knew that the oils and dirt on their hands could damage the paper.  Books were a luxury item and great care was taken to protect them.



My pièce de résistance...  an antique British West Indies tortoiseshell box. 








I placed a small grouping of boxes from our collection together on a copper tray to show you how beautiful they are displayed as a whole! 



Wait.....  what's that in the middle????
That's not an antique tortoiseshell box.... that's my iPhone!!!!  :) :) Truth be told, and try as I might, I couldn't come to love my Otterbox.  Dan loves his, but for all the reasons he loves it I didn't love mine.  When I found this tortoise iPhone case my heart skipped a beat!! 
You can find it on Amazon...here.



Seriously... how gorgeous is that?!  But, I do confess that I was a mere click away from returning it when I first got it... you see, my iPhone is black and this case with a black phone as the background just didn't do it. I was bummed, and then seconds before hitting the "return" button I had the idea to cut a piece of white paper to lighten up the case on my phone! It worked well, but the background was too yellow for my liking- I was trying to match my real tortoiseshell!
I tried several other papers to get to the right background color, and it turned out to be a lowly brown paper bag that proved to be the perfect backdrop to create the look and color of a real tortoiseshell piece!
I love that my iPhone case serves the same purpose of my antique tortoiseshell pieces... just as the Victorians did- it makes an everyday object a thing of beauty!


You can click this link to see  antique tortoiseshell items for sale.

52 comments:

  1. lovely collection joan! :)
    xox,
    A

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  2. this collection is so beautiful joan. i love what you did with the iphone too. xo

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and seeing some of your amazing collection.

    Carolyn

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  4. I love these boxes and you have a beautiful collection. Your phone chase IS much prettier than an Otterbox.

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  5. I see why the box is the 'piece de resistance' - it is beautiful.
    Did the pieces you purchased come with authentication certificates or special markings on them?

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  6. I just love your collection. You really have a way with display and I enjoyed each photo. Love that pop of green!

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  7. That was great to see one of your collections. I knew it would be awesome to see everything in your shelves and the details. thank you.
    regards, wenda

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  8. Such a gorgeous collection!

    Love your West Indies box. THAT is simply perfect.

    Alison

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  9. What an elegant, luxurious collection. I am also partial to tortoiseshell, and there is a lot for sale in Taiwan, but most of it is not very old, (or even new, not to mention all the fakes), so one has to be very careful, and I prefer to err on the side of caution.

    Is your page turner also a paper knife? Many were made of tortoise or ivory because the softer edge was less likely to injure the paper, but just separate it across the crease.
    --Road to Parnassus

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  10. Hi Joan - Thank you for sharing your amazing collection with us. I have always wanted to collect antique tortoiseshell items, but started too late. They are so costly now, and quite hard to find (in decent shape). Your collection is very impressive, and so diverse. You have the most amazing taste. And, the I-Phone case is so cool...glad you posted that :-) I love what you did....very clever. Have a wonderful weekend,
    Loi

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  11. RE: picture of tortoise page turner on books - sitting on a chair. The back of the chair reminds me of some chairs I bought years ago for my dining room. Can you post a full picture of that chair? I have never found i.d. of my dining room chairs (bought them from a dealer who found them in an estate sale).

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  12. I love how you don't accept things for the way they are, but creatively make things meet your expectations. Thanks for sharing your amazing collection!

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  13. ...such lovely lovely lovely treasures...while i knew about tortise shell...i had no idea what an otter box was...had to go look that up...wonder who will be displaying there collection of otterboxes one hundred years from now...blessings laney

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  14. I'm dying over here... and greener than GREEN with envy!! Your collection sends my heart a pitter pattering. I am nuts over antique tortoise shell. What a truly fabulous collection you have amassed and clearly you cherish it. I'm so happy those priceless treasures made their way to your hands!! Thank you so much for sharing them with us!
    By the way... check out my post today if you get a minute because you'll see my brass obelisk lamps with their new shades and thanks to you they are FABULOUS. The gold lining was BRILLIANT. Thanks again from the bottom of my heart!!!
    XO

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  15. You have a beautiful collection of assorted boxes. I like the tortoise shell ones. You are so clever to 'fix' the paper under your phone cover. It looks like the real thing! Blessings, Pamela

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  16. Joan,
    Such lovely treasures. I love the displays on the book case and LOL that your iPhone case ended up being a part of your collection, very fun.
    Karen

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  17. A beautiful collection! Also love the Chinese green/turquoise glazed pottery and the wonderful blue and white!
    Cheers!

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  18. LOVE this collection. So beautiful.

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  19. I rally love the collections and how you arrange them! I have always wanted to start a collection!! Leslie

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  20. Not only is this post beautiful to look at, but educational, I am in awe of your collection!!! Thank you for sharing!

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  21. Your collection is beautiful and so well displayed.
    Best...Victoria

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  22. ...ewww...i do know how to spell their...laney

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  23. Joan..Stunning,they are so beautiful, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful collection. The West Indies box reminds me of the wooden Tea Caddy that my husbands aunt [who is 98] treasures...her great grandfather brought it from Scotland when they immigrated here on 'The Polly'..for years it sat up in the attic of the old homestead that still remains in the family. It is beautifully crafted, same chamfered lid as your box.

