Lined Jewelry Boxes Hold Rich History

Article excerpt

Q. These appear to be old jewelry boxes. Both are lined with cloth that shows quite a bit of wear. The black one has "336" on the bottom. It is soft metal, probably pewter. The other piece is made of some kind of fine pottery. Printed on the bottom is "Have Crest."

A. These two pieces are indeed jewelry boxes or jewelry containers. The "black one" is just that -- a small decorative box intended to hold jewelry on top of milady's dresser. Objects similar to the second piece were used as pin trays, ashtrays or "jewel trays." But since this piece has a textile lining (probably satin), it was certainly not an ashtray or a pin tray (the pins would have snagged in the fabric and been difficult to retrieve). It is a small, open jewel tray.

The two fancy handles suggest that it never had a lid and was designed to be a luxurious container in which the lady of the house placed her rings or other small jewelry items before going to bed. The idea: She would put on her baubles in the morning so there was no need to store them away in a box. While the jewel tray was simply a pretty receptacle for short-term usage, the 5-inch-wide metal box was typically used for more long-term storage, allowing the lady of the house to choose her adornment before she attended a special occasion.

The metal box was probably once silver-plated, and it was likely made from Britannia metal, a type of pewter commonly used for silver-plating in the middle to late 19th century and beyond. Britannia consists of tin hardened with copper and antimony, and it differs from pewter only in the circumstance that Britannia has more tin in its composition than most pewter formulas.

We are not surprised that this metal piece is not signed, and we will never know who actually manufactured it. …