Boxes such as this, fashioned by craftsmen in 18th century Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) in tortoiseshell and silver, were made to store both the nut and the vine leaves typically consumed with it.
Under law such luxuries were reserved for the cream of colonial society. A decree of 1754 stated that only members of the ruling colonial elite were permitted to use gold or silver betel boxes adorned with precious stones. This example was offered in a sale held by Batemans (20% buyer’s premium) in Stamford, Lincolnshire on July 4. Only a couple of weeks of consignments contributed to this auction but it included items from a local vendor whose mother had lived and travelled across Asia.
Described as ‘a 19th century south-east Asian tortoiseshell and white metal mounted box’, it was spotted before the sale by a number of knowledgeable buyers.
The opening bid of £50 was left far behind as, after 75 bids in total across three minutes of competition, the hammer came down at £1350.