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  24. Look at you paying homage to your antique collections, even on something as modem as an iPhone. Love the collection and history behind it!

    -Tim

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  25. What a beautiful collection. I adore tortoise in any shape or size and think it adds so much to any space. Happy weekend!!

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  26. I've always loved tortoise shell. It's very handsome. And you have a great collection of pieces.

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  27. I love way your display your collections Joan. It never seem too much or not enough - just a very elegant collection.

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  28. I love your collections. May I ask what is the green pottery piece in the first photo?

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  29. omg. seriously drooling on the keyboard. and wanting. needing. tortoise.

    you rule.

    michele

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  30. In the first place, I love anything antique! Which is why I own an antique shop! Secondly…tortoise shell anything is a huge favorite of mine and I'm so glad I got to see your wonderful collection! I look forward to reading many more wonderful posts! Your taste is impeccable and i'm envying the iPhone case! Love it!
    Carolyn Bradford

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  31. ...just ordered the tortoise shell case on Amazon...

    .......running out the door to go buy an iPhone...

    [Really!]

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  32. Katherine- No, there are no authentication certificates, and unless from a certified appraiser it would just be someone's opinion. That's why it is so important to learn about something in advance to know what you are buying instead of taking another persons word for it. I have see so many items mismarked- antqiue when not, sterling when not... . Now, the page turner does have English hallmarks that indicate the age, region and maker- but again, once must know about hallmarks, as they too were copied to look real.

    Parnassus- Because of its length I do believe it is a page turner. Paper knives tend to be a bit shorter.

    Anon 3:08- If you click on the highlighted "the reading room" above the fourth photo it will to take you to a post on that room which has several photos of that antique chair. The chair is 18th-century English Country-Chippendale.

    Brenda- so happy that the tea caddy made it out of the attic!

    Anon 9:03- It is an antique green glazed terracotta Chinese oil vessel or candlestick! The oil would sit in a small unglazed saucer on the top. The saucer is missing from this piece, but I do have a smaller pair that have their original oil saucers.

    Anon 11:52- too funny! You will love them both:)

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  33. Joan, I love, love your iPhone case... it's fabulous... i think I must find one too... and your collection is stunning... xv

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  34. Wonderful collection Joan and appreciate you for sharing it with us.
    An elderly Aunt on my husband's side of the family had a beautiful Vanity Dresser Set and upon distribution of her Estate when we discovered it was a rare piece; we donated it to a Museum who very happily accepted it. It consisted of Tortoise Shell and some other metal alloy (which at the moment I cannot rightly recall). -Brenda-

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  35. I love your tortoiseshell collection...and I didn't even realize that the middle one was your iphone....funny! I'm going to a flea market tomororw...and looking for tortoiseshell!!

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  36. Joan I ♥♥♥ your collection and I especially love the fact that you made your iPhone special just for YOU. I love that!!! I would have done the same thing! Happy Weekend,
    Kathysue

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  37. Great collection. Reminds me that I would like some tortoise shell sun glasses!

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  38. What a great collection, this is my first visit I will be back, I can't wait to read more....

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  39. Wonderful ~
    We have too many "collections" and now I want to collect tortoiseshell too ! :)
    classic.casual.home said she would like to get some tortoise shell sun glasses, that is exactly what I am looking for now ! lol
    besitos, C

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  40. Joan, all your pieces are gorgeous, but I really love that West Indies Box - it's stunning! The iphone cover is such a cool idea, must do something for my own iphone!! Love your point about making everyday objects into things of beauty, that's exactly what I try to do in my home, it makes the day so much brighter!!

    Sharon
    xxxx

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  41. What a beautiful collection! The page turner and your pièce de résistance are stunning! I love small collections that don't take up tons of space, don't you.

    Have a lovely week!

    Mary

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  42. Joan,
    What a gorgeous collection....and I love how you brought it all full circle with your new Iphone case! I'll bet the Victorians would be smiling!!

    xoxo Elizabeth

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  43. Such a truth, with the Victorian statement and you are very inventive (: but of course with a house like yours... you must be!
    Let's continue enjoying the beauty in the world...hugs Z

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  44. If my children read this post about you and your Iphone case they would howl out loud! I am glad there is someone else that would do such a thing....they always tease me about tea dying everything! I am off to order that case love it!

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  45. Hi Joan, discovered your blog via Loi, Pamela and Patricia. Lovely collection of tortoiseshell. The phone cover is very smart.
    Paul

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  46. Dear Joan, I love, LOVE, LOVE your blog and your home. Please join Pinterest!!!!! I really want to be able to save some of your design ideas.

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  47. Oh what a sweet collection!! They all look so pretty. I agree the phone cover is really cool!

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  48. That iphone tortoiseshell case is reason enough to give up my Blackberry!

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  49. It is wonderful that not only am I inspired but I learn something. I have always been drawn to tortiseshell eyeglass frames but I don't think I ever seen the real thing or recognized it if I did!

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  50. Sometimes the magic just strikes! Good for you and love the post.

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  51. You did a lovely job creating these little tablescapes. Fun and elegant.
    Lisa

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  52. seriously? your iphone case? i am cracking up!!! you have such an eye for detail! i want one though. and i want your entire collection. i have none. and i want all of yours!just wrap them up and mail them to me por favor. gracias.

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