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An Indonesian mother-of-pearl inlaid mastic sirih casket with silver mounts


Jakarta (Batavia), circa 1720-1730, the silver hinges marked for Batavia, maker’s mark HS or SH, part of the silver reconstructed

H. 10 x W. 26 x D. 17.5 cm

Before settling down to business in the former Dutch East Indies, sirih had to be offered in the most exquisite boxes, made of gold, silver, inlaid with precious stones, ivory, tortoiseshell, or, as the present one, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The costliness of one’s sirih box displayed one’s fortunes.

In this manner, only one other sirih box in mother-of-pearl is documented. It is in the collection of Kip-Lee-Kip in Singapore (Peter Lee et al., Port Cities: Multicultural Emporiums of Asia, 1500-1900, Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore, 2016, p.206, no. 166).

 

At least one of the previous owners of the casket presented here seemed to have been aware of the importance of this box since it possibly lost part of its silver but was restored with finely engraved openwork late 17th/early 18th century mounts. When observed closely, the box shows several nail holes all over, suggesting closed silver corner and centrepieces, and lock plate.

Researching a large number of sirih caskets, in design related and also for the Peranakan market, as this casket probably is, we asked a highly skilled restorer to design and reconstruct the missing silver mounts – with an astonishing result.

It is unknown who the silversmith HS or SH, active between circa 1714 and circa 1743, is, but he did leave an impressive oeuvre of a very high standard. The Kunstmuseum in The Hague has seven commemorative salvers, a walking stick and a cuspidor with these marks in the collection. For another and so far the latest dated salver by HS or SH, commemorating Bartha Helena van Suchtelen, born in Batavia (Jakarta) in 1710 and deceased there in 1743, see Uit Verre Streken, March 2013, no. 4.

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