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This miniature furniture is not only exceptional because of the timber used but also because of its shape. The costly káyu pèlèt was used for small items such as (most often) the hilts and scabbards of the Javanese and Balinese keris. In Bali, kayu pelet was used at the front of the scabbards, whereas the back would be solid gold, attesting that the rare wood was more precious than gold in the past. Apparently, in the Netherlands too, the wood was known to be very precious, as stated in the newspaper the Opregte Haarlemsche Courant of 8 May 1819: “...alsmede fraeye casette’s van Kostbaar Oost-Ind. Pelethout-, met Goud gemonteerd.” (...as well as fine boxes of East-Indies Peletwood, mounted with Gold).

The yellow wood has black flecks that seem to drift across the wood like clouds. The tree, Kleinhovia hospita, growing mainly on the southern coast of Central and East Java, produces a yellow wood which is widely available under the name timoho. The distinctive patterning with black flecks is found only in the wood of trees growing where strong humid-winds and poor soils create the highly specific but necessary conditions for its appearance. These conditions also do not allow the trees to grow tall, which makes the large slats of wood used in these pieces of furniture very rare. The best conditions apparently are south of Malang, Java, where the most beautiful wood is found. The term kayu pelet is used only for the wood with these distinctive marks, said to be caused by the dreams of the Javanese woodcutters the night before they fell the trees.

Until now, only six - very charming - Chinese-style Indonesian miniature bureau- cabinets made of massive kayu pelet were known. The documented ones, probably three sets of two - a bureau-cabinet with temple interior and a bureau-cabinet with drawers behind doors - are one previously sold by us (see: Uit Verre Streken, June 2011, no. 21 or below), now in a private collection; two in the Rijksmuseum (inv.no. BK-1969- 142 & BK-1977-265); one in the library of Castle Cannenburch (inv.no. 02558); and one in a private Dutch collection.

These six miniatures in kayu pelet are more or less identical small table-top writing desks. Because some have a Chinese temple-like interior, they were presumably sold by an, as of yet, unidentified Chinese furniture shop hiring (or owning) Javanese craftsmen. The latter can be concluded from the fact that the drawers of the cabinet, previously sold by us, had Javanese markings in the 18th century style that served as an aid during construction.

These kayu pelet pieces are miniature copies of larger furniture and are an addition to the abovementioned six bureaus. However, they are of a completely different style. The cabinet is after a mid-18th century Dutch two-door bombé cabinet. In the mid-18th century this type of cabinet was prevalent in mahogany or walnut

veneer in the Netherlands. Without proper argument yet, the present miniature seems to be copied after these bombé cabinets, by a Chinese-Javanese workshop, according to Jan Veenendaal, who is still conducting research. The writing desk is also Chinese- Javanese work and bears silver marks that seem to be Chinese.

There is no record of any Dutch-colonial miniature furniture, which was mostly made for upper-class ladies in colonial society to play with, in Kayu Pelet surfacing in collections in Indonesia. This could be an argument for Jan Veenendaal’s remarks on a single Dutch collector ordering such pieces of furniture, which can be found in our upcoming publication with working title ‘Colonial Miniature Furniture: only of modest size’.
However, it is also possible that Indonesians themselves recognize the sacred wood, which was and still is used in keris scabbards, resulting in none surviving the test of time (and greed).

Kayu Pelet:
The Sacred Wood worth more than Gold.

An exceptional Dutch-colonial Indonesian kayu pelet, or sacred wood, miniature cabinet with elaborate silver mounts


Batavia (Jakarta), last quarter 18th century, Chinese-Javanese work

H. 87 x B. 64 D. 23 cm

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A rare Dutch-colonial Indonesian Kayu Pelet, or sacred wood, miniature writing desk with silver mounts

Batavia (Jakarta), 2nd half 18th century, Chinese-Javanese work, the silver probably (indistinctly) Chinese marked

H. 10.5 x W. 30.5 x D. 20.5 cm

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A rare Dutch-colonial Indonesian Kayu Pelet, or sacred wood, sirih casket with silver mounts

Batavia (Jakarta), 2nd half 18th century, Chinese-Javanese work, the silver probably (indistinctly) Chinese marked

H. 5.5 x W. 12.5 x D. 8.5 cm

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An extremely rare and fine Indonesian Dutch-colonial Kayu pelet and ebony miniature bureau cabinet with silver mounts

 

Batavia (Jakarta), 1780-1790, Peranakan Chinese or Javanese work

 

H. 122 x W. 58 x D. 31 cm