A rare shagreen covered and patridgewood (Andira inermis) veneered coffre fort or Captain’s chest with elaborate gilt brass mounts
France or England, late 17th/early 18th century
H. 16 x W. 27 x D. 17.5 cm
The use of shagreen, or sting-ray leather, dates back to the 2nd century CE China, and later Japan, where it was used in weapons for grip. The earliest known use for decorative purposes was in the form of furniture during the 16th century. Portuguese traders, being part of the greatest naval force in the world, imported Japanese Namban lacquer coffers adorned with shagreen, gold and mother-of-pearl. This, however was short-lived as the Dutch began to rule the seas and monopolized trade with Japan, and thus the trade in shagreen.
Throughout the late 17th and early 18th century English and Dutch craftsmen ordered the novelty material to cover decorative items such as boxes, knife skins and shaving kits. It was regarded as one of the most luxurious materials used on objects, making the present coffre fort, probably owned by a high official or nobleman, priceless.